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May 30, 2005

NATO to Darfur
Posted by Derek Chollet

Over the weekend Kofi Annan went to Sudan, where he visited Darfur.  It is amazing – no, appalling – that almost a year after then-Secretary of State Powell called what is happening in Darfur a genocide, that the situation remains, as Annan put it after his visit, “heart wrenching” and “not a situation that can be acceptable for long.”  Over 180,000 killed and two million driven from their homes?  In my book, that’s a situation that’s long past acceptable.

The world – and that includes the Bush Administration -- recognizes that Darfur is a grave humanitarian crisis.  But it still has not found the will or the way to stop the atrocities.  The African Union (AU) has several thousand peacekeepers on the ground and has pledged more, but these won’t be deployed for some time.  In the meantime, people are dying everyday.

Here at DA we have talked about the need to act in Darfur, and fast.  One proposal that has been floating around for awhile would be for NATO to intervene, at the least assisting with logistical support, intelligence, and airlift capacity for the African Union troops (which needs help in all these areas), as well as possibly inserting NATO troops as a “bridging force” until the AU troops can get there.

The case for NATO in Darfur is slowly gaining momentum.  The State Department has been quietly working on this for weeks.  And the effort got an important boost last week by a diverse group of former officials, including Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, and former foreign ministers Robin Cook of Britain, Lamberto Dini of Italy, Lloyd Axworthy of Canada, Ana Palacio of Spain, Erik Derycke of Belgium, and Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand.  They wrote a statement that was published in the International Herald Tribune, calling for NATO to make a greater commitment to Darfur, including the possibility of troops on the ground.

The statement is worth reading in full, if nothing else for how it places the international community’s (in)action in Darfur within the larger context of UN reform and the emerging norm of the “responsibility to protect.”  But the key sections are these:

“….Because the AU force is currently too small to cover an area the size of France and lacks critical logistical capacities, the militias continue to burn villages and besiege refugees in their camps.

….NATO should immediately provide the AU with helicopters (already offered by Canada); command, control and support capabilities; and strategic and tactical lift. Drawing on its Response Force, which is now at its initial operational capacity of 17,000, NATO should put a brigade-sized element at the disposal of the United Nations to augment the AU force until it can build up sufficient strength of its own.

In addition, NATO should seek authority from the Security Council for a new Chapter VII resolution establishing a no-flight zone over Darfur, which NATO aircraft would enforce. Although some states on the Security Council, notably China, have opposed tougher measures on the grounds that the Sudanese government should be given time to resolve the conflict in Darfur through a new political process, it remains an open question as to whether these governments would vote against an action that was aimed at saving lives.

We applaud NATO's commitment to the ongoing crisis in Darfur but we also believe that this successful military alliance, strengthened by the warrant of Security Council legitimacy, could do much more to bring a halt to Darfur's horrific humanitarian crisis. The ever-popular mantra ‘never again’ has to mean more than expressing political sentiment and issuing lukewarm resolutions that fail to stop the violence. It is not too late for meaningful action.”

This is tough stuff, to be sure.  Last week the U.S. and European countries agreed to provide critical assistance -- including $300 million to fund a larger AU force, air transport, armored personnel carriers, troop transport trucks, and training.  These are very positive steps, but much more is needed.  For example, the money pledged still falls nearly $150 million short of what the AU says it needs.

With the U.S. military over-extended as it is, we would need to rely mostly on the Europeans for further support, especially troops -- although, significantly, as Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick explained last week, the U.S. has already agreed to airlift the Rwandan contingent of the AU force, help build communications facilities and assist with training.  But I believe greater American leadership could be decisive.  Zoellick has made Sudan one of his highest priorities -- he has already been to Darfur once, and is going there again this week.

Next month, the President will join other world leaders at the G-8 summit in Scotland.  One of the main items on the agenda will be Africa, which Blair has made a theme of the summit.  It’s guaranteed that they’ll be a lot of earnest talk.  But for a meaningful outcome, President Bush should make greater NATO involvement in Darfur his priority.   


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If the UN Security Council does not support more effective action in Sudan is it then ok if NATO, or some NATO member nations, intervenes without UN approval? NATO did not seek, nor would have gotten approval, for Kosovo.

If the UN can not vote to act is it adequate if NATO votes to act and does this apply in all cases? Should the UN always be the first avenue pursued in dealing with all international problems?

Lane Brody

Why doesn't Kofi Annan use harsher language?

"Not a situation that can be acceptable for long," just makes him sound weak and uncommitted.

How did Bush get away with killing the Darfur Accountability Act with such little fuss?

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