November 28, 2006

War and Peace in Darfur

Alex de Waal's London Review of Books article on the prospects for piece in Darfur is, quite appropriately, long and complex, with a few things worth pointing out. Right from the very start, de Waal writes, "Military intervention won't stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion." Sudan, on this view, is undergoing a civil war between rebel groups that want autonomy and a central government that isn't too keen on this idea. Only a political agreement can end what amounts to a genocidal counterinsurgency campaign.

The previous attempt at negotiations, revolving around the Darfur Peace Agreement, ended badly when several rebel groups refused to sign. But de Waal, who mediated those discussions, insists that "the political differences are small," and an agreement can still be reached. Importantly, though, some rebel leaders seem to have balked at signing back in 2005 and decided to continue the fight precisely because they believed that an international force would soon storm into Sudan and help them secure their independence. Why compromise, after all, when the cavalry is just over the horizon?

It's hard to tell whether any of the rebel groups still believe this, and are now sustaining the conflict mainly in the hopes that NATO will intervene on their behalf. That's plausible, though hardly certain. Still, if that's the case, and if there's exactly zero chance that NATO will ever intervene, then the current calls for Western military intervention may actually be, in a bit of grim and perverse irony, helping to prolong the conflict. But, again, there's not really enough conclusive evidence behind that charge.

Now as de Waal describes it, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir doesn't want to allow UN troops into the country because he's afraid that "would in effect bring about a separation of Darfur from the rest of the country." And that, in turn, could convince the pro-separatist factions in southern Sudan to restart their own fight for independence, after having just wound down an extremely bloody twenty-year civil war. Khartoum, meanwhile, is extremely suspicious of U.S. intentions in Sudan, with several officials believing that "the Americans want to give Darfur to Chad," even though this isn't actually true.

That obviously doesn't make it okay that the Sudanese government, using its state-backed militias, has been butchering women and children by the hundreds of thousands. No one should think that. But it does indicate that sending in NATO troops, without Khartoum's consent, to fight on behalf of Darfuri rebels seeking independence won't actually save lives and might actually cause even more chaos and deaths. De Waal thinks the United States should instead focus primarily on helping to resuscitate peace talks as the surest way to save lives. I'm curious what pro-intervention voices—including Eric Reeves, who has included de Waal on a short list of "those who know Darfur best"—have to say on this point.
-- Brad Plumer 12:14 PM || ||