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Geostrategic Trends and Atrocity Risk

Understanding the Risk of Mass Atrocities in a Changing Global and Regional Context



Global geostrategic trends directly impact Australian foreign and defence policy in a variety of ways. For a nation such as Australia, which prioritises defence of the rules-based international order, there are few violations more egregious to confront than genocide and mass atrocities. Nevertheless, genocide has killed at least 84 million civilians worldwide since 1900. Genocide and mass atrocities are not just catastrophic events; they reflect deep ethical and moral failings in society and the international community; they also increase the prevalence of terrorism, civil war, mass displacement, economic destruction and long-term failure to democratise.

This paper uses empirical case studies and a review of the scholarly literature to test the relationship between three major geopolitical themes: great power competition, climate change and urban warfare, and mass atrocity crimes in the 21st century. This research provides a foundation for the Australian Army, the ADF, the Department of Defence and the Australian Government more broadly to prepare for a future where the potential for mass atrocity, both in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere in the world, remains a serious risk. It provides a series of recommendations which aim to enable better preparation and inter-agency coordination in the interests of atrocity prevention and response.

The paper is divided into four sections: (1) a brief review of the literature on the factors associated with genocide and mass atrocity risk; (2) a review of the literature on selected geostrategic trends and mass atrocities (or closely related outcomes); (3) analysis on the role armed forces play in mass atrocities; and (4) preparing for the future including recommendations. Appendix 1 includes a note on methodology and definitions. Appendix 2 includes three contemporary case studies (within the past 15 years) of genocide or mass atrocity crimes where there has been a demonstrated relationship between the violence and the geostrategic trends under analysis.