Today a US Deputy Secretary of State arrives in Nigeria to press for a resolution to peace talks that will enable a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Any government action is of course an improvement upon the passivity that has marked the international response to Sudan's crisis. Even so, there is reason to fear that the current proactive response, tentative and hesitant as it is, is moving in the wrong direction. Darfur has become a moral tragedy of epic proportions. It is thus urgent that the world not only act immediately, but do so in a way that lays the groundwork for global policies and protocols that preclude such monstrosities in the future.
The UN is following longstanding institutional imperatives in requiring a peace settlement before launching a peacekeeping mission in the Sudan. The fact that there are "two" combatant sides in Darfur, however masks the true character of the crime being committed as the world watches. Rebel groups have committed attacks in the name of the non-Arab minorities of Darfur who have been the object of genocidal slaughter. However, the indiscriminate murder of 200,000 individuals that has occasioned the moral horror of the world is almost exclusively the work of Arab "janjaweed" militias funded and encouraged by the government in Khartoum.
Though the UN cannot be blamed for following its chartered principles in seeking a peace settlement before intervention, such a course runs the risk of sanctioning genocide as a tactic in political negotiations. Darfur rebels have come under criticism for being unwilling to sign the peace agreement that might set a peacekeeping mission in motion and stop the slaughter of Darfur's people, but does not such criticism tacitly ascribe legitimacy to genocide as a means to political ends? If the Darfur rebels are forced to capitulate to a political settlement with which they do not agree (rightly or wrongly), what other lesson can the repressive governments of the world take away but that committing genocide is the surest way to marshal the international community to put pressure on their opponents?
The principle must be established that genocide is a totally illegitimate and irredeemable breach of international law and ethics, and that recourse to genocide forfeits any consideration of the perpetrators' political interests in negotiations with the global community at large. Thus in the case of the Darfur an immediate military incursion should be undertaken to stop the killing of non-Arab Sudanese, the janjaweed should be forcibly ejected from Darfur and the Sudanese military should be prohibited from operating within its precincts. Once that is achieved it may serve as a new baseline from which negotiations between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels may proceed. This will obviously place the Sudanese government at an artificial disadvantage, but it would serve to establish that there is a price for sanctioning or encouraging a policy of genocide. To do otherwise lays down a very dangerous precedent that is sure to have severe repercussions in the future.
It is immediately obvious that the kind of action I have proposed is beyond the scope of the UN mandate and operational doctrine. This should not induce the conclusion that effective action in Sudan is impossible. Rather, until such a time as the UN is reformed to effectively address such contingencies, counter-genocide missions must be undertaken by organizations that enjoy greater latitude and flexibility of response- the EU, NATO, or the United States government acting unilaterally. This last might seem a hopelessly idealistic proposition, but not much reflection is required to understand that this impression is false. The question of Darfur is not merely one of moral principle, but embodies a broader underlying problem that clearly threatens the pragmatic security interests of the United States and its allies.
Genocide has become more frequent in the post-Cold War era due to the same forces that have amplified the danger and prevalence of terrorism. Absent the surpressing influence of the stand-off between the Cold War's two opposed superpowers local conflicts have tended toward ever-increasingly violent expression. Terrorism (as it is conventionally understood- the somewhat random targetting of civilians) is the frequent recourse of the "deficit" side of assymetrical conflicts, those disaffected groups who do not control the machinery of state and face institutionally well-established opponents. This tactic is primitive but effective and intensely difficult to counter militarily. Effectively targetting a terrorist or insurgent group among a civilian population of any size is the most intractable strategic problem facing a state engaged in counterinsurgency, a fact which generally forces states facing a determined opponent to seek political resolution of assymetrical conflicts. In increasingly more cases, however, post-Cold War states have foregone such political solutions in favor of genocide. They end-run the strategic problem of targetting insurgents among a civilian population by undertaking to wipe out the civilian population in toto. Like terrorism, then, genocide is a deliberate tactic adopted by political actors enmeshed in assymetrical conflicts that have erupted into violence in the wake of the Cold War. Genocide is, in effect, terrorism's more malevolent twin (or perhaps, terrorism writ large- the targetting of civilians on an absolute rather than a limited scale).
What does this imply for the US? In the wake of 9/11 the US has rightly undertaken a mission to reduce or eliminate global terrorism. The hard reality that Darfur points to is that waging a "war on terror" is pointless unless it is undertaken in tandem with a "war on genocide." Neither terrorism or genocide are ideologies, they are political-military tactics, albeit ones that embody the unscrupulousness of their perpetrators. No limited struggle against any particular instance or perpetrator of these tactics will ever ultimately succeed. The only meaningful policy that can effectively counter these forces and the destruction they portend is a deliberate, principled, and aggressive campaign to reduce the brutality of international politics as a whole. Until the world intervenes to dismantle the vicious terrorism/genocide complex that has grown up in the wake of the Cold War we will be consigned to an endless repeating parade of Darfurs, Rwandas, Beslans, and 9/11s.
Is the current US strategic and diplomatic doctrine effectively configured to deal with this threat? Clearly, it is not. The Bush administration's aggressive posture of internationalism and unilateralism perhaps embodies the correct disposition for the current crisis, but its specific policy initiatives have been misguided. Unilateral action in Darfur would be/will be costly in both blood and treasure, but it surely would not exceed the cost that continues to mount in Iraq and would yield more immediate and enduring benefits to the US, its allies, and the world at large. The kind of resolve and audacity the Bush administration has shown in Iraq would serve well in Sudan and other places where genocide threatens global peace and stability. What the current situation requires is that the US follow the Clinton administration's policy of undertaking peace-enforcing actions in places (like Somalia, Kosovo) where no immediate US economic interests are at stake with the same tenacity and commitment the Bush administration has displayed in Iraq. If the US government and military would change their strategic doctrine from regime change and democracy-promotion to a determined policy of countergenocide/counterterrorism it might show the world the way forward into a sustainable post-Cold War order in which political progress would be possible on many fronts.