We Saved Europeans. Why Not Africans?

Anthony Lake, Donald M. Payne, and Susan E. Rice
Susan E. Rice Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow - School of International Service, American University

October 2, 2006

With Darfur set to be hit by a second wave of genocide, world leaders are shifting into diplomatic high gear. The government of Sudan flatly rejects deployment of a 22,000-strong U.N. force, knowing it would be much more effective than the African Union’s, even if augmented by additional personnel as is now planned.

Some 450,000 innocent human beings are already dead, and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes. Now Sudan is launching a major offensive in Darfur. After three years of fruitless negotiation and feckless rhetoric, it’s time to go beyond unenforced U.N. resolutions to a new kind of resolution: the firm resolve to act.

Will world leaders continue to give the perpetrators of genocide a veto over international action to stop it? Unless something changes dramatically, the answer seems to be yes.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed bribing the Sudanese with debt relief, aid and trade concessions to get them to admit U.N. peacekeepers. By contrast, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice threatened confrontation, and President Bush declared: “If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act.” But neither said how. Instead, the president appointed Andrew Natsios, a former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as his special envoy for Darfur. An envoy’s role is to negotiate, but the Sudanese have left nothing to negotiate.

Lost in the diplomatic bustle is reality: First, the U.S.-brokered peace deal for Darfur, fatally flawed from its signature, is dead. Second, Sudan has broken every pledge to every envoy to halt the killing in Darfur. Third, China is unlikely to compel Sudan to admit the United Nations — 7 percent of its oil is at stake, and China may figure we value its help on Iran and North Korea more than on Sudan. Fourth, it’s too late for sanctions; even if China miraculously relented, it would take months before their bite was felt. By then, Sudan will have completed its second wave of genocide in Darfur.

History demonstrates that there is one language Khartoum understands: the credible threat or use of force. After Sept. 11, 2001, when President Bush issued a warning to states that harbor terrorists, Sudan — recalling the 1998 U.S. airstrike on Khartoum — suddenly began cooperating on counterterrorism. It’s time to get tough with Sudan again.

After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it. Impossible? No, the United States acted without U.N. blessing in 1999 in Kosovo to confront a lesser humanitarian crisis (perhaps 10,000 killed) and a more formidable adversary. Under NATO auspices, it bombed Serbian targets until Slobodan Milosevic acquiesced. Not a single American died in combat. Many nations protested that the United States violated international law, but the United Nations subsequently deployed a mission to administer Kosovo and effectively blessed NATO military action retroactively.

Unthinkable in the current context? True, the international climate is less forgiving than in 1999. Iraq and torture scandals have left many abroad doubting our motives and legitimacy. Some will reject any future U.S. military action, especially against an Islamic regime, even if it is purely to halt genocide against Muslim civilians. Sudan has also threatened that al-Qaeda will attack non-African forces in Darfur — a real possibility since Sudan long hosted Osama bin Laden and his businesses. Yet, to allow another nation to deter the United States by threatening terrorism would set a terrible precedent. It would also be cowardly and, in the face of genocide, immoral.

Some will argue that the U.S. military cannot take on another mission. Our ground forces are stretched thin. But a bombing campaign or a naval blockade would tax the Air Force and Navy, which have relatively more capacity, and could utilize the 1,500 U.S. military personnel in nearby Djibouti.

Others will insist that, without the consent of the United Nations or a relevant regional body, we would be breaking international law. Perhaps, but the Security Council recently codified a new international norm prescribing “the responsibility to protect.” It commits U.N. members to decisive action, including enforcement, when peaceful measures fail to halt genocide or crimes against humanity.

This genocide has lasted three long years. Peaceful measures have failed. The Sudanese government is poised to launch a second round. The real question is this: Will we use force to save Africans in Darfur as we did to save Europeans in Kosovo?