Thanks for reading my post and sharing your thoughts.
With regard to any criticism you may have derived from the post, I am assuming you are referring to my choice of the phrase “failed to act.” As an American, I expect my elected representatives to intervene in genocides or other human tragedies. I understand that there are rational limitations to this opinion and that other voters do not agree. (I also have no interest in sparking a political debate here.) I hold no judgment around the process of how to intervene, as it is well beyond my expertise. I do believe that any genocide or event of mass suffering is caused, at least in some part, by a failure on the part of those with the ability to act.
In regards to the plane, it very well could have been a poor idea for many reasons. I found it interesting because it was a number offered by a credible source that allowed for a calculation.
I agree that Rwanda is certainly an obvious case for intervention. As you mentioned, there would likely have been limited international risk from a global power (save France). It’s recency also allows some benefits from perspective and analysis; familiarity with the context, news coverage, recent UN trials, etc.
I came to the same conclusion the protracted conflict with world powers (i.e. the Holocaust) would certainly be more complicated to intervene in.
Thoughts on your other possible techniques:
Try to prevent the causes of genocides.
Prevention is certainly the ideal. There are considerable resources poured into global politics, international peacekeeping, the UN, etc.
I would be curious to see what prevention tactics are the most effective.
Working on genocide forecasting, so that vulnerable populations can prepare.
This was one of my original directions with this article actually. As I found a couple of organizations engaging in that exercise (cited in the post) I moved away from that direction.
Promote emigration rights (it doesn’t matter how many countries will let you in if your current country won’t let you out).
Interesting. I certainly hear more about entry than exit issues. It could be a valuable element to look at.
Promote firearm ownership in vulnerable populations.
I gave this one some time before I sat down to respond. There are a lot of layers and it touches on issues that spark strong opinions around the world. In regards to promotion (of anything really), it takes time and coordination, an asset likely to be in rare supply during a genocide. In the Rwanda example, the ethnic populations seem to have mixed quite a bit, making targetting difficult. Let’s say you could overcome all of that, the issue of arming groups of people is one that seems to me (not an expert) to have intolerably high risks with the sunniest upside being deterrence. History is rife with examples of governments arming one group only to later have to fight that very same group. There are likely many great studies on the subject. Such an intervention seems beyond the scope of “do no harm” and a number of international standards.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest the US shouldn’t have intervened—I think quite possibly we should have! I just meant the costs would likely have been higher than you estimated, because it’s not just the per-hour cost of the radio jamming plane. Political capital with neighbors is costly, and protecting the plane could have been quite expensive. Wikipedia suggests Rwanda had some (old) Russian fighter jets, so they might have needed to be shot down, and they may also have had SAMs which would require neutralization.
Yeah, I was thinking about things like the role of civilian firearms as a defence against lynching in the US south, where they seem to have been somewhat effective:
We assess firearm access in the U.S. South by measuring the fraction of suicides committed with firearms. Black residents of the Jim Crow South were disarmed, before re-arming themselves during the Civil-Rights Era. We find that lynchings decrease with greater Black firearm access. During the Civil-Rights Movement, both the relative Black homicide and Black “accidental death by firearm” rates decrease with Black firearm access, indicating frequent misclassification of homicides as accidents. In the contemporary era, greater firearm access correlates with higher Black death rates. We find that firearms offered an effective means of Black self-defense in the Jim Crow South.
But it’s not exactly the same case because lynching is quite different from genocide, and the total number killed was quite small—probably under 5,000 over many decades.
Perhaps a more similar case was the decision by the Albanian government to arm the northern civilian population to help protect them from the south:
The Opening of the depots (Albanian: Hapja e depove) was the opening of weapons depots in the north, for protection against the violence of the south. The decision was taken by President Berisha. When southern Albanian bases were looted, it was estimated that, on average, every male from the age of ten upwards had at least one firearm and ample ammunition. To protect the civilians in north and central Albania, the government allowed civilians to arm themselves from government arms depots. During the rebellion 656,000 weapons of various types, and 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition, 3.5 million hand grenades and one million land mines, were looted from army depots.
Again, this is not a perfect example, because we don’t know what would have happened if they had not been armed.
We do know that many historical genocides were preceded by the disarming of the victims. For example, prior to the Armenian Genocide:
As anti-Armenian mobs were being armed, the government attempted to convince Armenians to surrender their guns.  A 1903 law banned the manufacture or import of gunpowder without government permission.  In 1910, manufacturing or importing weapons without government permission, as well as carrying weapons or ammunition without permission was forbidden.  During World War I, in February 1915, local officials in each Armenian district were ordered to surrender quotas of firearms. When officials surrendered the required number, they were executed for conspiracy against the government. When officials could not surrender enough weapons from their community, the officials were executed for stockpiling weapons. Armenian homes were also searched, and firearms confiscated. Many of these mountain dwellers had kept arms despite prior government efforts to disarm them. 
Similarly, prior to the Soviet genocides:
The December decree of the CPC of 1918, “On the surrender of weapons”, ordered people to surrender any firearms, swords, bayonets and bombs, regardless of the degree of serviceability. The penalty for not doing so was ten years’ imprisonment.
Similarly, Weimar Germany had relatively strict regulation of firearms, and the Nazis banned Jewish firearm ownership prior to the holocaust.
Of course, once a government has decided to disarm a population, presumably they would not be willing to allow outsiders to re-arm that population. So it might be more effective to educate at-risk groups about how to conceal firearms and avoid confiscation.
I think you raise a good point about governments arming groups that they later go on to fight—the US arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan is a classic example. But my impression is that these cases generally involve the supply of anti-tank weapons, anti-air weapons, and other pieces of relatively heavy-duty equipment. If you aim is to simply make genocide more difficult, small arms are likely sufficient. The Rwandan genocide, for example, made widespread use of machetes to murder victims—ownership of even relatively small caliber weapons, common among ordinary civilians in the US, could have likely prevented much of this.
You could (and likely are) correct that the US military intervening would have cost (in cash and political capital) more than the number ($8500) cited by Frank Wisner, the undersecretary of defense for policy. I have no idea what all is covered by his sum, but it does not seem a stretch to me that it was not all-inclusive.
Interesting citations regarding firearm ownership. Thanks for sharing. I would not have thought of that one myself. You also made a good point about the difference between military-grade armament and small arms possession.
I think there are a few complicating dynamics:
Types of Injury
Long-run spill-over effects
There were certainly guns present and used during the Rwandan Genocide, especially by the military/militia groups. That said, the distribution and use of machetes was pervasive and brutal. Dr. Orbinski observes that the Interahamwe utilized machetes for violent acts that would have been near impossible for a gun to inflict. What would a greater prevalence of guns have done to the types of injuries inflicted?
Unfortunately, the Rwandan Genocide was not the first violent tension between the Tutsi and Hutu populations. So it seems unclear to me what effect arming the Tutsi minority would have had. This is also one difference from the African American population. In Rwanda, the Tutsi’s were traditionally the empowered population.
Access (guns or otherwise) requires infrastructure. Infrastructure takes time and coordination. Once the violence started, the bulk of it only lasted 100 days. So any promotion of ownership would have had to have happed in advance. What tensions would that have caused?
Beyond the historical tensions, there would likely be effects of increased gun ownership. How would more prevalent gun ownership affect suicide rates, domestic violence, accidental injury, school violence, etc.?
At the risk of being unproductively vague: Who would develop the markets for gun ownership? The US? The private market? Who regulates it? How does regulation affect corruption? Where is the line between self-defense and violence as preventative action?
I appreciate you keeping the conversation going. You have raised multiple points I would have missed.