Friday, July 23, 2004

Darfur Again.

The liberal press are getting a touch excited by the noises coming from the government that they may just bomb or sent troops to Sudan.  I've already outlined my own view on the wrongs of such a venture, but I just wanted to recap:

One of the reasons why there are so many refugees and displaced people in Darfur and neighbouring Chad is that the Sudanese government is bombing from a great height. Why should it be any better if 'we' do it? (Yes, yes, yes, our planes are so much more accurate than theirs - that's why thousands were killed in even the relatively limited and brief air campaign against Serbia). Prefer a ground invasion? That'll be even more dead bodies, thank you! Tank shells and village to village combat won't make Darfur a liveable place for refugees and victims currently frightened out of their lives. There are other consequences too. Western intervention, particularly into Muslim countries, has tended to inflate support for radical Islamist forces and therefore places 'us' in greater danger.

There are preferable courses of action, and silence is absolutely not an option. Here is one reason why :

"Five to six men would rape us, one after the other, for hours during six days, every night. My husband could not forgive me after this, he disowned me." (Sudanese refugee woman being interviewed by Amnesty International)

Now, the UK has enormous leverage in this situation as does the US. Until recently, with pressure coming from NGOs, the governments of these two countries have been extremely reluctant even to use such leverage and apply any serious pressure at all. Yes, they want the situation stabilised so that the Greater Nile Oil Project is not endangered. But the press coverage and public pressure has produced a change in the tone of government rhetoric. From congratulating the Sudanese government for signing a deal with rebels, it is now accusing it of being "in denial" about what is being done by the janjawids - although it does not accuse the Sudanese regime of complicity with what is now being incorrectly labelled "genocide".

At the same time, the Sudanese government has offered to withdraw from Darfur if the UK think they can stabilise the area - but have warned that Britain could face "another Iraq" if they do go in. And the signals from Blair suggest to me that Britain is not really ready to commit troops to Sudan. Firstly, because Blair distanced himself from reports suggesting he was going to send troops in, saying they were "premature" and secondly because he said that there was no point in intervening unless he had clear support in the region - which is quite different from what was said about Iraq.

The truth is, although liberal imperialists may kid themselves otherwise, British foreign policy-makers consider the Sudanese government a friendly regime. Such troops as did enter Darfur would probably side against the rebels, and would face attacks (especially if the rebels saw them as proxies of Khartoum). One needn't look as far afield as Iraq, simply take a look at what happened in Somalia. Troops are not very good at "keeping the peace" - they are trained to kill. So my estimation is that a) there will be no military intervention and b) that is probably for the better.

I suggest, instead of war, genuine humanitarian intervention. As I put it before:

Therefore, if we wanted to pressure our government into acting in moral ways, we should take the Hippocratic oath. First, do no harm. Second, do the precise maximum that you can to ameliorate the situation. A few simple enough recommendations for a hypothetically moral British government. 'We' should immediately dispatch tonnes of food and medicine to those regions in need of it, negotiate full and uninhibited access for those who would provide it, provide funds for returning refugees who need to rebuild their homes, and refuse to allow any trade, or privileges to Sudan if it continues to abuse its citizens. British based companies should be told to extricate themselves from any involvement in Sudan as long as the regime continues its present course. We should provide expertise and aid on water. Locals should coordinate these activities themselves, insofar as they are not involved in human rights abuses. That would have an enormous, beneficial impact on the situation in Darfur, it would cost a fraction of what the Iraq war cost, and guess what - no violence is required.

I said before that this is not a repeat of Rwanda. It is a needful situation, but it is not genocide. Humanitarian aid, the presence of monitors not allied to a specific government and more sustained pressure on the Khartoum regime to put an end to the actions of the janjawid militias would be a sufficient start for an 'ethical foreign policy'.