Diplomacy and a peace deal, not military intervention, offer the best hope of solving the Darfur crisisby Alex De Waal / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
The “responsibility to protect” is the doctrine that the victims of civil war or humanitarian disaster have a right to foreign succour and, in extremis, the protection of international troops, should their own government, either from incapacity or malice, fail to do the job. The principle of the responsibility to protect—”R2P” in diplomatic shorthand—was adopted unanimously by the UN general assembly in September 2005. It was a mantra for Blair’s personal foreign policy. The R2P is a noble concept, an example of progress in global moral standards. But it is impractical except in the tiniest of dysfunctional nations, such as Sierra Leone, Kosovo and East Timor, and even then at great difficulty. In a middle-sized country, the burdens and risks would tax the capability of a superpower.
Since early 2004, columnists and advocates have called for armed intervention to “save” Darfur from “genocide.” Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister and president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), heralded Darfur as the test case for R2P. While flirting with outright military intervention, Evans’s focus has been on what is known in the trade as “coercive protection”—a UN peacekeeping force that can enforce its will by UN mandate and sufficient firepower. This tries to split the difference between traditional peacekeeping and outright intervention, but as Evans and his comrades-in-rhetoric have rattled their sabres over Darfur, it has become clear that the sober advice of professional peacekeepers was right all along: there is no middle way.
International policies towards Darfur have failed. The world didn’t stop the immense army-Janjaweed offensives of 2003 and 2004, which killed tens of thousands, plus perhaps a further 150,000 through starvation and disease, and displaced 2m. There’s no working peace agreement, and a few hundred people are killed each month in local conflicts. A UN force of 26,000 with a limited protection mandate (it is allowed to use force to protect civilians) is only now on its way and will be operational early next year. The accepted script is: blame world leaders’ lack of political will for their failure to stand up to Khartoum’s evil designs.
There is an alternative view and it is this. Darfur is a typical, complex African civil war and can be resolved, given the right political alignments and good diplomacy, with a peace agreement that can allow in a peacekeeping force. Negotiations to end the war are messy and involve unsavoury compromises…