Darfur again

Until fairly recently, it seemed as if the worst of the tragedy of Darfur was over. The Sudanese government appeared set to rein in the terrorist Janjaweed militia, the rebels seemed willing to negotiate and the international community seemed finally to be taking some action.

But in the last few months, things have gone from bad to worse and ethnic cleansing on a large scale has resumed. There are lots of reports at Passion of the Present

No-one comes out of this with much credit. It’s no surprise, of course, that the Chinese Communists have pursued their standard line of non-interference in the internal affairs of brutal dictatorships. But the position of the democracies is just as bad. The Bush Administration started out with a firm line, arguing that the actions of the Sudanese government and its proxies constituted genocide. But now it’s backed off and is actually siding with Sudan in the Security Council. In part, this is for the creditable reason that Bush wants the separate peace deal that ended the long-running civil war in southern Sudan to hold, and is therefore treating the government gingerly. But Bush is also siding with Sudan in trying to undermine the International Criminal Court.

If Bush has been bad, the Europeans have been even worse. This is a situation very like Bosnia and Kosovo, or Rwanda, the kind of thing the new EU was not going to let happen again. What’s needed here is an effective peacekeeping force. The African Union has supplied some troops but without robust rules of engagement and backup (including both military components like air and logistic support and technical expertise of various kinds) they have proved ineffectual. This is a chance for Europe to show that it can achieve more, at much lower cost, through effective peacekeeping, than can Bush’s militarism. So far, the chance is being blown.

It is a disgrace that the kind of slow-meaning ethnic cleansing we are seeing in Darfur can be allowed to continue, month after month, and year after year, without any real action being taken.

29 thoughts on “Darfur again

  1. If anything is clear, it is that ‘never again’ lost an awful lot in translation into French German Spanish Italian et al.

  2. Agree entirely. And for completeness you can add to the list the African Union and what should be marked with specific criticism is the Arab League which was and remains deafeningly silent.

  3. Apart from not following this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, JQ and some of the comments have just recapitulated the 19th century Whig moral justification for empire. Not that I’m disagreeing with it or anything, but circumstances should be scrutinised with care; charity begins where you can tell what you’re really doing.

  4. I’m not sure why you always criticize China in situations like this. What purpose would one historically brutal dictatorship (that still oppresses some of its own ethnic minority groups) criticizing another serve ? It might also be noted that at least the Chinese have sent UN troops, unlike other countries big countries in the Asian region like Japan.

    I also fail to see why an EU intervention would be cheaper than a US intervention, unless they were to follow a completely different strategy.

  5. Of course an EU intervention would be cheaper – the expensive part is weapons and ammunition, which they don’t have 🙂

  6. Conrad,

    Not only is China failing to critcise Sudan they are now the principal foreign investor in the country and a major arms supplier.

    While it is clear the world should be doign mroe in Darfur, the situation isn’t quite as simple as is sometimes assumed.

    1. There’s a risk that pressure on the junta could lead to a collapse of the peace agreement with the SPLA and a resumption of the war in the south which has cost far more lives than the conflict in Darfur. If the world community has been remiss in acting over Darfur they’ve been even mroe remiss in failing to act over the war against the SPLA.

    2. While the Sudanese government is responsible for msot of the killing in Darfur it is the case that the two rebel groups in Darfur have also failed to honor commitments nad have continued to attack government troops and members of ethnic groups that side with the central government.

  7. Again agree Observa. Puts into sharp relief the reasons why Iran wants to pursue a nuclear capacity, and why they are being so obstinate about enabling inspectors access.

  8. This is off-topic, but since someone brought up Iran: I noticed today that Iran consistently punches well above its weight in the International Math Olympiads (international math competitiion amongst the top high-school students world-wide).

    Anyone know why? The old Persia was highly influential in the development of modern mathematics – could that have anything to do with it? Culture? Not PC, but is there a genetic component? Just curious.

    Probably a bad post on which to go off-topic – I’ll gladly move discussion elsewhere if necessary. For the record, I think the Darfur situation is disgusting. I can’t believe that in the 21st century – after two world wars – the democratic nations are syet to put together real peace-keeping forces. Makes me sick.

  9. Problem is that the situations in Tibet and Xinjiang are broadly analogous to Darfur. That is why China has and will veto any UN action there. Russia probably would too over fears that Chechnya would be counted in. This is why the current UN structure is silly and why acting without its ‘permission’ is, and should remain, an option.

  10. But how will the ICC play any constructive role in Sudan? Certainly, if President al-Bashir thought that he could be brought before the ICC, he would never in a million years think about giving up office, or holding fair elections that could turf the Congress party out of power. The countries with the keenest interest in stabilising Sudan are its neighbours (not the EU, or the US, and definitely not the Chinese outside of a narrow corridor from Unity Province to the Red Sea), thus if peacekeepers are really needed in Darfur, surely it would make sense for Western powers to back up an AU force (or perhaps even a force from IGAD countries) with supplies, communications, cash, etc, rather than demanding the right to occupy a part of the world that we have no stake in.

  11. Ian : I don’t see foreign investment or arms sales as neccesarily causing the problems in Sudan — I’m sure a lot of Sudanese welcome the first, and, as seen in Rwanda, you don’t need huge amounts of weapons or money for a genocide. Small arms and machetes evidentaly work quite fine, for which there is not exactly a supply problem whether via China or any other country.

  12. Steve, all the Chinese need to do is get out of the way (by not vetoing UN resolutions). Otherwise I agree that the optimal solution is EU/US backing for an AU force.

  13. But the Chinese can be guaranteed to veto it because of the principle involved. They are being a bit more subtle than the Sudanese, but in Tibet and, probably Xinjiang much the same thing is happening with Han Chinese being moved in and the indigenous population being supressed and oppressed. If they do not veto Sudan then they would be admitting that what is happening there is wrong.
    Even though Rwanda was an extreme case you can be fairly certain that, had action been considered there, China would also have vetoed that. The pity is that it was not even considered.

  14. The real problem for some people here is blaming America for not doing enough in Darfur whilst blaming them for doing too much in Iraq. Yet Iraq was a much clearer case for intervention
    – the potential for humanitarian relief was similar, albeit less, than in Darfur
    – the potential for long-term geopolitical change was at least as great as far as general deterrence from humanitarian abuse goes, and greater on every other scale
    – the immediate risk to the intervening countries of not intervening, rightly or wrongly perceived, was inordinately higher
    – the objectives (depose Saddam, oversee the election of a provisional national parliament, reconstruction, the composition and voting of a constitution, etc) whilst perhaps contestably chosen, were chosen

    So, why should they send a peace-imposing force to Darfur, when they ought not to have invaded Iraq?
    What would the objectives of this peace-imposing force be?
    And the one thing that it is generally agreed that the UN should not even try and do is peace-imposing – so who would do the peace-imposing, if not the US? What would US/EU mean apart from what happened in Iraq? There would presumably be at most 5000 French and 1000 German troops, plus all those that were there in Iraq – big difference!

  15. I guess an alternative motive for China using its veto is that it thinks the people of Sudan might be able to work out their own problems, without having to put up with hordes of peacekeepers in their country with no obvious exit plan.

    I would suspect that a country like China is also willing to put up with more violence in the short term for a possible better solution later, even if that means one group oppressing another (probably similar to their ideas about Xin Jiang), than peacekeepers causing a possibile long term stalemate likely to fall apart when they happen to leave (say, like what might happen in Iraq when the “peacekeepers” there leave).

  16. Patrick and PML above express the salient criteria for/against foreign intervention in a foreign country.

    1. Do you understand how determined the antagonists are to pursue a violent policy?

    2. Are you capable of imposing a monopoly of violence if necessary?

    3. Are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary to impose that monopoly of violence? These sacrifices include both domestic blood and treasure and the blood and treasure of at least one of the antagonists up to and including ethnic/racial/religious/ideological cleansing.

    4. Are you willing to impose that monopoly of violence for as long as it takes to persuade the antagonists that their interests lie in a peaceful settlement?

    If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, then intervention is not recommended.

  17. Katz decision model is worth considering. Another, though similar is based on three points/questions:

    1. does it fulfil an eco-geo interest to intervene
    2. is intervention likely to improve the current scenario
    3. can “you’ do something about it.

    Unfortunately, as it pains me to say it, Darfur and Sudan as a whole is a measures 2 1/2 (the 1.2 is for point 3)

    Darfur is a scenario where the murderous thugs are running the madhouse.

  18. I think there’s room for a limited intervention: not nationbuilding, just a safe haven. This worked for the Kurds in Iraq, which as we know is about as difficult a terrain as there is, and it would have worked in Bosnia given a willingness to use force when necessary.

  19. Yes, great example – the end result to that Kurdish safe haven, and perhaps the only final result possible, was the war we have now.

    I think setting up a safe haven has a lot to recommend it, but that it necessarily must be an interim measure – and the succeeding measure is not: wait until they develop enough economic might of their own to guarantee their own independence. Because otherwise, your interim measure, to be useful, becomes as noted here already, colonialism all over again.

    That has its merits, but a lot of demerits, notably cost. What kind of interim measure do you actually propose? Or is a safe haven an end in and of itself? Do you think then that it ought to be for as long as needed? Apparently, as long as it takes is not cool in the left these days, I feel obliged to add.

  20. Safe havens of the Kurdish type maintained by stand-off force, such as massive air power, may be possible against hierarchical, militarist regimes of the Saddam type. Few Ba’athist Iraqis were willing to join an autonomous, anti-Kurdish militia operating deep in hostile territory because few believed enough in that cause to take those kinds of risks. (It took a US invasion to convince a few of these types to show a bit of backbone.)

    Militia of the Jungaweed variety, who act autonomously and out of some variety of personal conviction, are notoriously difficult to bomb into submission, even if the bombing powers had easy access to targets, which they did in Northern Iraq, but certainly don’t in Western Sudan.

    Perhaps a massive drop of AK47s in good working order to the enemies of the Jungaweed may restore the balance of forces.

    Otherwise, the US could bomb Khartoum … hang on, haven’t I seen that scenario before sometime?

  21. “Yes, great example – the end result to that Kurdish safe haven, and perhaps the only final result possible, was the war we have now.”

    Among the dozens of arguments I saw in favour of the war, just about the only one I can’t recall is the one you imply, that the Kurdish safe haven was unsustainable and that it was therefore necessary to overtrhow Saddam. Can you point to anyone saying this?

    Katz, I agree that bombing into submission isn’t the way to go. My reading of past experience is that ground forces are needed, but that they have to have air backup.

  22. Conrad: “I don’t see foreign investment or arms sales as neccesarily causing the problems in Sudan—”

    Conrad, I agree that you don’t NEED advanced weapons to commit genocide but they definitely make it easier. Chinese investment in the Sudanese oil industry also blunts the effective of any western bilateral moves to pressure the Sudanese government through sanctions or cuts to aid.

    More broadly, I think it should be noted that China isn’t just ignoring or condoning Sudanese war criems – they’re actively supporting them.

    As China starts to seek to expand its influence beyond East Asia it is proving a major support of dictatorships such as Burma (which provides China with its first naval base outside its own territory), Iran and sudan.

  23. I don’t mean that it was an argument for the war, just that the safe haven was otherwise permanent.

    Otherwise, air power is essential, I agree, and dropping AK47S probably the best short-term solution.

  24. JQ, Kurdistan-in-Iraq is most definitely not any sort of safe haven – unless you happen to be a Kurd. This is an example of the limits of our knowledge leading to false conclusions. If you had had, as I had, an Armenian nanny when growing up in Iraq, and knew (at second hand) her stories of how the Kurds were worse than the Turks when it came to Armenian genocide, then you would have known to look up the other minorities living there, “…lesser fleas to bite ’em…”. Think Armenians, Arabs, Turcomans, Yezidis, and a few stray Persians and perhaps even the odd half-assimilated Mongol from up Tabriz way.

    Katz, you haven’t thought through your criteria. It can often happen that there is a logical inconsistency betweem your ends and means (as there is in Iraq now, but wasn’t for the British with no democratic agenda). That is, the USA can only create a fake democracy and hope it develops over time, since the preconditions of democratic tradition aren’t there; but you cannot impose democracy, almost by definition.

    This wouldn’t matter if you didn’t have a particular agenda. But in Darfur/Rwanda type cases the only possible agenda is one that dictates preserving what’s there (or you wouldn’t go in). But the Katz numbered criteria imply willingness to press things to genocidal extremes – the sort of things the French did to pacify Algeria in the 19th cewntury, and which would have worked perfectly well in the 1950s if only there hadn’t been external constraints. These methods break what you seek to save, if you have a humanitarian motive and the wrong sort of target. The French merely wished to civilise and control, so extirpation was a non-problem.

  25. Ian : I think you’ll find that the standard Chinese line on this would be to suggest that greater economic integration of countries ruled by dictators is likely to allow them to extert greater influence in the long term (this is also true of China itself, incidentally). If you sanction/invade brutal dictatorships, they will never cooperate, and, in any case, sanctioning often has the greatest affect on the civilian population. Hence by supporting them, they can get better concessions out of them when needed — which appears true of North Korea. How far would the US have got alone in trying to stop North Korea’s nuclear program ?

    Also, I don’t see why China securing a steady source of energy from a brutal dictatorship is any worse than what other countries are doing (at least China has a greater number of people likely to benefit). The US, and therefore indirectly Australia, supports Saudia Arabia (amongst others), after all. Why should the Chinese cop criticism for this from countries that do it themselves ?

  26. Conrad,

    No, the Chinese government absolutely rejects the idea that trade or economic integration will lead to reform. If they argued that line in relation to other countries they wouldn’t be able to continue resisting reform within China.

    You are correct thatother countries support dictatorships – but so far as I know none of those dictatorships are currently engaging in mass murder on the scale of Darfur.

    Furthermore, the US has finally started to wise up to the folly of supporting dictators – they still do it on occasion but not on anything like the scale they used to.

    With Russia generally out of the picture (with the exception of its “near abroad”) the US has been able to be much more selective in which dictatorships it supports and has been better able to pressure those dictatorships for reform (since they no longer have the option of switching ot Russian patronage).

    China has legitimate interests in foreifgn trade and national security, like the US those interests may sometimes compel it to deal with unsavory regimes, but there’s a real risk over the next decade or two that the US and China will revert back to the old Cold War reasoning: “He’s a bastard but he’s OUR bastard.”

  27. Conrad, firstly what Ian G said about US support for dictators, and secondly, dislike as intensely as I might Saudi Arabia, I don’t think anything goes on there as bad as in Darfur – surely you agree?

    Ian, I doubt that the US will so revert – but for China there would be no ‘reversion’ involved at all.

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