A humanitarian tragedy has unfolded in the Darfur region of Sudan, Africa. Politicians and bureaucrats are quibbling over whether the gang-rape and slaughter of tens of thousands of people at the hands of Arab militiamen (the janjaweed) should qualify as "genocide." With Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent visit to Sudan and the Pentagon moving troops into neighboring Chad to assess the situation, some form of intervention appears likely.
Moral questions aside, neighboring states such as Egypt, Chad, and Kenya recognize that stabilizing Darfur is in their interest. The United States should encourage those states to clean up their own backyard, which they can and should do.
Humanitarian crises nearly always threaten regional stability. Darfur is no exception. Recent actions and statements by Sudan's neighbors demonstrate that they recognize their interest in ending the violence. Chad recently killed 69 of the janjaweed, presumably after the militia chased its intended victims over the border into Chad's refugee camps. Chad's government is reportedly "very worried" that the janjaweed will attempt to destabilize Chad as well.
The immigration of impoverished, sick, and desperate people certainly presents a problem for Egypt where Sudanese refugees have been seen even as far into the country as Cairo. Kenya's foreign minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, says Kenya would be willing to "play a leadership role" in solving the crisis in Darfur. The United States even met recently with Libyan leaders to discuss what role Libya could play in helping stabilize Darfur.
The promiscuous U.S. interventions of the 1990s have contributed to global paralysis in the face of humanitarian crises. Ending the paralysis must begin with an understanding that the United States does not have an unlimited capacity for intervention. Americans must place the highest priority on confronting direct threats to U.S. security. But security considerations hold the key to resolving many of the most urgent problems.
Sudan's neighbors have both the motive and the means to stop the slaughter in Darfur. Accordingly, the United States should publicly approach Egypt, Chad, Kenya, and Libya through diplomatic channels to encourage them to craft a strategy for ending the violence there. Whether these states are able to work through diplomatic pressure on Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, or whether it takes limited military action on their part, the United States should support a responsible regional strategy. At the same time, the United States should urge the United Nations to endorse a regional solution.
A regional solution should not include American troops. Our armed forces have enough on their plate without undertaking peacemaking operations in East Africa. Though Sudan has a history of involvement with international terrorism, there is no evidence that Darfur is being used as a staging ground for anything other than barbarism. Should credible evidence emerge indicating that Darfur is host to a significant al Qaeda presence, one that directly threatens U.S. security, then a more active U.S. role might be warranted.
The United States should also encourage the European Union to play a role in the Darfur conflict. Sudan is much closer to Europe than the U.S., and consequently more of a strategic concern for the EU. The Europeans are certainly capable of conducting military missions in defense of their vital security interests. For example, over the course of a few months in 1997, roughly 7,000 troops (mostly Italian) restored stability to a violent, anarchic region of Albania as part of Operation Alba. Italy did not want to see its neighbor descend into chaos, and under a U.N. resolution, the regional force restored order and left quickly. Notably, this force did not include any U.S. military personnel.
European and African forces have historically played the leading roles in operations in Africa. In June 2003, an EU-led multinational force was sent to Bunia, in the Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A Nigerian-led force intervened in Sierra Leone in 1998, while the French sent forces to the Ivory Coast in 2002. None of these operations depended upon the U.S. military.
All current proposals for fixing Darfur are flawed. Calls to apply targeted multilateral sanctions and visa bans will do nothing to stop the killing. Calls for the United States to prepare its own military intervention perpetuate a dark legacy of failed U.S. peacemaking operations, and they ignore regional interests. In the case of Darfur, the United States has a historic opportunity to reestablish a prudent model for dealing with humanitarian crises. By encouraging states to safeguard their own security, the United States can establish a precedent for solving regional problems like Darfur and simultaneously start to devolve its role as the world's policeman.