The genocide in Darfur has been going on for some time now; hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered and millions have been chased from their homes. In response, the international community has done, essentially, nothing. This lack of interest is not difficult to understand. States are extremely reluctant to risk their own soldiers and resources on humanitarian interventions. The US experience in Somalia in 1993-4 is the model for this reluctance, but the failure to stop the bloodshed in Rwanda demonstrates that the lesson was learned. NATO's intervention in Kosovo is the exception that proves the rule, as Kosovo was much more about strategic and national interests than enforcing moral or ethical values.
Darfur, goes the argument, may be a tragedy, but it is worse when states become involved in conflicts in which their interest is low. When interest is low, states do not devote sufficient resources and lack political will (as happened in Somalia), making it unlikely that the intervention will succeed and often making the situation worse. There is no national interest in ending the genocide in Darfur. So nothing will happen. The UN fails to condemn it, the international community fails to act, and "never again" becomes a meaningless catchphrase.
But, does the genocide in Darfur really not threaten US, Western, or international interests? Not at all. As I blogged a few weeks back, humanitarian intervention can be understood as part of American national interest, and this is especially true in Darfur. First, the US is and always has been (current debates over Guantanamo aside) a leader in the promulgation of liberal values, human rights, and international law. That role depends on the US putting its money where its mouth is; only by acting to prevent the grossest violations of human rights and international law and norms can the US maintain its position that it held during the Cold War of the defender of freedom. Without US leadership and military force, the world would be a much more violent and much less free place.
But there are other ways that humanitarian crises like Darfur represent more serious threats to US national interest. For example, tensions are rising between Sudan and Chad over a border incursion by Chadian forces into Sudan this past weekend. Sudanese-backed rebels often cross into Chad to attack Darfurian militias, as well as refugee camps, and Chad has begun crossing into Sudan in pursuit of the rebels. This has the potential to spiral into a larger war, and this is exactly why ethnic conflicts should be understood as part of national interest. Ethnic conflict creates larger regional conflicts and creates failed states; these things destabilize regions other states, creating even larger wars as well as the conditions for terrorism. Al Qaeda and the Taliban had their Afghani roots in the fact that once the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan, the US failed to devote any resources to building a state, allowing the Taliban to seize power and collaborate with al Qaeda. The failed US operation in Somalia led to the control of that country by an Islamic fundamentalist group with connections to al Qaeda. What happens in African states that seem to have little strategic import can in fact matter greatly to the US.
Fighting against those states that would allow the massacre of their populations is not just a moral issue. In fact, the moral argument is not likely to be one that produces the desired result. Opposing genocide is, however, also in the strategic interest of the US and its liberal allies. Building an international community based on respect for basic human rights is of strategic interest to all. And that is why humanitarian intervention should remain an active component of US foreign policy. Especially and immediately in Darfur.