The Duck of Minerva

NATO Takes Limited Steps on Darfur

9 June 2005

The international community’s inadequate response to the ongoing genocide in Sudan (and yes, it is a genocide) brings shame upon us all. Recent polling suggests the American people agree, as majorities favor a stronger US commitment to the stop the crimes against humanity being committed by the Sudanese-backed Janjawid.

Today, NATO pledged to provide airlift support to send additional African troops to the region:

NATO defence ministers gave the green light on Thursday to an operation to airlift extra African troops to Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the alliance’s first mission on the continent.

NATO chiefs were at pains to stress there was no competition with a separate European Union mission, after NATO-member France said its offer to transport two battalions of Senegalese troops was under an EU, not a NATO, banner.

NATO’s go-ahead for the operation comes a day before Darfur peace talks sponsored by the African Union resume in the Nigerian capital Abuja. Tens of thousands have been killed in the arid western region and more than 2 million forced from their homes during a rebellion now well into its third year.

Current EU and NATO plans stop short of providing the robust support, including military intervention, that would be necessary to end the atrocities. The African Union (AU) and Sudanese government have “ruled out Western troops helping in Darfur,” but I imagine sufficient NATO pressure would change the AU’s mind. As for the Sudanese, they don’t have any right to make demands on the international community, and there’s not a lot they could do if they were faced with a serious humanitarian intervention in the region.

(For steps short of intervention that the US can take, see the excellent post by Derek Chollet on divestment and the extensive discussion of options by Susan Nossel, both of Democracy Arsenal.)

I remain ambivalent on the Iraq War. Yet we should all remember that at least part of the Bush Administration’s arguments for the invasion were based upon the past genocidal behavior of Saddam Hussein. What then, can we possibly say about a failure to do more in the face of ongoing genocide?

That being said, we also should not discount the significance of the EU and NATO pledges. The fact is that the US did not even make a serious commitment to logistical support – of any kind – to help stop the Rwandan genocide. As Samantha Power wrote in her influential Atlantic argue on the failure of the US to act:

The United States haggled at the Security Council and with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations for the first two weeks of May. U.S. officials pointed to the flaws in Dallaire’s proposal without offering the resources that would have helped him to overcome them. On May 13 Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott sent Madeleine Albright instructions on how the United States should respond to Dallaire’s plan. Noting the logistic hazards of airlifting troops into the capital, Talbott wrote, “The U.S. is not prepared at this point to lift heavy equipment and troops into Kigali.” The “more manageable” operation would be to create the protected zones at the border, secure humanitarian-aid deliveries, and “promot[e] restoration of a ceasefire and return to the Arusha Peace Process.” Talbott acknowledged that even the minimalist American proposal contained “many unanswered questions”:

Where will the needed forces come from; how will they be transported … where precisely should these safe zones be created; … would UN forces be authorized to move out of the zones to assist affected populations not in the zones … will the fighting parties in Rwanda agree to this arrangement … what conditions would need to obtain for the operation to end successfully?….

On May 17, by which time most of the Tutsi victims of the genocide were already dead, the United States finally acceded to a version of Dallaire’s plan. However, few African countries stepped forward to offer troops. Even if troops had been immediately available, the lethargy of the major powers would have hindered their use. Though the Administration had committed the United States to provide armored support if the African nations provided soldiers, Pentagon stalling resumed. On May 19 the UN formally requested fifty American armored personnel carriers. On May 31 the United States agreed to send the APCs from Germany to Entebbe, Uganda. But squabbles between the Pentagon and UN planners arose. Who would pay for the vehicles? Should the vehicles be tracked or wheeled? Would the UN buy them or simply lease them? And who would pay the shipping costs? Compounding the disputes was the fact that Department of Defense regulations prevented the U.S. Army from preparing the vehicles for transport until contracts had been signed. The Defense Department demanded that it be reimbursed $15 million for shipping spare parts and equipment to and from Rwanda. In mid-June the White House finally intervened. On June 19, a month after the UN request, the United States began transporting the APCs, but they were missing the radios and heavy machine guns that would be needed if UN troops came under fire. By the time the APCs arrived, the genocide was over—halted by Rwandan Patriotic Front forces under the command of the Tutsi leader, Paul Kagame.

An aside: there’s another story in this article, which has to do with the intricacies of the EU-NATO-US relationship. Perhaps a subject for another post.

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