Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Surprisingly Strong Security Council Resolution on Darfur Offers Some Hope

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Surprisingly Strong Security Council Resolution on Darfur Offers Some Hope

Article excerpt

IT IS TRUE THAT lobbies that show no concern for the Palestinians have been kicking up a fuss about Darfur. Many of them are sincerely concerned about the hundreds of thousands killed and millions made homeless, but one can't help thinking that some of them think it's a Christian versus Muslim thing, and others that every day is a good day to attack an Arab government. It is also true that some of them vociferously supported the Iraq invasion, which is what made it politically impossible for the U.S. and UK to even think of military action against another Arab country.

That, of course, gives defenders of the Sudan regime an excuse to dismiss the horrors of what is happening in Darfur. But it's a lousy excuse. There can be no justification for what is happening. It should not even be necessary to point out that the victims as well as the perpetrators are Arab-speaking Muslims. In fact President Omar Al-Bashir has been playing the international community, both the concerned and the dupes, in a skillful way that suggests he studied closely the career of Slobodan Milosevic, who got away with it until Srebrenica.

There have been 30 or 40 Srebrenica's in Darfur, and one cannot help wondering whether the victims' being black, Muslim and Arab-speaking has somehow diluted media outrage. To be fair, however, there have been other complications-not least the invasion of Iraq, which handed Khartoum a diplomatic trump card to play with. There is little or no enthusiasm for yet another Anglo-American adventure in the oil-bearing sands-not least since the Chinese have a lien on the oil!

Despite that, at the end of July a long protracted process culminated in a surprisingly strong Security Council resolution on Darfur, which gave some hope that diplomacy could produce results: which is just as well since, after Iraq, neither London nor Washington was in any position, politically or militarily, to do anything else.

The resolution approved an almost 20,000 strong peacekeeping force, UNAMID, which received what U.N. people call a "robust" mandate under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, allowing the predominately African force to use force to defend itself and civilians.

Acting as surrogates for the Sudanese, the Chinese managed to add a clause that this right was "without prejudice to the responsibility of the Sudanese government" to protect its own civilians, but that served more to highlight Khartoum's failure to meet its responsibilities than to inhibit the peacekeepers if they react.

Beijing also managed to remove from the unanimously passed resolution clauses threatening further sanctions-but in the real world the threat is still there, with the U.S. already unilaterally imposing them.

Despite the ominous precedent of the failures in Bosnia, there are some grounds for hope that the resolution will prove effective. In the Balkans, to begin with, the British, French and other components of the U.N. forces ignored strong mandates. But as the death toll rose-and became public-they began to implement them much more robustly.

The continuing carnage in Darfur means that the peacekeepers may be on a shorter trigger.

The process also reflects some diplomatic legwork. Undeclared to the media, Ban Ki Moon has been working the phones continually to Khartoum and pressing Omar Al-Bashir in a way that carried the messages without provoking.

It probably helped that blowhard John Bolton no longer is U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and that his successor, Zalmay Khalilzad, is a real diplomat, who realizes that shouting at people can occasionally be counterproductive.

So the process almost certainly involved some discreet talking to China, rather than hectoring. Now a global power, China realizes that there is more to the world than Taiwan and Tibet. In fact its global presence has made it vulnerable to world public opinion, not least with the threats to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. …

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