A New Chance for Darfur

NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY – As the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region worsens and negotiaitions to end it drag on, an international consensus is emerging around a “muscular” policy based on public denunciation, severe economic sanctions, and, increasingly, threats of military force. But none of these steps, taken alone or together, can bring about the ends that their often well-intentioned advocates seek. On the contrary, they risk reproducing the havoc that such measures have unleashed in Iraq and elsewhere in recent years.

In the United States, cautionary voices have been notably absent even among staunchly liberal newspapers like The New York Times . Foreign policy advisers to the Democratic Party and neo-conservatives alike have called for “action” against Sudan – demands that have been echoed by an international group of intellectuals and celebrities ranging from Umberto Eco, Jürgen Habermas, and Harold Pinter to Bob Geldof, George Clooney, Mia Farrow, Matt Damon, Mick Jagger, and J.K. Rowling.

Meanwhile, French troops, with the support of other European Union members – notably Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Poland, Romania, and Sweden – are now deployed for putatively humanitarian reasons in the Central African Republic and Chad, where they have already clashed with Sudanese government forces. The International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, and many other organizations support this deployment, while Save Darfur, despite describing itself as a non-political “alliance of more than 180 faith-based, advocacy, and humanitarian organizations,” has, in fact, been pivotal in setting the policy agenda.

This agenda’s interventionism is incremental: tougher economic sanctions, demands that China exercise its influence, creation of a “no-fly zone,” and military force against the Sudanese army. The assumption is that only real pressure will finally force Sudan’s government to embrace the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, negotiate with the West, disband the feared Janjaweed militia, allow refugees from the country’s brutal civil war to return to their villages, and make peace with Southern rebels.