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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Sudan's muddled response and possible outcomes 

After yesterday's approval of a weakened UN Security Council resolution on Sudan, the nation in question can't seem to get its response straight.

The AP says that Sudan sees no reason to reject the resolution.

Reuters, meanwhile, reports that Sudan says that meeting the demands of the resolution will be "extremely difficult."

Then the AP, disagreeing with itself, tells us that Sudan has denounced the resolution.

What's the real deal here? Sudan can't get its story figured out and the press is having no luck sorting through the conflicting statements.

Perhaps the BBC's headline is the most accurate: "Sudan dithers over UN resolution."

Apparently the government is having trouble deciding just how to take the resolution. Since yesterday, Khartoum has gone from welcoming the Security Council resolution, to the mess that we see today--first denouncing it, then saying that meeting it would be difficult, then seeing no reason to reject it... Will the real Sudan please stand up?

Taking a step back to analyze the situation can reveal what the government in Khartoum might be thinking. A listing of the facts:

- The Arab Janjaweed militia has been engaged in genocide against the black population of Darfur for months--killing, raping, and burning their way across the region, killing tens of thousands of people and sending hundreds of thousands fleeing ahead of their advance. The elimination of the black population in Darfur is their goal.

- The Khartoum government has been complicit in the genocide, ever since an uprising began in the spring of 2003. The government's role has included aerial attacks from fighter jets and helicopter gunships, as well as Sudanese Army soldiers fighting alongside the Janjaweed.

- Until fairly recently, Darfur garnered little international attention. The international community was preoccupied with events elsewhere, and saw the situation in Darfur as just one of the seemingly innumerable conflicts smoldering within and between African nations.

- That has since changed, and relief operations are underway, although frequently hindered by the Sudanese government. Now the United Nations Security Council has turned its attention toward Sudan, with the United States leading the way.

- The action the UN has taken has been far from firm or decisive. The United States had pushed for an explicit threat of sanctions, but a number of UNSC members opposed sanctions, and a watered-down version passed on Friday, threatening Sudan with "measures" for not complying.

Sudan must know that when the Security Council uses language like "measures," it means that it is not willing to seriously consider real action. "Serious consequences" didn't actually mean "serious consequences," regarding Iraq, so Khartoum must assume that "measures" are nothing to be worried about.

We will assume that the Sudanese government wants to continue its campaign until it ends on favorable terms. Its actions up to this point have given us no reason to believe otherwise. The government's pledges have been empty ones, most recently its pledge to disarm the Janjaweed in early July. The militia attacks show now sign of abating, nearly a month after the pledge was made.

In that light, Sudan's possible agreement to abide by yesterday's resolution should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Sudan does not want its efforts in Darfur to end now, but the government cannot just come right out and say so and risk more immediate international pressure. So the government has bought itself some time by appearing to be open to the terms of the resolution. Thirty days of time, to be precise. Even if Sudan totally disregards the resolution, the Security Council has granted thirty days of freedom to the country to do whatever it feels necessary.

Just as there is no reason to believe that Sudan is serious about adhering to the resolution, there is also no reason to believe that the United Nations Security Council is serious about taking action to enforce it. That body's track record on genocide--ethnic cleansing for those few holdouts who are feeling charitable--is shameful. Several Security Council members would have voted against sanctions, despite the months of terrible human tragedy that have been happening in Darfur. Even where the United Nations has had troops on the ground, genocidal activity either continued apace, as in Bosnia, or accelerated incredibly, as in Rwanda. Sudan knows this history as well, and cannot be taking the UN very seriously. Forceful responses to stop the killing came either from states acting outside of the UN system, or not at all. The UN simply will not become involved militarily where violence is ongoing, since an invitation from the government of the country is a prerequisite for Chapter 6 (of the UN Charter) peacekeeping operations. Chapter 7 allows for a more robust enforcement posture for UN action, but the UN has been extremely reluctant to embark on Chapter 7 operations, and will likely remain so in the current case.

For these reasons, the most probable scenario for Darfur is one in which Khartoum continues to pay lip service to the UN while taking no real action to comply with its resolutions. This is a scenario with a high probability that hundreds of thousands of people will die.

This should be, and hopefully is, unacceptable to the international community. The United Nations won't be the decisive player in any solution, however. That role will be left to individual states or other organizations. NATO stepped forward in the Balkans when the UN would not. Sudan is outside of the alliance's region and is of little strategic importance, so NATO may not become involved. Individual members, however, may end up deploying troops to Sudan. Great Britain, in particular, has said that it could send 5,000 soldiers on short notice. This is also a perfect opportunity for the African Union to prove its capabilities. On Friday, the AU declared itself ready to deploy troops to Darfur.

Military intervention is looking more likely with every day that passes without any change on the ground in Darfur. That intervention, however, will probably follow the Kosovo model, in which states, acting together but without the UN's blessing, took it upon themselves to end horrible human rights abuses and mass murder. UN approval can come after the fact. Or it cannot. What is important is keeping hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings alive.

The United Nations, by its refusal to get serious about Darfur, has shown that its priorities lie elsewhere.
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