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June 02, 2005

Sudan - Don't Give Up So Fast
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Kevin Drum questions whether there's any truth to Derek's contention that the American public supports greater action on Darfur, and whether there's any option on the table for ending the crisis short of sending in American troops, something the public is hesitant to countenance.

As the resident night owl, I offer a few thoughts in response, with the hope that Derek adds some more in the AM:

- While Kevin's right that in the Zogby/International Crisis Group poll on U.S. public opinion toward Darfur, just 28% of Americans described themselves as "very aware" of the crisis, when the crisis was described to them large majorities nonetheless supported action: 70% thought the international community should respond and 84% thought the U.S. should use its "military assets" (short of troops) to stop the tragedy unfolding.  Under the circumstances, with the military stretched to the breaking point in a far-flung conflict that many Americans view as endless and unnecessary, its remarkable that fully 38% of survey respondents do support putting U.S. soldiers on the ground.  After all, that's 20% more than said they know what's really going on in Sudan.  Were it not for our entanglement in Iraq, that number might be a lot higher.

- Second, there are alternatives to U.S. boots on the ground.  Kevin is right that the Darfur mission is highlighting the AU's weaknesses in terms of capabilities, equipment and funding.   The most obvious short-term solution is a hefty NATO backstop to an AU force, likely going beyond the logistics, transport and training they are providing today to include actual troops in country (over the long-term, we ought to be thinking about measures like those outlined here, including a long-term investment in developing capable military leadership for a standing AU force).  This is what Derek, Madeleine Albright and others have been urging.  A large amount of U.S. energy has been expended over the last decade in sustaining and expanding NATO in preparation for a post-Cold War role.   With Europe chaotic but essential secure and peaceful, right now its hard to imagine a better use of the capabilities amassed than Darfur.  It's also a chance for the many European countries that are not entangled in Iraq to share some of the burden of keeping the global peace, something they profess willingness to do.  Building consensus for a robust NATO mission won't be easy, but the U.S. is obligated to try.

- A third option is stepped up UN peacekeeping.  The UNSC voted to establish a 10,000 person strong peacekeeping mission in Sudan back in March, but the peacekeepers have only just begun to deploy.  The UN forces will share some of the AU limitations, including lack of rapid-deployment and sophisticated airlift capabilities.  Over the long-term, a standing UN force would be one way to remedy these shortcomings, and strengthen the alternatives to U.S. intervention.  There are also political constraints on UN involvement, including most notably China's ties to the Sudanese regime.    But the Chinese are not above the kind of pressure that global acknowledgement of a genocidal crisis brings to bear.

So its not enough to throw up our hands even if we reject U.S. ground troops as a serious option.  There are alternatives.  Its the Administration's job to make them work, and our job to push them to do so.


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» Darfur Revisited from Political Animal
DARFUR REVISITED....Suzanne Nossel responds to my pessimistic appraisal of intervention in Darfur. There are more options than U.S. boots on the ground, she says:The most obvious short-term solution is a hefty NATO backstop to an AU force, likely going... [Read More]

» Darfur Revisited from Political Animal
DARFUR REVISITED....Suzanne Nossel responds today to my pessimistic appraisal of intervention in Darfur. There are more options than U.S. boots on the ground, she says:The most obvious short-term solution is a hefty NATO backstop to an AU force, likely... [Read More]


This is probably a stupid question, but knowing littl about NATO, I wonder if dealing with issues and countries not in or bordering NATO members is in NATO's mandate? I agree that NATO support is probably the best solution, but how do other NATO countries feel about intervention in Darfur? (Not that we've been terribly quick to stop the genocide ourselves, but poll numbers in mind, American citizens would like to do *something* short of actual troop deployment.)


Do you remember UNPROFOR, which was essentially NATO without the US? The one that fail to stop Sebrenicia. Do you really want to repeat that?

NATO? It's main objective was Cold War deterrence. It was never a real military organization and in Bosnia the main focus of NATO troops was avoiding casualties that might upset Parliament back home. That hasn't changed so it's naive to think that NATO if it could get to the region would do anything other than sit on it's hands.

The UN? Recall Rwanda? Gen. Dallaire being ordered by Kofi Annan to "preserve the neutrality of the UN" and not interfere? The UN will not be any different than the AU which is basically "observing" whatever and wherever the Government lets it.

We can strip troops from Germany, and cobble together an intervention force to stop the killing. The Sudanese government is very weak and badly led and organized. It will cost lives. If you want to stop the Genocide that's what will have to happen. Otherwise everything else is the same useless talk that went on in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust.

As far as the opinion column from the NYT and option #1:
the US has been trying to do exactly that for over a decade. The African Crisis Response Force (ACRF) and African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) saw us spend around $150M to try and create stand by forces, which failed. then there was the $90M program to train and equip 7 WAF battalions for UNAMSIL, which succeeded, but which weren't sustained by the HN after the battalions returned from deployment.
There is currently an effort underway to do this again at the AU level with forming 5 standby brigades but when you are working with multiple multilateral organizations--the AU, the sub-regional organizations, the EU, the UN--nothing happens quickly and it will be years before there are concrete results.
And your comment " But the Chinese are not above the kind of pressure that global acknowledgement of a genocidal crisis brings to bear" makes me laugh, because a) I have never seen the Chinese respond to any kind of pressure that didn't also coincide with their national interests, and b) the only acknowledgement of a genocidal crisis has been a US unilateral one; neither the EU nor the UN have so labelled it.

The number of combat ready deployable forces available to European nations today would stun those who are not aware. NATO has not, collectively, been able to fully supply the extremely modest numbers of troops it pledged for Afganistan (around 10,000).

Certainly one might logically conclude that it would be nice if one day NATO and/or the EU would identify a problem like Dafur and choose to act. Broadly speaking what is missing is the political will to spend what is needed on the military to even allow modest peace-keeping operations and the political will to engage in such operations (we'll call the money for actually being able to project power a fantasy and just use the USAF and leased ex-Soviet An-224's).

The point is that neither NATO, the EU, or the UN has the political will to act. In former French colonies in Africa that need military assistance or intervention France rarely asks anyone what they think- they just go in. NATO in Kosovo acted without UN approval because they knew none would be forthcoming.

The notion that the UN is ever going to have a standing force is silly. UN forces are made up individual nation contributions. From memory total Security Council approved peace-keeping is around 40,000 but only around 30,000 has been contributed (ballpark). Is a standing force to be non national or mercenary and are the nations of the world going to pay for that when they often will not pay for their own forces?

Concluding it is the US job to make it happen is a tad simplistic. If we were not stretched we might consider just doing or leading it. We can't today. Untill Europe decides to do something, with our assistance, it is not going to get done. One might be allowed to imagine that Europe could do something one day without us leading.

In any case there will be US resentment either way. There is still resentment over Kosovo- and even more so given we pushed them to do it and then had to embarrass the nations of Europe by showing in a real world air campaign that basically they were useless and did not spend enough on defense (The US flew 90+% of all offensive air missions). Europe would not have dealt with it's own backyard in Kosovo without us so exactly why does anyone expect they will act in Sudan?

The problem is simply lack of political will. The US does have the will but is a tad busy now. Imagine that. Maybe it's not a great idea to isolate the US politically and make it's stated objectives more difficult to attain and not have the ability to deal with the world when the US can not?

It is simply outrageous that the nations of Europe, forget the UN (or to be precise forget the UN doing anything without European support), lack the will to even engage in peace-keeping in a situation that people are debating fully meets the definition of genocide or is only approaching genocide. It's just too damn bad that once since WWII the US is a tad busy. Better to have little college debates with the subject of whether the US is a force for good or ill in the world (Oxford iirc).

Lane Brody

Why not just give the people under attack weapons and let them defend themselves?

Then all you have to do is supply ammunition and replacement weapons after the initial distributiions.

Great post Mr. Brody.

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