April 17, 2005

Is Sudan All That Simple?

Ed Kilgore points out an odd paradox: the international community is pouring $4.5 billion into Sudan over the next three years to help the southern regions recover from their twenty-year civil war against the central government in Khartoum. Officially, State Department officials have said that the aid is contingent on the ruling National Islamic Front halting its ongoing genocide campaign against Darfur. In practice, though, the U.S. isn't likely to follow through on this threat, mainly because they don't want to jeopardize the hard-won Navaisha peace agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the south. Both Kilgore and Marshall Wittman think this shows spinelessness on the part of the White House.

Well, it does. But things... aren't quite as simple as all that.

Right now, it's true, the most urgent, urgent, urgent issue is to stop the disaster in Darfur. It's not possible to scream this point home loud enough. Sanctions and international pressure either won't deter the genocidaires or will take much too long. The UN is useless at this point. Meanwhile, the African Union force currently in Sudan is much too small and lacks a mandate to protect civilians, and I doubt that the AU has the political will to get serious about helping in Darfur (most of its members deny that genocide is even going on, and the Nigerian leadership's caviling has been deeply despicable).

So that likely means a NATO force needs to storm in and a) establish a no-fly zone to prevent Khartoum from strafing Darfuri villages with its fighter jets; b) secure humanitarian corridors, c) provide safe passage home for refugees and, perhaps, d) forcibly disarm the janjawid militias responsible for the slaughter. As I've said before, Khartoum would probably resist, and bloody struggle would ensue, and all the brave little clerics 'round the Middle East would paint a Western intervention into Sudan as an "attack on Islam," but that's probably all worth it. 400,000 people, mind you, have died in Darfur and that number will certainly stretch into the millions—millions—unless the West acts now.

But what happens after the cavalry comes charging in? Well, here's where things get tricky. A peace treaty between the Darfur rebels and Khartoum is going to be very difficult to broker. The ceasefire signed last April had serious flaws, mainly because it essentially focused on disarming "non-government entities"—meaning both the janjawid horseback militias and the two main Darfur rebel groups—which basically would have allowed the central government free rein to police the area. Over and over again, these UN- and AU-brokered settlement proposals have been biased in favor of Khartoum. But that's ridiculous, considering that Khartoum is behind much of the violence, even as the government pretends that it's really the Arab horseback militias responsible for all the killing. Nor can the central government be trusted to police Darfur. Last December, after the ceasefire was signed, Khartoum's police forces attacked SLA (i.e. one of the Darfur rebel groups) positions in South Darfur, disrupting the peace process.

In all likelihood, a solid and lasting settlement will need to accept the two Darfur rebel groups, the SLA and JEM, as legitimate political actors who can negotiate with the Sudan over power-sharing with the central government, religious freedom, and now it looks like wealth-sharing (just yesterday, oil was discovered in South Darfur). In other words, longstanding peace will require the same sort of political framework being shaped in the Navaisha Agreement between Khartoum and the Christian/animist southern regions of Sudan. Indeed, it's very possible that Navaisha could someday be expanded into, say, a broader constitutional convention for the entire country. But at this point, it's absolutely critical that the north-south talks continue to succeed. Meanwhile, it's equally important that aid continues to flow to southern Sudan, which faces one of the worst humanitarian crises on earth.

So that's the double-bind the West faces on Sudan. At this point the north-south treaty offers the best opportunity to create a broader political framework to ensure lasting peace across the country. And even if it can't achieve that, the treaty still ought to be maintained for its own sake—clearly no one wants war between north and south again. But on the flip side, any effective intervention to stop genocide in Darfur is likely to destabilize the Navaisha framework. (For instance, if a NATO force ended up disabling Khartoum's Air Force in order to secure no-fly zones, that could embolden the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to make a move for independence. Perhaps not. But perhaps.)

So basically, Sudan is extremely complicated (I haven't even touched on Khartoum's ties to Islamic terrorism, or the Chad factor, or oil politics, or the Darfuri rebels own possible ties to Islamic terrorism). Kilgore, by contrast, seems to think the problem lies mostly with Bush administration cowardice. And yes, there's certainly a great deal of cowardice (Exhibit A: Robert Zoellick), but in the White House's defense, the U.S. has been one of the least cowardly countries on this issue—though it could be doing much, much more—and it's also genuinely tough to figure out how exactly to fix Sudan.
-- Brad Plumer 5:39 AM || ||