A Responsibility to Protect: Is Military Intervention the Only Way?

By Berger, Rose Marie | Sojourners Magazine, December 2006 | Go to article overview

A Responsibility to Protect: Is Military Intervention the Only Way?


Berger, Rose Marie, Sojourners Magazine


A wide spectrum of religious leaders are calling for an end to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, where more than 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since 2003. While more than 3.5 million people are completely reliant on international aid for survival, aid workers have been threatened and attacked--more than a dozen have been killed since June.

Evangelical Christians have been on the forefront of advocacy around Darfur. Sojourners and the Save Darfur Coalition launched Evangelicals for Darfur in October, calling on President Bush to use his influence with the U.N. Security Council to support "deployment of a strong U.N. peacekeeping force and multilateral economic sanctions."

We know the atrocities taking place in Darfur, and thus are compelled to act. But we must also have eyes wide open as to what we are advocating and what the consequences may be.

"Humanitarian intervention" has been one of the most controversial foreign policy issues of the last 15 years. The 1993 humanitarian mission debacle in Somalia led world leaders to hesitate from interceding in Rwanda in 1994. Shame over the Rwandan killing fields prompted a need to "do something" in Kosovo in 1999--but the decision to prioritize "force protection" over civilian protection resulted in a "humanitarian" war with huge civilian casualties. The Bush administration also reverted to a "humanitarian causes" rationale for invading Iraq (along with the infamous--and elusive--"weapons of mass destruction"). The most recent report indicates that 426,369 to 793,663 civilians have been killed since the U.S. intervened in March 2003. "Humanitarian wars," wrote international law expert Eric A. Posner, "will rarely yield humanitarian results."

Religious leaders want the U.N. to make good on Resolution 1706, which passed in August, authorizing an expanded multinational peacekeeping force of up to 20,000 troops and civilian police to relieve the underfunded and ill-equipped African Union contingent. Sudan's president has refused U.N. intervention. While world leaders are rightly cautious of a full-scale noneonsensual military intervention, they cannot allow the government in Khartoum to stymie them into inaction.

In order for U.N. peacekeepers to be successful in Darfur, many experts say that more than 20,000 troops are needed, and for command and control reasons they need to be independent of, not blended with, the African Union troops. In addition to a monitoring function, U.N. peacekeepers are "authorized to use all necessary means" to protect themselves, aid workers, and civilians. This means using violence to fight violence, which usually leads to more violence and makes securing long-term peace nearly impossible.

Christians whose sense of "prophetic responsibility," as John Howard Yoder put it, won't let them withdraw from the world and "whose sense of sin and knowledge of historical reality" makes them skeptical of human progress must wade into the murky depths of these issues without many answers in sight. …

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