Some people like to talk about the lessons to be learned from the Rwandan genocide of 1994. We must not let it happen again, they say (except they said that before Rwanda, too). UN (or other) intervention could have stopped the genocide, which killed 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Bill Clinton went to Rwanda in 1998 and apologized for US inaction. Samantha Power, our current ambassador to the United Nations, has written on the Rwandan genocide and what the world should have done.
But the one thing that many people miss in the lessons they draw from the Rwandan genocide is how and why it ended. People like to say that force never accomplishes anything. Well, in the case of the Rwandan genocide, it did – because it was force that stopped the genocide. The Rwandan genocide only stopped when a force of Tutsi rebels, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, defeated the Hutu-led government and the Interahamwe. It wasn’t negotiations or cease-fires that stopped the genocide. It was force.
Which brings me to Ukraine. At present, the United States is calling for talks between the government of Ukraine and the Russian-instigated (and/or Russian-led) rebels in eastern Ukraine. The United States supports the government in Kiev, but so far we won’t sell them weapons. The Russians are supplying weapons to the rebels (Vladimir Putin denies it, but he denied Russian forces were in Crimea before they won and he congratulated them), but we are not supplying the Ukrainian government.
It’s actually similar to what happened in Bosnia in the early 1990s. The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina was fighting both Bosnian Serbs and a group of Croats. The West wanted to stop the fighting, so it imposed an arms embargo on all sides. Except the Bosnian Serbs could still get arms from Serbia. Serbia didn’t care about complying with any arms embargo. The Croat forces could get weapons, too. So the good guys couldn’t arms, but the bad guys could.
Which brings me back to Ukraine. Maybe we don’t need a ceasefire in Ukraine. Maybe the government in Kiev needs to win. The bad guys are already getting weapons. (And it looks like they’ve used them to shoot down a civilian airliner.) We need to provide arms to the good guys. Because sometimes the best way to end the fighting is for the good guys to win.