Arabs to the Rescue?

Monday, October 16, 2006

FOR THE past three years, the United States and Europe have sent millions of dollars in aid to the Sudanese territory of Darfur. African countries, for their part, have come forward with some 7,000 peacekeepers. Americans, Europeans and Africans have all tried to bring about a political settlement between Sudan's government and Darfur's rebels. These various efforts have combined to slow the killing, though they have failed to halt it. But the Western and African efforts stand in stark contrast to the performance of Sudan's Arab neighbors, which have so far done next to nothing.

Recently the Arab League asserted that this might change. Its members offered to dispatch a force of Arab and Muslim troops as peacekeepers to Darfur, replacing or preferably reinforcing the underpowered African contingent whose mandate is set to expire soon. Under the terms of a Security Council resolution passed in August, the African force is supposed to be replaced by a 20,000-strong United Nations one. But Sudan's government has described a U.N. deployment as a "prelude to an invasion" of an Islamic country. However infuriating this claim, the fact is that the United Nations is not going to fight its way into Darfur. Depending on the details of its design, an Arab force could be an acceptable alternative.

The details matter because an Arab deployment would face credibility problems: It would be identified with Sudan's Arab-led government, which has equipped and supported Darfur's genocidal militia. Moreover, the ineffectiveness of the African Union force proves that peacekeeping in Darfur is no easy task: The Arabs would need to arrive with more troops and better equipment. But if Arab governments did deploy a robust force, they might succeed in quelling militia violence. That would solve the credibility problem.

It's hard to see how Sudan's government could resist an Arab and Muslim peacekeeping force by calling it a threat to Islam. Arab leaders have a good chance of deploying their proposed force if they press for it seriously. So the important question will be: Are the Arabs in fact serious?

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