Atrocities Prevention & Response: A Good Governance Blueprint

33 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2020 Last revised: 1 Oct 2021

Date Written: June 28, 2021


This paper provides a blueprint for the incoming Biden-Harris administration to revitalize the United States’ policies dedicated to atrocities prevention and response and return the United States to a position of leadership on the multilateral plane.

After setting forth a brief history of this effort—including the establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board by President Barack Obama and its transfiguration by President Donald Trump into the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force—the paper identifies a number of concrete proposals for advancing this policy imperative. In particular, it argues that this endeavor must be accompanied by more deliberate upstream prevention work when it comes to promoting the rule of law and justice sector reforms; economic development; resilience to a range of shocks that can trigger violence; and peacebuilding and peacebuilders. Furthermore, atrocities prevention and response cannot be pursued in a vacuum. The atrocities prevention agenda should be better integrated with adjacent rubrics, such as counterterrorism and preventing/countering violent extremism; addressing state fragility; Women, Peace and Security; engaging in conflict prevention; the protection of civilians; and providing humanitarian assistance where needed. This deliberate intersectionality will ensure that the atrocities prevention portfolio is not set apart from other cognate foreign policy priorities, risks are assessed holistically, and bureaucratic silos that may result in implicit competition between different functional priorities and regional structures are dismantled. Likewise, a focus on prevention should be part of the new administration’s promotion of democracy and democratic values worldwide given the link between regime type and atrocities and the evidence that democratic norms offer a key restraint against violence against civilians.

Notwithstanding competing priorities posed by the global pandemic and concomitant recession, the need for global leadership in atrocities prevention and response has not receded, as events in Myanmar, South Sudan, Nagorno-Karabakh, China, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and elsewhere regrettably attest. If anything, the shocks of a global pandemic, the enduring throes of populism and authoritarianism, and relentless climate change will ensure its continuing urgency.

Keywords: Atrocities, crimes against humanity, policymaking, Biden Administration

JEL Classification: K33, N40, N47, N45, N46, O10, F51, F52, F55

Suggested Citation

Van Schaack, Beth, Atrocities Prevention & Response: A Good Governance Blueprint (June 28, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Beth Van Schaack (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States
650 303 6832 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics