The Stakes in Darfur
Thursday, July 22, 2004; Page A20
THREE WEEKS AGO Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Darfur, the western Sudanese province where Arab militiamen backed by an Arab government are exterminating people with black skin. Both visits aimed to send a signal to Sudan's government that genocide would not be tolerated, but progress so far has been murderously modest. Civilians are still dying as a result of militia attacks, and the militias' systematic destruction of wells, agriculture and villages has left more than 2 million people in need of food aid. Only a handful of foreign troops have been deployed; civilian protection has been entrusted, grotesquely, to a police force consisting partly of ex-militiamen; and food shipments are reaching only a third of those in need. It is as though, in the wake of the West's failure to prevent Rwanda's genocide, the gods of history are asking, okay, if we give you a second chance and months of warning, will you do better? So far the prospect that 300,000 to 1 million people may perish -- an estimate offered more than a month ago by Andrew S. Natsios, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development -- is failing to galvanize serious action.
Neither Mr. Powell nor Mr. Annan is getting the help that is needed from other leaders. The U.N. Security Council, which could pressure Sudan's government into reining in the militia by passing a resolution imposing sanctions and authorizing armed humanitarian intervention, is moving at a glacial pace. The United States has drafted a resolution, but council members such as China, Pakistan and Brazil value the principle of sovereignty more highly than the human purpose that sovereignty is meant to serve: a stable international order that allows people to live in peace. Other council members, notably France, do not oppose a resolution but show little enthusiasm for it either, thereby making inertia a key ally of the resolution's opponents. As Mr. Annan knows, the United Nations will be marginal to global security if it can't respond to clear catastrophes such as Darfur. If countries -- such as France -- that frequently scold the United States for unilateralism want the United Nations to be taken seriously, they need to push the Security Council toward sanctions and humanitarian intervention.
Even in the absence of a U.N. resolution, the world must act. Again, France is well-placed to lead such an effort: It has a military base in Chad, Sudan's western neighbor, and another in Djibouti to the east; it could offer airlift and other logistical support for delivery of relief. So far, however, France has offered only to help pay for one contract aircraft; it has offered no helicopters, even though the United Nations relief team appealed for six in March and has so far received none. The United Nations is short of food and other supplies also: It has appealed for $349 million worth of materials, but donors have come forward with a pitiful $145 million or so. Tightfistedness from France, Japan, Italy, Spain and Germany is the main reason for the shortfall. For example, France has donated just over $6 million to Darfur, according to the United Nations, whereas the United States has given $130 million and committed to an additional $170 million. African countries have offered troops to help ensure that the relief gets to the right people. But they need money and encouragement if they are to deploy quickly and in sufficient numbers.
If Europeans and other rich donors won't act, then the United States will have to do so. This would add to the unfairness with which the world's burdens are shared -- American taxpayers already pay most of the bills for global security. But if nobody else will act to save up to 1 million civilians, questions about sharing the burden must be put aside. So must inhibitions caused by the operation in Iraq. One generation ago, after another much-criticized war, the United States was for a long time unwilling to project force. But if the nation is to avoid succumbing to an Iraq syndrome to match the Vietnam syndrome of the past, it must prove its continuing readiness to lead in the world. There could scarcely be a more compelling cause than Darfur.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company