Military Response to Mass Atrocity

A MARO describes a contingency operation to halt the widespread and systematic use of violence by state or non-state armed groups against non-combatants. What distinguishes a MARO is the character and dynamics of the conflict and the mission's primary objective – ending mass atrocities against civilians. The term MARO is not yet enshrined in military doctrine – but we believe it should be.

We contend that states and regional and international organizations must better understand and prepare for the unique operational and moral challenges that military forces would face in a MARO. As we work towards filling the gap of “how” to respond militarily to a mass atrocity, we have identified three main distinctions of a mass atrocity situation, which is also discussed in the MARO Handbook:

  • Multiparty Dynamics. Unlike traditional warfare between enemy and friendly forces, a MARO situation is defined by complex multiparty dynamics. Perpetrators of violence, victims of violence, the interveners, and other actors such as bystanders, the media, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) interact with results that will be difficult to predict.
  • Illusion of Impartiality. While the intervener may perceive itself to be acting in an even-handed manner against “actions,” the perpetrators and victims will perceive the intervening force as anything but impartial. An intervention to stop mass atrocities will inevitably be hostile to the party committing violence, effectively putting the intervener in alliance with the victims against the perpetrators. As the intervener changes the dynamics, there is a high potential for a MARO to quickly metastasize into another type of conflict, such as a civil war or an interstate conflict, and for the original distinctions between victim and perpetrator and the original “impartial” reasons for intervention to dissolve.
  • Escalatory Dynamics. A MARO can be defined by unique escalatory dynamics – mass killing of civilians can potentially intensify and expand very quickly once it begins. At the same time, the international community is slow to reach decisions to intervene, and slow to operationalize a response. This asymmetry presents a challenge for conducting a successful MARO.

For information on the key operational and political implications of these three distinguishing characteristics, please click here.