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Waiting Game

Can a U.N. resolution stop the genocide in Darfur?

After the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1706, which authorizes a robust peacekeeping force in Darfur, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton seemed confident that it would force the unwilling Sudanese government suddenly to allow U.N. peacekeepers into strife-ridden Sudan. "The Security Council has just adopted a resolution. We expect the government of Sudan to comply with it," Bolton announced.

But someone as familiar with Darfur as Bolton is ought to be less sanguine. To the surprise of very few, Khartoum bluntly rejected the invitation to allow U.N. troops into the country. At long last, every excuse is gone, and only one alternative remains: Only a Western-led intervention force--whether under the auspices of nato, the United Nations, or some coalition of willing countries--can put a stop to the genocide.

While we wait for anyone to do anything more than throw money at the problem, Khartoum has issued an ultimatum to the African Union peacekeeping mission currently there: Either continue your toothless operations without the United Nations, or get out of our country. This fits with Khartoum's strategy of making only the vaguest gestures toward diplomacy. Doing so keeps Bolton's recent reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter--the invocation of which would allow U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan to use force against genocidaires to protect civilians and seize weapons--an empty threat for now.

Ominously, the Khartoum government is preparing a new, massive military deployment, ostensibly to put down rebel forces before any U.N. peacekeepers arrive. But Khartoum's tactics have not been those of counter-insurgency, or even total war. They have been the tactics of genocide. A recent Amnesty International report describes "indiscriminate and disproportionate bombings on civilians and how the Janjaweed, government militias operating alongside the Sudanese army, target exclusively civilians. In such attacks, civilians are usually killed, injured, raped, abducted or forcibly displaced." If ever there was time to intervene, it is now, before this offensive against Darfuris takes place.

American officials somehow remain confident that Khartoum will consent and that a U.N. force will be deployed. One State Department official familiar with the situation said, "We're not saying if, we're saying when [an intervention] will occur," citing similarly belligerent rhetoric coming from Khartoum before the government acquiesced to the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force to the south of the country in 2005. In a vacuum coyness may be an effective diplomatic tool, but it hardly seems appropriate where the death toll mounts every day.

Meanwhile, with the increasing international prosecution of human rights violations, the Sudanese government has little incentive to allow 20,000 more troops and policemen into the country. For now, the Security Council is scheduled to return to the question of Darfur with a briefing on Friday or Monday, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer is in the region; obviously, the United Nations and the United States still think it's possible that Khartoum will fold.

But the Sudanese government knows that, despite years of talk, there has been no action yet; its strategy of obstruction has worked. If its intransigence continues, Western powers should not just keep waiting: Resolution 1706 does not technically require Sudanese consent for intervention. It's true that a U.N. force could still be deployed, but it's unlikely that, in the face of Khartoum's hard line, member states would contribute the necessary troops. Which may leave Western powers to act alone. "Silence gives consent," Bolton told reporters after the resolution passed. By that measure, those powers have already acquiesced to Sudan's coming offensive.

Tim Fernholz is a TNR Online intern.

By Tim Fernholz