Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DARFUR....What should we do about the genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan? One of the reasons I haven't talked about it much is that every article I've read about the situation makes it clear that the roots of the violence are very, very deep and the political situation is murderously fragile. Despite this, most of the analysis I've read until now suggests little more than pushing for tighter economic sanctions or persuading the African Union to send in a small number of troops.

These proposals strike me as so inadequate that it's hard to take them seriously. On Friday, though, David Englin wrote a more sobering account for The New Republic that presents what I think is a more realistic picture. He says there would be three components to a successful intervention in Darfur:

  • A no-fly zone over affected areas in western Sudan: "...it would be a mistake to underestimate Sudan's ability to defend the sovereignty of its airspace....double the size of its air force since 2000....34 new fighter jets from China....MiG-24 Hind helicopter gunships....a dozen fourth-generation MiG-29 fighter jets....modern radar stations for command and control....French air bases west of Sudan in Chad and French and U.S. bases east of Sudan in Djibouti are well situated to support no-fly zone operations....but they should be prepared to fight a modern enemy if Sudan chooses to defend its airspace."

  • Safe havens on the ground: "This would require conventional ground forces to establish checkpoints, conduct patrols, and forcibly disarm militiamen....The ground arm of an international intervention force ought to immediately take over responsibility for camp security and include camp peripheries in established safe zones."

  • Securing routes for humanitarian aid: "...aid has not been forthcoming from wealthy donor nations....United Nations is struggling to come up with the $350 million....the U.N.'s World Food Program over the weekend began airlifting food and aid.

    "....All of which raises the question of just how many ground troops an intervention force might require?....The African Union announced plans Wednesday to send 2,000 troops to Darfur. Britain's top general has said he could muster 5,000 troops for Sudan and France has 1,000 troops already stationed in neighboring Chad....It is not clear, however, if military intervention on the ground in Sudan would look more like Rwanda or more like Somalia, where 26,000 American troops were sent into a hostile environment."

Those 26,000 troops in Somalia were for a country with a population of less than 10 million. Kosovo, with a population of about 2 million, required 50,000 peacekeeping troops after the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. In Iraq, a country of 25 million, we're undermanned even with 150,000 troops.

Sudan has a population of over 30 million about 6 million in western Sudan alone and has been engaged in civil war for the past two decades. As Englin notes:

While an intervention force establishing no-fly zones in the air, safe zones on the ground, and secure transit routes for aid shipments might take care of the immediate problem, each of these alone constitutes a serious violation of Sudanese sovereignty, and together they amount to a full-on invasion of western Sudan. Hopefully, the government of Sudan, faced with this prospect, would act quickly itself to disarm and demobilize the Janjaweed, stop government forces from participating in any more violence, and let aid through. As things stand right now, however, Sudan's leaders have said that any attempt to use force to intervene will be met with force. Therefore, the international community needs to be fully prepared to engage and defeat the Sudanese military.

I think this is about right. It's possible that a minimal show of force will prompt Sudan's government to back down, but we can't count on it. If the world intervenes in Darfur, we need to be prepared for a potentially long and bloody stay.

That's not to say it shouldn't be done. But we should go in with our eyes open. Expecting anything less than a full-on war is likely to be wishful thinking.

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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