Stopping Mass Killings in Africa: Genocide, Airpower, and Intervention

  • Published

Stopping Mass Killings in Africa: Genocide, Airpower, and Intervention edited by Douglas C. Peifer. Air University Press, 2008, 188 pp.

Never Again. This theme runs throughout many commentaries on genocide. Stopping Mass Killings in Africa attempts to provide actionable ideas behind the rhetoric. Editor Douglas Peifer and the assembled contributors provide interesting operational concepts to compliment an in-depth history of each genocide. Although necessary, the historical background can divert the true focus of the book—to provide concrete, operational advice on stopping mass killings in a continent often ignored by military and political leaders (p. 127).

Dr. Peifer is an associate professor at the USAF Air War College who has written on German military history and European security issues as well as mass killings. He provides an excellent introduction to the history of genocide studies and the various models used to understand them. The book is a compilation of four case studies focused on the themes of genocide, airpower, and intervention. The authors, all graduates of Air Command and Staff College, use these case studies to show not only the events but operational lessons that can be applied to future conflicts.

Col Aaron Steffens is a career fighter pilot in the F-16. He writes on the failed attempts to intervene in Somalia in the early 1990s and how it not only changed US foreign policy but also influenced future African operations. Maj George Stanley, a career A-10 pilot, gives a good history of the Rwandan genocide, how the lack of significant intervention furthered the genocide, and how it might have been stopped. Lt Col Keith Reeves is a pilot with experience in both the B-52 and B-2. His essay on Rwanda gives an operational concept for preventing genocide. The last essay is by CDR Timothy Boyer, USN, a naval flight officer who flew in the E-2C Hawkeye. He explains how French intervention likely prevented genocide in Cote d’Ivoire.

The major theme throughout all four essays is trying to alleviate the causes of genocide before they become critical. The authors provide the background and causes for each genocide, at times in gratuitous amounts. Each essay lays out the history, generally in terms of Gregory Stanton’s “Eight Stages of Genocide,” while focusing on the organization, polarization, and preparation phases of the model. These three stages encompass forming groups and organizations to facilitate the genocide, separating the group, and finally identifying targets and concentrating victims. These stages provide warning for a possible impending genocide

The “process” of genocide can be difficult to understand in its terrible complexity. Peifer does a good job of explaining not only the process but also how different international organizations fit into genocide prevention. He defines genocide as killing people simply because they belong to a specific group (p. 8). This definition is highly political in nature since, by law, genocide must be acted upon by the UN. This became important when the United States deliberately avoided using the term during the Rwandan crisis (p. 6). The authors state that intervention in any of the stages of genocide could save lives, depending on when and how the intervention takes place.

The use of airpower as an intervention tool is a neglected concept in the book. All of the authors state that airlift and ISR capabilities would be most useful throughout a campaign, while light attack aircraft and helicopters would also be helpful to provide firepower. Stanley discusses some of the problems associated with utilizing airpower in Africa. Specifically discussing Rwanda, he details the logistical nightmare that would have been required to supply the troops and planes necessary to stop the genocide (pp. 69–71). Reeves also discusses Rwanda but goes into more detail on how to use airpower to intervene, focusing on an operational concept to target key aspects of the genocide “machine” to slow or stop it (p. 83). Unfortunately, many questions regarding airpower as an intervention tool—including logistics, time, and capabilities—are left unanswered.

The idea of intervention is both the crux and the most difficult issue with which Peifer deals. His assertion is that intervention is best done in the early stages of genocide; it is far better to avert the causes of genocide than to stop one in progress. In the case of Rwanda, Reeves states that any interruption in the genocide “machine” might have saved countless lives (p. 85). Boyer believes that timely intervention of air and ground troops stopped genocide from occurring and helped stabilize Cote D’Ivoire (p. 101). The key to this intervention was proper resources and political motivation to intervene.

Peifer does an excellent job of providing ideas and suggestions as to who should and how to intervene but largely ignores political consequences. For example, providing close air support to prevent genocide makes sound operational sense but has multiple political consequences which may take that option off the table. Some of these issues are discussed, but many are not given much depth of analysis. Steffens discusses the serious political repercussions Somalia had on future operations. He makes the point that deciding the appropriate kind of force, who is in command, and the rules of engagement all complicate intervention (p. 44). In Somalia these issues doomed the operation and likely affected Western political will to intervene in future conflicts.

Genocide, airpower, and intervention in Africa are generally only discussed after the body counts. The authors look at successes, failures, and the varying approaches taken by different international organizations to prevent genocide from occurring. While succeeding in presenting detailed events and operational concepts, Stopping Mass Killings in Africa lacks a thorough analysis on those concepts, making it feel much more like a history text than a critical analysis. This book ultimately needs to be twice as thick.

2d Lt Morgan Bennett

Goodfellow AFB, TX

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."