As secretary of state, Warren Christopher told U.S. News & World Report that his “first priority” was to “attack problems before they reach the crisis level” and to keep the United States from expending lives and fortune in international disputes.

But he had a tumultuous beginning. In May 1993, just months into his new job, Christopher went to Europe to solicit Allied support for a plan to end ethnic cleansing in the Balkans by arming Bosnian Muslim forces and launching airstrikes against Serbian targets.

He was unsuccessful, but eventually NATO agreed to a bombing campaign against the Serbs, which Christopher described as critical in ending the Bosnian slaughter.

In Somalia, what began as a humanitarian relief effort in the final days of the George H.W. Bush administration ended with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in March 1994 in the aftermath of the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu.

A month later, the Clinton administration became aware of a systematic slaughter in the African state of Rwanda that left an estimated 800,000 dead, most of them Tutsis. But the United States and other Western nations opted against intervention, and Christopher authorized State Department personnel to use the word “genocide” only under limited conditions.

Critics later contended that avoidance of the genocide characterization made it easier for the United States to follow a hands-off policy. In 1998, on a visit to the Rwandan capital of Kigali, Bill Clinton said the United States had not acted quickly enough and apologized for not calling the killings genocide.

Christopher also had little success on a 1994 diplomatic trip to China, which was marked by a roundup of dissidents despite Christopher’s advocacy on behalf of human rights.