May 01, 2005

Half-Solutions in Darfur

Nadezhda reports that the African Union is planning on beefing up its peacekeeping force in Darfur, from the woefully inadequate 2,300-strong force it has currently, to 3,300 in May, and hopefully 7,700 by the end of September. Even more importantly, it seems as if the AU force will now be given a mandate to protect civilians rather than simply monitor the sham-ceasefire between Khartoum and Darfur. The new mandate is, as I have noted in the past, an all-crucial step for the AU to be even remotely effective. On our side of the equation, the U.S. is going to shell out an extra $50 to $60 million to support the expanded force, and NATO will "consider" providing logistical help.

This is good news, and certainly better than nothing. But for those of us who, like me, believe that the AU alone will be insufficient to stop the ongoing mass-slaughter and alleviate the humanitarian disaster there—which has claimed up to 400,000 victims and counting—this needs to be looked at much more critically. Because in the end, these new steps are still not nearly enough. Not even close.

First, a bit of bone-picking. Justin Logan seems to think that the AU has wanted to expand for a long time, and the only thing stopping them was a lack of U.S. support, which has been undermined, he says, by "knee-jerk" liberals who have been calling for invasion. Um, no.

One of the main reasons many us have been calling for a Western intervention is that it seemed like the AU had neither will nor desire to expand its peacekeeping force. As the Congressional Research Service pointed out in its report last month: "Many members of the African Union do not share the view that a genocide is occurring in Darfur and still consider the government of Sudan as the central player in the resolution of the conflict and protector of civilians." The hold-up here has long been not American liberals, but the AU itself, as the Nigerian leadership has insisted that Africa alone should handle problems in Africa, and then sat idly by and did nothing. They seem to have shifted their stance of late, and I'd be interested to find out why. (I'm guessing that pro-intervention African countries, like Rwanda and Senegal, won over Nigeria.) But this is a big reason why liberal interventionists have been saying, "Fuck the AU, get NATO in there."

Anyway, now the AU's finally waking up. So what to make of their proposed solution? Here's Matt Yglesias:
I think [expanding the AU is] almost certainly a better way to handle this than a Western invasion of some sort or, more likely, doing nothing while humanitarians plead for a Western invasion of some sort.
Well, yes, in an ideal world, letting the AU handle everything is obviously better than invading. If they can handle everything. And that's the key question: whether or not the new AU deployment will be able to prevent as many deaths as humanly possible. My answer? No, it won't be, not by a long shot. Look, at the moment the AU is planning 7,700 troops by September. But even if you think that's a big enough force to police an area the size of France and deter the janjawid militias and secure humanitarian corridors and provide refugees safe passage home—and on the face of it this notion is sheer lunacy—it's still a much-too-sluggish measure. Keep in mind that we're talking about four more months of inaction, four more months of increased body counts. Do note that the rainy season will soon get underway in Darfur, which will only deepen the crisis—hampering aid delivery and spreading disease—just as it did last summer.

Meanwhile, Jan Pronk, the UN's envoy to the region, has said that the AU will need 12,300 troops to "restore order to Darfur." Okay, fine, so assume this is enough to secure order in a region the size of France, and deter hostile militias who have no qualms about firing on even humanitarian workers, and providing refugees safe passage, etc. etc. (Pronk's number also seems ludicrous to me. Like Marine Capt. Brian Steidle, who worked with the AU monitoring team, I think a peacekeeping force of 25,000 to 50,000 sounds much more realistic. And hey, it's not as if UN peacekeeping estimates have never been wrong before—why, Pronk himself used to think a mere 8,000 troops would suffice.) But even this expanded force of 12,000 wouldn't be ready until next spring at the earliest. In the interim, there will be death and decay and lots of it. Now I don't know what it takes to grab people by the coat-lapels and scream, "People are dying right now, for fuck's sake," without getting waved off as a whiney little "humanitarian," but if anyone has any suggestions, let me know. Nevertheless, there's an element of urgency here that can't be overlooked.

Moroever, there's good reason to believe that an AU force of any size, even with NATO "logistical" support—should it ever be forthcoming—wouldn't be able to stop the janjawid militias or the Sudanese security forces from massacring civilians in Darfur. For one, I've seen absolutely nothing about rules of engagement for AU forces against the janjawid—presumably they'll be largely useless—but it's a dead certainty that AU peacekeepers will not be authorized to engage Khartoum government forces, even though the latter have been just as thoroughly involved in the slaughter. That means Khartoum will just speed up the integration the janjawid into its police and army forces, as it has been doing in the past, and then continue butchering civilians unimpeded. Simple as that.

Second, the genocidaires have been relying notoriously on the government's airpower to strafe and bomb villages before sending in ground militiamen for the kill. Exactly how does the AU think it's going to stop this? The "no-fly zone" over Darfur, established in the ceasefire signed last November, has been utterly useless, and has been violated by Khartoum time and time again. At the bare minimum, that no-fly zone needs to be enforced with NATO or U.S. airpower. Even this might be insufficient, as it will be near-impossible for the West to stop Khartoum's hundreds of helicopter gunships from, er, "patrolling" the region low to the ground. Again, I'll defer to military analysts here, but it seems likely that an effective civilian protection force would have to involve destroying—or at least threatening to destroy—much of Khartoum's air force.

So the case for more Western intervention remains strong, at least if we want to avoid turning "never again" into a sick, sick joke. Intervention wouldn't amount to full-blown invasion, though I've stressed before that some of the steps, like establishing a no-fly zone, could be tantamount to an act of war, with potentially very serious and bloody consequences. Or they might not. Personally, I think it's a risk that needs to be taken, but I'm not going to pretend that intervening will be an easy and cost-free solution at all. At the very least, I'd like to see the Darfur Accountability Act passed, with the understanding that stronger steps may still need to be taken. Perhaps the U.S. simply doesn't have the ability to stop the genocide, or more robust intervention would do more harm than good. Fine, let's debate that, so long as we're not pretending this AU force is going to come in and save the day.

Oh, one other note: As we all know, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that the U.S. may be shirking both intervention and increased pressure on Sudan's government all because we're getting such plum counterterrorism intelligence from the ruling National Islamic Front. Now I don't think that's the only reason we're hesitant on intervening in Darfur, but it's probably a big one. Nevertheless, I think this is exact the wrong way to go about things, but I'll have to talk about that tomorrow.
-- Brad Plumer 3:32 AM || ||