Reagan and Genocide: Setting the Stage
By the time Ronald Reagan became President of the United States, numerous crises plagued the American people: high stagflation, government indebtedness, global terrorism and the ongoing Cold War. All these issues needed immediate attention. But the topic of the Genocide Convention and its potential ratification also became an issue for the President and the Senate, one that was undeniable after Reagan’s 1984 public support for the treaty.
The Convention had both its supporters and opponents; the loudest voices on each side tended to predominate within the public space. Senator William Proxmire, who was its most vocal supporter, continued to give a daily speech in Congress - a tradition he started during the Cambodian genocide and one which would follow for 19 years - laying out some of the benefits of ratification. Some of the other more prominent supporters included Jewish and Armenian rights organizations.
The opponents were also vociferous in their attitudes towards ratifying any international convention, let alone one regarding genocide, binding Americans under international law. Some of these opponents included prominent Republican Conservative Senators like Jesse Helms as well as organizations like the Liberty Lobby and the anti-communist John Birch society. For these groups, traditional fears of communist conspiracies, the loss of sovereignty as well as spurious and politicized accusations of genocide against an American citizen spurred their hostility to any international agreement that could potentially subsume the American national interest.
It must be said that this climate very much resembled previous ones, whereby the president was in favour of supporting the Genocide Convention with the Senate representing the main opposition – largely centered within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – as well as an ongoing Cold War climate as the reigning paradigm subsuming all else for the government bureaucracy and leadership.