Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A(nother) Cease-Fire in Darfur? Don't Get Too Excited...

For the second time, a cease-fire has been reached between the Sudanese government and the major rebel militia groups in Darfur. The cease-fire involves a 60-day cessation of hostilities, leading up to a peace summit with the African Union, the UN, the Sudan, and rebel groups. However, no one should be holding his breath in anticipation that this cease-fire will work.

First of all, negotiations like this always create a collective action problem wherein any group not party to the deal has a strong incentive to defect from the deal. [Sometimes this even applies to a group party to a deal but with multiple decentralized factions, such as the ETA, which announced that despite conducting a bombing in Spain over the New Year weekend, its cease-fire deal with the Spanish government is still in effect. In essence, because Spain has more to lose by scuttling the cease-fire, the ETA has a "get out of jail free" card.] This is what brought down the first cease-fire deal, and unless each and every Darfuri rebel group is included and has an incentive to adhere to the deal, it will, very shortly, be violated.

Second, the Sudanese government has, shortly after annoucing the cease-fire, reconfirmed that it will not allow UN troops to join or replace the too-small and too-weak AU peacekeeping force already on the ground in Darfur.

Nex Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, currently in Darfur and involved in the cease-fire negotiations, stated that "we've achieved something significant. It needs to be followed up. But unless there is proper implementation and follow through, this agreement is still up in the air. But I believe we've made an important breakthrough."

Unfortunately, Governor Richardson's comments are very likely premature. Neither the US nor the UN has demonstrated sufficient spine to enforce any deals or agreements, and has hardly mustered the energy to put any real pressure on Sudan or its protector, China. Until that happens, the situation is unlikely to improve.


smilerz said...

What interest does China have in protecting Sudan? I don't understand the connection.

Seth Weinberger said...

China gets a large amount of oil from Sudan and has been strongly resisting allowing the UNSC to put any pressure, let alone sanctions, on Sudan.

John Boonstra said...

Do you think Richardson would have been better off refusing to meet with Bashir, as some aid workers advised? This seems a case of painful naivete and overconfidence, despite good intentions, on Richardson's part; he was able to secure journalist Paul Salopek's release, but there may be a very real concern that the Sudanese regime is using Richardson to provide them with blanket cover for their ongoing offensive. I was very annoyed when the Save Darfur Coalition sent its members an email lauding the historic development of this ceasefire, because I fear that this may only delude people and assuage their overworked consciences. Khartoum could use this "agreement" with Richardson in much the same way as it has used the DPA - to proclaim that it is for peace, blame the rebels for any instigations of violence, while continuing to maintain the deadly genocidal status quo.

Seth Weinberger said...

Moral hazards like that identified by John above are tough knots to unravel. Another example: a few years ago there was a big kerfuffle over Christian groups purchasing slavs from Arab (mostly Sudanese) slavers and freeing them. Of course, this merely encouraged the taking of more slaves to sell to American do-gooders. Nicholas Kristof acknowledged this same problem when he purchased two Thai girls out of sexual slavery.

Should Gov. Richardson have refused to meet with the Sudanese? Probably not. As John notes,a dissident was freed. Furthermore, if the cease-fire falls apart, at least there is an agreement people can point to to, perhaps, hold the Sudanese government to task. Agreements like these can make a difference over the long haul; remember the impact the Helsinki Accords, initially derided as naive and useless ultimately had on forcing the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries to increase religious freedoms which ultimately led to the rise of Solidarity in Poland.

I do wish, however, Gov. Richardson and the Save Darfur coalition would be a bit more realistic in their assessments of deals such as these. It does no one any good (except for, perhaps, the governor's presidential aspirations) to laud and reward the genocidal leaders of Sudan when it's unlikely the deal will hold in the short run.