Darfur again

by John Quiggin on October 27, 2005

Until fairly recently, it seemed as if the worst of the tragedy of Darfur was over. The Sudanese government appeared set to rein in the terrorist Janjaweed militia, the rebels seemed willing to negotiate and the international community seemed finally to be taking some action.

But in the last few months, things have gone from bad to worse and ethnic cleansing on a large scale has resumed. There are lots of reports at Passion of the Present

No-one comes out of this with much credit. It’s no surprise, of course, that the Chinese Communists have pursued their standard line of non-interference in the internal affairs of brutal dictatorships. But the position of the democracies is just as bad. The Bush Administration started out with a firm line, arguing that the actions of the Sudanese government and its proxies constituted genocide. But now it’s backed off and is actually siding with Sudan in the Security Council. In part, this is for the creditable reason that Bush wants the separate peace deal that ended the long-running civil war in southern Sudan to hold, and is therefore treating the government gingerly. But Bush is also siding with Sudan in trying to undermine the International Criminal Court.

If Bush has been bad, the Europeans have been even worse. This is a situation very like Bosnia and Kosovo, or Rwanda, the kind of thing the new EU was not going to let happen again. What’s needed here is an effective peacekeeping force. The African Union has supplied some troops but without robust rules of engagement and backup (including both military components like air and logistic support and technical expertise of various kinds) they have proved ineffectual. This is a chance for Europe to show that it can achieve more, at much lower cost, through effective peacekeeping, than can Bush’s militarism. So far, the chance is being blown.

It is a disgrace that the kind of slow-meaning ethnic cleansing we are seeing in Darfur can be allowed to continue, month after month, and year after year, without any real action being taken.



Sebastian holsclaw 10.27.05 at 3:18 pm

“This is a chance for Europe to show that it can achieve more, at much lower cost, through effective peacekeeping, than can Bush’s militarism.”

Absolutely, but perhaps they don’t want to or cannot.


jet 10.27.05 at 3:40 pm

Military intervention, peacekeeping troops, money, support…blah blah blah. Red hearings and wastes of breath. One US Naval fleet in the Red Sea would suffice. 1 hour after the first oil tanker was harrassed, the hostilities would cease in Darfur. Sudan wouldn’t face oil sanctions over some scratch desert out West. China might cry but what are they going to do, impose trade sanctions? Hah.

This is a failure of Democracies to give a shit about millions of dead Africans.

Turn away folks, nothing to see here. Business as usual.


Barry 10.27.05 at 3:50 pm

And what is the Avatar of GOP on Earth, George Bush, doing about this?


Brendan 10.27.05 at 4:20 pm

‘This is a failure of Democracies to give a shit about millions of dead Africans.’

Earth to Jet….Earth to Jet….the Democrats LOST the last election. Hey and the one before! Sorry to have to break the news to you.

Oh, and the Republicans control the Senate and the House. And (shortly) the Supreme Court.

Don’t know how you didn’t manage to hear about all this!! Have you been abroad? In France perhaps?


Anon 10.27.05 at 4:28 pm

Um, Brendan, the word Jet used there was “Democracies”, not “Democrats”.


Anders Widebrant 10.27.05 at 4:33 pm

“Absolutely, but perhaps they don’t want to or cannot.”

Well, “cannot” doesn’t hold water, as far as my European ass is concerned. Europe should be eminently capable of grounding the Sudanese helicopters (and attack aircraft?) that still apparently raid villages in Darfur. It also should be able to drum up enough ground forces to set up a few elite quick reaction teams to complement the wider AU effort (Sweden alone manages to keep an enhanced mechanised company in Liberia and a quick reaction platoon in Afghanistan, despite some ferocious cuts in military spending).

As those options would not be accepted by Khartoum, I can understand that Europe is unwilling to push for them, particularly when America is not on board. But at the very least, the EU should step up its support for the AU’s effort, including logistic support in neighbouring countries and greater financial aid.


mpowell 10.27.05 at 4:51 pm

So assuming they actually wanted to, it seems reasonable that the Europeans could take the necessary military action to prevent genocide in the Sudan. But if the UN doesn’t approve- and approval does not seem plausible in my opinion (and how can you get a more clear cut case of genocide?)- it would be unlawful for Europe to act so aggressively. Would aggressive action undermine the UN in an important way? Even if it does, is preventing genocide more important? My opinion is that the answers are somewhat and yes. Do people have other opinions?


e-tat 10.27.05 at 4:53 pm

Whoa podner. You mean to tell me that the era of unilateral self defence is already over? That George Bush is now advocating – and engaged with – the inordinately time-consuming nuances of international relations via discreet diplomacy? Gimme some of that weed you been smoking. I wanna see the magic too.


Sebastian holsclaw 10.27.05 at 5:26 pm

“As those options would not be accepted by Khartoum, I can understand that Europe is unwilling to push for them, particularly when America is not on board.”

The US is on board. It just doesn’t want to be the main actor. Which leaves pretty much no one unfortunately.


jet 10.27.05 at 5:28 pm

This is such utter and complete bullshit. Sudan is in the extremely poor position of being entirely dependent on its oil exports, but that those oil exports aren’t large enough to have a huge impact on the world market. It wouldn’t take troops, missiles, or even much UN action. It would simply take minimal gestures by industrialized nations that they would take action. For example, don’t buy Sudanese oil and charge a genocide tariff on any country’s exports that imported Sudanese oil.

Pathetic assed world we live in.


Brendan 10.27.05 at 5:39 pm

oooooooooooops. shit.

oh well. it’s late here.

Sorry jet!


Daniel 10.27.05 at 6:25 pm

I think John’s being a little unfair at the moment. Both the US and EU are trying, desperately, to get two or three sets of parallel peace talks between the (titular) government of a failed state and various ethnic and/or religious militias to take hold. Although the talks are proving horribly ineffectual, they’re the last best – indeed the only – chance of getting viable state going in Sudan. As bad as things are, they could definitely get worse, which is what everyone is scared of, because neither the US, EU nor AU have the capacity to carry out a full nation-building exercise in Sudan.


Michael 10.27.05 at 7:06 pm

While constructing peace in a region like the Sudan is always a difficult process, I agree with John that what’s needed is an effective peacekeeping force, or something much stronger. Forget Iraq; if there ever was a case in which intervention is necessary, it’s this one, or any similar case of mass human slaughter. John is right to say that “It is a disgrace that the kind of slow-meaning ethnic cleansing we are seeing in Darfur can be allowed to continue, month after month, and year after year, without any real action being taken.” That, sadly, is the lesson of the 20th century, isn’t it? Now it’s the lesson of the 21st. Mpowell raises good questions, and I agree with his answers. The problem I have with deferral to UN approval is that the UN has been wrong in the past, as they were so hopelessly in Rwanda, and yet deferring to UN approval would be absolutely fine if the institution could respond to human catastrophes appropriately, expediently, and aggressively. The failures here are many (UN, US, EU, AU), and my suspicions about what lays ahead are very dark indeed.


Dave F 10.28.05 at 3:51 am

What amazes me is that Quiggin thought there was going to be a political solution because Sudan made nice. That is incredibly naive.
What is needed is sharp and effective sanctions now. But too many players are playing footsie with Khartoum, including the US.


Hektor Bim 10.28.05 at 5:43 am

My understanding is that no country requires approval from the UN if they act under the genocide convention. All the signatories are obligated to act to prevent genocide, regardless of what the Security Council says.

That’s why countries refuse to certify these things as genocides. Once they do, they are obligated to act. That’s the real reason why Europeans are running as fast as possible away from this.

This is another in a long line of failures by the international community to prevent genocide. One would hope that this would cause all the moral purists in the EU who spend so much time lecturing the US and others on their moral failures would notice this, but it appears to not be the case.

As far as I can tell, the US has done more than any other western nation to challenge the genocide, which still hasn’t been much. Some African nations are have peacekeeping forces, but they are woefully underequipped. The EU has done very little. There’s obviously no Muslim solidarity with the victims – after all Iran’s president isn’t giving speeches about the suffering of the Darfurians.

Depressing all around, really.


abb1 10.28.05 at 7:37 am

Here’s Wiki article on the subject: Darfur conflict. What exactly does JQ propose, what does the ‘effective peacekeeping’ mean? How do you meddle with someone’s civil war? Is there a precedent?



jet 10.28.05 at 9:35 am

It was nothing. I understood the mistake cause I think I’ve made it myself on occasion :)


jet 10.28.05 at 9:55 am

The wikipedia article shows the problem. Sudan knows no one wants to actually impose sanctions so they only have to go through some minor motions to avoid them.

Sanctions will always be a joke until CVN-76 is sitting off the Sudan shore with a target list of oil assets to be hit for every report of a cease-fire violation. Having Europe impose sanctions is like having Elmer Fudd track down your killer. Yeah someone is on the case, but are they really going to get anything done?


abb1 10.28.05 at 10:09 am

Sanctions on whom? The fraction that refused to cooperate with the mediators…

On September 15, a series of African Union mediated talks began in Abuja, Nigeria. Representatives of the Sudanese government and the two major rebel groups are participating in the talks, however the Sudan Liberation Movement faction refused to be present and according to a BBC reporter the SLM “will not recognise anything agreed at the talks”.

…is an anti-government coalition:

The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/SLA) is a loose association of Sudanese rebel groups fighting against the arab-militia Janjaweed.

Who do you want to punish and how? It’s a civil war.


Donald Johnson 10.28.05 at 2:11 pm

Why are the European countries and America so reluctant to do anything serious about this? Is it, as abb1 seems to be saying, that the situation is really a civil war and intervention would turn into an Iraq-style quagmire? Would it really be that expensive? (I understand that the US itself is stretched thin militarily, but we could presumably pay for someone else to step in).
Is the Sudanese government really one that is so important for some reason that everyone wants to stay friends? (Indonesia is an important country, which is why the US cheerfully supported their butchery in East Timor for decades.)

So what is it?


Stephen 10.28.05 at 2:54 pm

The major oil deals and shipments from Sudan are to China. They will veto any security council action against Sudan.


Daniel 10.28.05 at 2:58 pm

war and intervention would turn into an Iraq-style quagmire

If there was any realistic chance of an intervention in Sudan leading to the situation being as bad as Iraq, I would say steam in. It is already much worse than Iraq. The fear is of a Somalian-type situation.


abb1 10.28.05 at 3:08 pm

What kind of deals? Oil is commodity sold on the open market, isn’t it? Is there some special ingredient important for China in Sudan’s oil?


John Quiggin 10.28.05 at 3:55 pm

Following up on Daniel, I don’t see ambitious goals for an intervention. Just reducing the rate at which civilians are being killed would be a good start. This could be done without a political settlement, by establishing safe areas and (unlike Sreberenica) making it clear they will be defended.


abb1 10.28.05 at 4:47 pm

…establishing safe areas…

They go to Chad, they are not attacked there. There are many refugee camps right on the border. What’s needed is more supplies, food, etc. – more money, basically. The problem with western military forces (and especially the US military for some reason) is that they don’t do peacekeeping, they do killing. Especially in poor countries where they have no idea of what’s going on around them.

In order to defend people you need to understand who you are defending against whom, and that may not be that simple.

You mayy end up defending murderers, or somehow giving advantage to the side that doesn’t necessarily deserve it, or taking away incentive to negotiate from one side or the other. It may make matters worse, easily.


jet 10.30.05 at 9:47 am

The point about the SLM is a red herring. And you are disgusting in your comparison of the two sides as equal. Spin as you may, one side is committing genocide against the other.


abb1 10.30.05 at 2:43 pm

Why is the point about the SLM a red herring? Does the SLM facilitate a genocide? Are they your good guys or your bad guys; specifically: when you are the top US general there – will you be killing the SLM fighters (assuming that you can tell them apart from all other fighters) or protecting them?



jet 10.31.05 at 8:11 am


No one doubts that most of the actors are far from rational and that each side will seek to use outside intervention to gain advantage. But there is also no doubt that a genocide is occurring and that the Sudanese government is the primary enabler and supporter of the Janjaweed. Perhaps you should read some accounts of what exactly is occurring as a large number of victims are mutilated to death. Your arguments against sanctioning Sudan really are beyond the pale.

Do you also argue that we should have stayed out of Rwanda? When the French military showed up they were expecting to see dead Hutus, not Tutsis. Under your logic, this lack of knowledge of who the good guys and bad guys are means the French should have never went in. But then again, the revulsion people will have to your viewpoint might be some strong pathos to support intervention.


abb1 10.31.05 at 9:05 am

Well, Jet, you seem to be a bit too heavy on revulsion and too light on logic. It’ quite possible that your revulsion is stronger than mine – I don’t know, but that’s also quite irrelevant.


jet 10.31.05 at 12:02 pm

Heh, don’t discount Pathos as an extremely important part of any argument. See Harry B’s comment on the “Why Social Justice Matters” thread.

As for logic, you seem to equate any intervention in Sudan as a Vietnam scanario and can’t even pay attention to any arguement that might only involve sanctions, and this while most players agree that an real live genocide is occuring.

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