Ms. Jody Williams, head of the UN high-level mission to Darfur, spoke to the root of the problem in March, 2007: “There are so many hollow threats towards Khartoum, that if I were Khartoum I wouldn’t pay any attention either.”
Who are the key actors in the conflict? What are the conditions on the ground in Darfur? What possible options for conflict resolution are on the table?
The conflict in Darfur has primarily constituted the ongoing fighting between the Bedouin Arab Janjaweed militia and black African groups The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The JEM and SLA rebel groups consider themselves representatives of a Darfur black African contingent that they claim has been oppressed by its Arab population. Though the Sudanese government denies direct involvement in the conflict, there is ample evidence that they have been backing the Arab militia (the Janjaweed) through financial support, the provision of government arms and tactical air support.
The only political institution actively involved in Darfur is the African Union (AU). With logistical and financial aid from the UN and NATO, the AU’s work in Darfur represents its first peacekeeping mission to date. Although the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has experienced many shortcomings (weak mandate, troop shortages, uncertain funding stream, little institutional support) the AU forces must be given credit for offering military assistance while Western powers have stood aside and blustered. The United States must be given credit, however, as the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in the region.
At the moment, the Darfur conflict is evolving from more-or-less two-way strife, between the central government (including the Janjaweed) and rebels, to a more complex war involving heavy fighting between various rebel factions. Since mid-2006 the number of rebel groups in Darfur has risen to fifteen (including the National Redemption Front (NRF), Sudan’s most significant new movement). The increase in the breadth of the conflict makes it virtually impossible to negotiate deals for the safe passage of workers and supplies from NGOs, not to mention forging the negotiation of a cohesive and unanimously accepted peace accord.
The expansion of the conflict to neighboring countries Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) has heightened the pitch of the difficulties even further. Chad has said that it plans to send troops to help CAR confront cross-border rebels in what it describes as a spreading regional war waged by Sudan. This announcement could lead to further escalation of the conflict.
In November 2006, the UN and the AU agreed on a three-phase action plan for Darfur, the so-called UN Darfur Plan. The first phase, which has already begun, involves UN provisions of logistical and technical support for AMIS. During the second phase 3,000 UN peacekeepers, including helicopter gunships, will be deployed to Sudan; the Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol agreed in mid-April on activation. The third and final phase, the so-called “heavy support package” involves the deployment of a 20,000-strong “hybrid” UN-AU force.
- the AU is facing a serious financial crisis and has officially recommended that the UN take over its mission.
- 7,000 AU troops are not sufficient to cover Darfur and to end aggressions.
- the Sudanese government will not accept more than 12,000 troops in the country and opposes UN leadership in the hybrid force.
- even 20,000 troops fall well short of what is needed to halt the genocide.
A further possible solution to the Darfur conflict could be achieved through diplomacy, without external military involvement of the UN, NATO or other actors. Under a diplomatic framework, a united international body would pressure the Sudanese government and the rebels into a meaningful peace process.
- a political settlement among all parties involved in the conflict is the only way to achieve long-term progress in Darfur.
- using military force to end the conflict could lead to a complete collapse of north central Africa into war and anarchy.
- experience in dealing with the Sudanese government has shown that, without military support, there will be no peace.
- it is impossible to negotiate a political agreement among 15 different rebel factions, whose relations are characterized by mistrust and dissatisfaction.
Susan E. Rice, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, has asked George W. Bush to give an Executive Order that would authorize him to use force to stop the genocide in Darfur. This Executive order would involve the deployment of bombing aircraft, the creation of a no-fly zone over Darfur, the imposition of capital market sanctions on companies investing in Sudan and the freezing of Sudanese governments’ assets and those of key Sudanese military, government and Janjaweed leaders. Rice’s suggestion involves the stipulation that, if the Sudanese government does not relent within 15 days of the issuance of the Executive Order, the Bush Administration should use military force—preferably with NATO involvement and UN support—to compel Khartoum to admit a robust UN force and stop killing civilians.
- US cannot allow another state to threaten the West by creating terrorist structures and committing genocide
- US military (especially Air Force and Navy units) is capable of carrying out another mission
- unless the consent of the UN or a relevant regional body is achieved beforehand, the US move would violate international law
- in the aftermath of the Iraq war, aggressive military measures would be counterproductive; the US would be handing Omar al-Bashir a propaganda victory and a chance to rally support