It is hard to imagine that anyone puts any faith in the UN to solve international crises any more. And yet, the optimism that followed the earlier announcement that Sudan would allow UN peace keepers into Darfur seemed to indicate trust that the blue helmets would soon be riding to rescue of the long-suffering Darfuris. However, all indications are that any hope that the genocide would be ending soon seems premature.
First, Sudan only agreed to allow 3,000 UN troops into the region, and only in a supporting or advisory role. That would bring the total UN-African Union hybrid force to 10,000; far short of the 17,000 - 20,000 peace keepers that both the AU and the UN have claimed would be needed to properly monitor the situation and protect the civilians. There is no indication that Sudan is considering allowing the larger force into Darfur. And given that the UN is having trouble raising the 3,000 troops already given permission, it's not even clear that a larger force could be mustered. Furthermore, the New York Times reports today that Sudan has been flying heavy weapons into the area in planes disguised as UN or AU transports. There are also indications that these planes are being used to bombard villages. These certainly do not seem like the actions of a state willing to cooperate with the UN in order to end the genocide in Darfur.
While the UN fiddles in the vain and desperate hopes that the murderous Sudanese regime will consent to end a policy that has so far served its purposes well, the US continues to push for a heavier hand in dealing with Sudan. Today, President Bush threatened to strengthen US sanctions against Sudan unless immediate actions are taken to stop the killing. Specifically, Bush demanded that "the Sudanese government must allow U.N. support forces, facilitate deployment of a full U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force, stop supporting violent militias and let humanitarian aid reach the people of Darfur." If such actions are not forthcoming, Bush stated that "the United States would tighten economic sanctions on Sudan, barring certain companies from taking part in the U.S. financial system; target sanctions on individuals responsible for violence; and apply new sanctions against the government of Sudan."
However, such sanctions while well-intentioned and certainly an improvement over the pathetic dithering and wishful thinking of the UN, aren't likely to have a sufficiently rapid effect to make a significant difference. If Darfur is to be saved, the US, NATO, the EU, and any other state that gives a damn needs to deploy military force to the area, without Sudanese consent if need be. In congressional hearings last week, Senator Joseph Biden called for just such an intervention, arguing that even 2,500 U.S. troops could "radically change the situation on the ground now." And while Biden acknowledged that intervention would not end "solve the situation", "it will mean that there will be ten, a hundred, five hundred, a thousand, two thousand, five thousan, fifteen thousand women who will not be raped, children who will not die, and people who will not just be murdered indiscriminately." Biden went on to call for establishing a firm deadline by which Sudan would have to accept a larger and better-equipped UN peace keeping force or else face military intervention, even without the support of the UN. The UN has, of course, resisted any and all calls to set any hard or meaningful deadlines or demands.
Unfortunately, the current policy situation makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the US to act. One of the most tragic results of the Iraq War, and the Vietnam War before that, is the increased reluctance of the US policy makers and the American public to support military intervention. Since the invasion of Iraq, American support for interventions like that in Kosovo has drastically declined. A 2005 Pew Center poll found that 42 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally, and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” It was the highest figure in over 40 years of polling on that question.
The American experience in Iraq must not be allowed to prevent the US from intervening to stop genocide and prevent murderous regimes from destroying large swathes of their populations. As I have written about before, there are plenty of reasons why such an intervention should be seen as part of American strategic national interest. But we also should not forget the moral imperative. Never again.