Thursday, August 02, 2007

Analyzing the Darfur Peacekeeping Authorization

On the 31st of July, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed resolution 1769 authorizing the creation of a 20,000 strong peacekeeping force to be deployed to the Darfur region of Sudan. This resolution has been hailed as a historic landmark on the way to fulfilling the obligation to protect established in humanitarian law and there is a great groundswell of opinion that this force will end the ongoing genocide in which an estimated 7,000 civilians are killed a month.

Sadly, this is not the first time the UNSC has authorized action in Sudan and expectations should be tempered. One year ago, the UNSC passed a very similar resolution that authorized the deployment of 17,000 troops, none of whom actually made it to the “killing fields”.

It needs to be understood that UNSC resolutions authorizing the deployment of peacekeeping troops is not equivalent to an order to deploy given to a national military. Instead, it is just what it sounds like – an authorization. UN peacekeeping resolutions grant permission to relevant or interested nations to construct the force up to the size authorized – meaning that the actual size could be much smaller than what was announced.

This problem demonstrates a weakness in the system as there are various ways to manipulate the accumulation of peacekeepers. Sudan has effectively watered down previous efforts by insisting that only African troops be deployed. If this happens again, it is a virtual guarantee that any force deployed with be much smaller than the maximum amount authorized and ultimately, ineffective. It will be up to the British and French governments to ensure that Sudan is not permitted to play diplomatic politics. On this issue, diplomatic rigidity is the only option.

Political Will

Fortunately, and unlike previous iterations of UNSC action against genocide, it appears that this time, there might just be sufficient political will to stop the state-sponsored slaughter of innocents. That is, if British Prime Minister Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy follow through with their strong words. It is notable that by passing this resolution, both dignitaries have now registered significant foreign policy success, as well as distinguished themselves from their predecessors.

Whether they have the political will to maintain diplomatic pressure on Sudan and China in the long run remains to be seen. But, their collective rhetoric as well as their desire to forge a new foreign policy, particularly for Brown, gives credence to the belief that this time, at the least, the West will not back down in the face of unrepentant destruction of an ethnic minority. Still, it remains our job to ensure that these leaders back up their rhetoric with action.

Partnering with a Genocidal State to end Genocide

Further, this resolution reveals another complexity or contradiction in international humanitarian law and response. The UN was originally organized to preserve peace and international security, not protect innocents from genocide. Enshrined in the covenant was the principle of sovereignty and it remains one of the more highly respected principles of international law. It’s the justification for why the US is not part of the International Criminal Court and a frequent GOP talking point in reference to the UN. Unfortunately, sovereignty is often the shield that genocidal regimes hide behind to continue their practice of extermination or ethnic cleansing.

Increasingly sovereignty is in direct conflict with the growing body of international law referred to as the “responsibility to protect”. Over the last 15 years, however, the iron clad principle of sovereignty has been challenged by the events of Bosnia and Rwanda. The latter was particularly troubling as the norm of non-intervention suggested that nations should stand by and watch as hundreds of thousands were killed with the most primitive weapons when a few thousand troops tasked with ending the genocide could have saved uncountable lives with very little risk.

That situation is being replicated in Darfur, in particular with the failure to enforce the no fly zone. The Sudanese air force is not one to be feared, unless you are an unarmed innocent on the ground. A small contingent of British or French planes could easily enforce the no fly zone with zero casualties if there was will to do so. Frankly, the US maintained a no fly zone over approximately two-thirds of Iraq for over a decade, a much more risky situation, with minimal difficulty. Depriving the Sudanese of air power over Darfur would represent a significant step toward providing security to the regions inhabitants and is something that should be immediately acted upon.

Therefore, it is not without a bit of irony that UNSC resolution 1769 explicitly states its respect for Sudan’s sovereignty. This is a bit like telling the Nazis that while we respect their right to do whatever they want within their territory, they really need to stop gassing the Jews. David Clark, writing in the Guardian, says it best, “The fallacy at the heart of our failure in Darfur until now has been the idea that you can stop genocide and ethnic cleansing with the consent of those responsible. It's almost as if Bosnia never happened.”

For this genocide, it is hoped that the collective action of the African Union and the European led peacekeeping initiative can end the suffering of those living in Darfur. However, the bigger question remains: Can the world really partner with rogue, genocidal regimes to end a humanitarian disaster of their making? The quick answer to that seems to be a resounding no, but the political realities of the world in which we live must be accepted. Subverting the “never to be violated” concept of sovereignty in favor of the “responsibility to protect” will be a long term process with many obstacles along the way. One can not reasonably expect the world to radically turn against such a long held concept quickly, no matter how absurdly simple it is to stop a genocide in progress.

(Lest there be any doubt that Sudan is not a partner to this genocide, one only has to turn to previous UNSC statements and testimony on the matter, particularly from Colin Powell. This article from The Independent provides further evidence in the form of witness testimony.)

Chinese Approval

A frequent criticism of the UNSC is that the Permanent-5 (the US, China, Russia, France, and the UK) impede and obstruct humanitarian action when it doesn’t suit their own interests. Followers of the Darfur crisis will be aware that the fault for UNSC inaction in this situation has been placed at the feet of China. This is because China is a major trading partner with Sudan, purchasing approximately 75% of its oil exports annually. Due to its position on the Security Council, China has threatened to veto any resolution including sanctions or other harsh penalties as a means to protect its trade interests with Sudan.

Therefore, it is news that China allowed this resolution to go forward. There are three conventional explanations for why Chinese approval was secured for the latest UNSC resolution toward Sudan:

1. The coming 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing would have been a lightning rod for protest and criticism if China had continued to block UN SC action on Sudan. China, more than any communist nation, is obsessively concerned with its image. The Olympics are a source of pride for the nation and the blight of Darfur was apparently not something the government was willing to endure.

2. The UN resolution doesn’t contain the threat of sanctions meaning that Chinese oil interests are not jeopardized at this phase. Had the resolution been harsher, it’s likely that China would have threatened to veto. As it stands, however, the resolution respects Sudan’s sovereignty and is essentially toothless. There was literally no downside to Chinese support.

3. Chinese engineers will build the base that will house the 26,000 troops. This holds value as it means experience and potentially contracts.

While these are certainly valid factors, it is more likely that the agreed version was acceptable for the very reason that it is not a guarantee of strong peacekeeping and does not represent a direct threat to the Sudanese government. China, which clearly values economics over the annoyances of human rights concerns, effectively watered down the resolution removing both the threat of sanctions and the right to confiscate arms. Further, the rules of engagement still have to be clarified and there is no guarantee that the peacekeeping force will be authorized to protect civilians from genocidal forces any more than what was allowed in Rwanda. Ultimately, by agreeing to this resolution China garners the appearance of responsibility without undercutting their economic interests or really pressuring the Sudan regime in any strong capacity.

Still, China’s consent is noteworthy as it proves that the rest of the SC can work with the recalcitrant power. This is important because diplomacy is process. By involving China in this process, the rest of the SC can eventually ratchet up the pressure to the extent that the realist nation will have no choice but to grant assent to stronger measures in the future (no fly zone enforcement, arms confiscation, and/or sanctions). In the end, China’s global interests are greater than its interests in Sudan and the evidence indicates that with continued political pressure and forceful diplomacy, they can become partners to ending genocide, even if they are generally unwilling.


Challenging the international political structure to respond more forcefully, effectively, and quickly to crises of genocide and ethnic cleansing is a long term process with no easy solution. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands, if not millions more will die before we have an effective, rapid response to genocide.

The problem of response is compounded by a dearth of information about when and where genocides occur. Nations are generally a bit smarter than Nazi Germany in that they don’t keep records or publicize genocidal actions. Therefore, detecting initiation and culpability, as well as prosecuting genocide after the fact, has become a more difficult challenge. As long as political leaders can hide behind the twin shields of sovereignty and plausible deniability, response to genocide will be slow to non-existent.

Ultimately, the world needs a more rigorous monitoring system to reduce response time and build political will for action. The World Health Organization has a global disease monitoring program that is more or less uncontroversial as public health risks threaten everyone. A similar system should be developed to address problems of emergent genocide. The more information there is about ongoing genocide and its participants, the easier it will be to generate an adequate response. For the Darfur situation to have any long term historical significance, along with Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, etc, it must fuel the “responsibility to protect” ethic, monitoring initiatives, and peacekeeping actions.



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