We recently argued that the West's handling of Darfur suggests it has learned nothing from previous genocides. And, three years into the killing in Sudan, it appears the West has learned nothing from this genocide, either. The most important lesson it has failed to absorb is that the Sudanese regime is composed, in the words of Darfur expert Alex de Waal, of "serial war criminals." Last month, the West once again put its faith in a promise from these criminals to end the violence--this time in the form of a peace deal the government reached with one of the three rebel groups. But we have been here before: In April 2004, Khartoum agreed to a cease-fire with Darfur rebels; in July 2004, it promised Kofi Annan that it would disarm the Janjaweed militias; in November 2004, it made the promise once again in another agreement with the rebels. Yet at no point did the genocide abate; and still, today, after years of diplomacy, the Janjaweed continues to terrorize civilians in Darfur and eastern Chad. Meanwhile, millions of Darfuris remain confined to camps, where they are dependent on humanitarian assistance that is running out and no closer to returning home than they were before.
If we are serious about stopping this genocide, we cannot rely on peace agreements or further expressions of good intent from Sudanese officials. Indeed, we must acknowledge that any approach to stopping the genocide that is acceptable to Khartoum is probably not an approach that will actually end the killing. Saving Darfur requires military intervention--intervention only the West can provide.
The African Union currently has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur. But they do not have the numbers, equipment, or mandate to confront the Janjaweed. The United Nations is planning to augment that force with its own troops in the coming months. But China and Russia (veto-wielding members of the Security Council and allies of Khartoum) will probably insist that U.N. troops deploy under a passive Chapter VI mandate rather than under a more robust Chapter VII mandate, which would allow them to more aggressively confront combatants and protect civilians. What's more, Sudanese officials are now backpedaling on whether they will allow U.N. troops into Darfur at all.
A far more effective way to stop the genocide would be with a NATO-led force that doesn't wait for Khartoum's permission. The consensus among experts is that it would take approximately 20,000 troops to secure Darfur. Of that number, about 5,000 would be needed to force a stand-down of the Janjaweed and Khartoum's regular military forces. To the other 15,000 would fall the less confrontational tasks of securing the border with Chad; protecting the camps, where refugees and internally displaced persons are still being raped and harassed by the Janjaweed; guarding humanitarian corridors, so that aid groups can resume deliveries of desperately needed food and medical supplies; and, eventually, securing the safe return of non-Arab Darfuris to their villages so they can begin the long process of rebuilding their lives.
These latter troops could come from any country--Western or non-Western--that traditionally supplies peacekeepers for international missions. By contrast, the 5,000 troops tasked with the heaviest lifting should be the best-trained and best-equipped the West has to offer. They should enter the region first--after NATO has established control over an existing air base--and clear the way for the arrival of the rest of the forces. Working from the ground and the air, their primary objective should be to stop attacks by the Janjaweed and, where necessary, confront rebel groups as well.
The idea that the Iraq war has made it impossible for NATO to come up with 5,000 troops is popular but simply untrue. Two years ago, the British army's chief of staff stated that his country alone could deploy 5,000 troops to Darfur. France has more than 100,000 soldiers not currently deployed, while Germany has nearly 200,000. Yes, the United States will have to supply troops as a signal of its commitment to the mission, and, yes, U.S. air power and weaponry will invariably be used. But saving Darfur does not require enormous numbers of American personnel. What it does require is American leadership. On Darfur, as on Bosnia and Kosovo just a decade ago, Europe is paralyzed. And so President Bush needs to rally our allies to action. We'd suggest a high-profile speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels. No, Bush is not the perfect man for the job, but--with the African Union and the United Nations unable to rescue Darfur, and with Europe unlikely to act on its own--he may be Darfur's only hope.
Would Khartoum resist intervention? Absolutely, if, by resistance, we mean that Sudanese officials will protest loudly. But will they actually confront NATO militarily? They would be crazy to do so. And, while Sudan's leaders are evil, they are also pragmatic: They have shown time and again that their highest allegiance is to their own power. (Their decisions to cut their once-strong ties with Al Qaeda under pressure from the Clinton administration and to ally with the United States after September 11 are but two examples of their fundamental realism.) If NATO announced, at the outset of the conflict, that it would bomb Sudanese targets if Khartoum obstructed the mission in Darfur, there is every reason to believe that government forces would hold their fire. Still, if Iraq has taught America anything, it is the need to anticipate all potential scenarios. And so we must prepare for the possibility that Sudan's leaders would confront our troops. If they did, NATO would have to follow through on its threat and attack Sudanese military installations from the air until Khartoum got the message. This is precisely the strategy that NATO used in Kosovo--and it worked.
Once NATO forces have ended the genocide, the peace can (and should) be kept by the United Nations, as tribal leaders begin the long process of reconciliation. The ultimate goal of Western intervention is not to make Darfur an independent nation; it is to establish an international protectorate that would seal Darfur off from the rest of Sudan, insulating the area from both Khartoum's troops and its penchant for manipulating the region's ethnic politics. This would create the political space for traditional tribal leaders to reassert their authority and rebuild the institutions that once guaranteed peaceful co-existence between Arab and African Darfuris. Yes, this means a sustained and expensive commitment from the international community. Seven years after NATO bombed its way into Kosovo, the region's political status remains unresolved, and international peacekeepers continue to patrol the province. But, for all the difficulties of the conflict's aftermath, few regret that NATO acted to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo when it did. In Darfur, we can be sure of two things: that restoring normality to the region will not be easy and that we have no choice but to try.
In recent weeks, two objections to Western intervention in Darfur have gained currency. The first is that American troops entering another Muslim country would further inflame anti-American sentiment around the world. We are not so sure. True, the perpetrators of the Darfur genocide are Muslims, but, as in the Balkans, the victims are Muslims, too. Some, including Osama bin Laden himself, have raised the possibility that Al Qaeda would fight Western forces in Darfur. Yet, if it is the worldwide struggle for hearts and minds that concerns us, then a scenario in which Al Qaeda abets genocide against a Muslim population would seem a favorable one for the United States. This is not Iraq: A few weeks ago, thousands of Darfuris demonstrated in a camp, chanting, "Welcome, welcome, USA. Welcome, welcome, international force." Potentially, an intervention in Darfur could help restore, rather than further erode, America's moral standing in the world community. And if not? If the worst happens and the West is vilified in the Muslim world for its mission to Darfur? Then the United States has to weigh the costs of such vilification against the moral imperative of saving hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of lives. We think that calculation yields a clear answer.
The second objection is more fundamental. Some have alleged that those who favor intervention in Darfur misunderstand the nature of the conflict there: It is a civil war, they say, not a genocide, and, while the government's tactics have been brutal, the rebels are no angels, either. By this logic, intervention would just help one group of morally dubious actors (the rebels) triumph over another group of morally dubious actors (the government and the Janjaweed).
This argument gets one thing right: The rebels are far from sympathetic. They have committed atrocities, and they continue to play a role in making Darfur a dangerous place for humanitarian workers. But the rebels did not, as one New York Times op-ed recently alleged, take up arms "to gain tribal domination." For decades, Khartoum neglected the region's development. Though the reasons for the formation of the different rebel groups in 2003 were varied, their basic demand--a fair share for Darfuris of national wealth and power--was far from illegitimate. Here again, the analogy to Kosovo is instructive: An unsavory band of rebels, acting on behalf of a population with legitimate grievances, has taken up arms against a central government that espouses a racialist ideology; the government has responded with genocide; and, now, the question before the West is whether to stop the massacres or throw up our hands and declare both sides equally culpable.
It is true that, as in Kosovo, NATO forces in Sudan will have to confront rebel groups as well as government-backed militias. But let there be no confusion: It was the government and the Janjaweed, not the rebels, that evicted millions of non-Arab Darfuris from their homes and consigned them to refugee camps, where they face death by disease, hunger, and marauding militias; and it is the government and the Janjaweed, more than the rebels, that are currently making it impossible for these men, women, and children to return to their villages and rebuild. Yes, the rebels need to be disarmed; and, yes, certain groups may reasonably believe that Western intervention will yield political gains for their own tribe. But none of this obviates our moral obligations. It is not for the rebel groups that we must go to Darfur. It is for the millions of civilians in the camps whose relatives have been killed, whose communities have been destroyed, and who, if Khartoum has its way, will never return home. These desperate people were chanting "welcome, welcome USA" for a reason. We are three years too late to save many of their relatives and neighbors. But we are not too late to save them.