SUDAN'S DIPLOMATS have sometimes had the gall to describe the killing in Darfur as a problem of underdevelopment. Poverty creates desperation and violence, they plead; rather than blaming the Sudanese government for the suffering that results, the United States and its allies should show that they care about Africans by offering practical assistance. Well, last week Britain and the United States circulated a U.N. Security Council resolution that would get about 20,000 peacekeeping troops and police officers into Darfur; if such a force were actually deployed, it would represent the greatest step forward for Darfur since the killing started. But Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, seems determined to frustrate this offer of assistance.
The resolution is said to have the support of most members of the Security Council. It was developed in consultation with France, which initially tried to minimize the proposed number of troops but then accepted the Anglo-American position. China, which bends over backward not to offend Sudan's government because of its oil investments in the country, nonetheless has yet to veto any Sudan resolution at the United Nations and would probably go along with this one.
The only outspoken critic of the resolution on the Security Council is Qatar, which is reflecting the collective unwisdom of the Arab League. The Arabs have long opposed a U.N. deployment in Darfur, apparently because they believe in the sovereign right of governments to slaughter civilians. To disguise the brutality of this position, the Arabs have in the past professed a preference for the existing African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, even offering to provide resources to it. But that was just talk. Virtually all the funding for the African Union force has come from Europe and the United States. It will dry up at the end of September, making a U.N. follow-on force vital.
Fortunately, the Arabs' cynical stance need not prevent the resolution from being adopted. But to deploy the proposed force, the United Nations will need cooperation from Sudan's government; it cannot fight its way into Darfur. Mr. Bashir has already accepted a 12,000-member U.N. force in Sudan's south, so he can't claim a principled objection to the presence of U.N. peacekeepers in his country. But he retains an unprincipled determination to keep the United Nations out of Darfur, even though the need for a peacekeeping force is clearer than ever.
The world needs to be clear what Mr. Bashir's position amounts to. As a result of his government's systematic destruction of African villages in Darfur, more than 2 million displaced people there depend on humanitarian relief, but mounting violence that claimed the lives of eight aid workers last month makes the delivery of relief extremely difficult. In these circumstances, barring the entry of peacekeepers is to condemn thousands of displaced civilians to starvation. It is to continue the policy of genocide that has marked this crisis from the outset.