Conservative Columnist: Providing Security While Peacekeepers Tarry

Security Council members who have voted unanimously to authorize peacekeepers for Darfur continue to dither while civilians suffer. It’s time for a realistic reassessment of our options.

Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1769, which authorizes a force of up to 26,000 peacekeepers to restore security to the Darfur region of Sudan where four years of ethnic violence by Sudanese troops and janjaweed militia backed by the Khartoum regime-a campaign described by the United States as "genocide" and by the European Parliament as "tantamount to genocide"-has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of others displaced. The new peacekeeping force will subsume the largely ineffectual 7,000 African Union (AU) personnel already in place into a UN-AU "hybrid operation" to be dubbed UNAMID.

One can only hope that UNAMID will have more effect than its phantom predecessor, UNMIS. Passed in August 2006, Resolution 1706promised an international peacekeeping force consisting of a 17,300 military personnel international peacekeeping force backed by 3,300 civilian personnel. Lacking the requisite consent of the Islamist regime in Khartoum, the force never materialized. However, that did not prevent the Security Council from further propagating the farce in October 2006 with Resolution 1714, which extended the mandate of the non-existent UNMIS until April 30, 2007, "with the intention to renew it for further periods", while "encouraging the efforts of the Secretary-General" to deploy the force and instructing him to "report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the mandate of UNMIS."

Even if the peacekeepers are really forthcoming this time, it is nonetheless likely that months will pass before the components of UNAMID can be assembled. The most recent UN resolution set October as the deadline for UNAMID to "complete preparations to assume operational command authority" (emphasis added) over the already-present AU force and December 31 as the target date for actually assuming authority "with a view to achieving full operational capability and force strength as soon as possible thereafter" (emphasis added). In short, it may be well into next year, if ever, before UNAMID is fully up and running.

So while the international community continues to dither, Mother Nature herself may seal the doom of many of the unfortunate victims in Darfur. The region is currently in the middle of the rainy season, on which the sedentary farmers among the African tribes of the harsh, landlocked region have long depended to grow the millet, sorghum and groundnuts that were their livelihood before the janjaweed attacks. Thus they have already lost an entire annual cycle which will not renew itself until next spring-when, hopefully, there might be an international peacekeeping force to permit them to return to their traditional patterns of life. Compounding the misery, the concentration of hunger-weakened individuals in crowded camps is a public health nightmare, especially as wet weather brings with it the threat of waterborne diseases.

Presently, the international community, having pledged itself to provide security and stability to Darfur, faces three primary tasks: (1) monitoring compliance with the hitherto ignored ceasefires, especially the Sudanese use of aerial bombings against civilian targets; (2) providing enough protection for humanitarian agencies and victims so that the former can deliver basic sustenance to the latter; and (3) equipping and deploying the actual UNAMID force to assume these responsibilities. The question is who is actually going to do this.

While the United States has often taken the lead in calling attention to the situation in Darfur, a significant humanitarian operation mounted by the U.S. military is not a realistic option. Even without the strain that continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq-to say nothing of the need to at least maintain at least the appearance of a credible military option on the table in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and North Korea-the deployment of a U.S. force to Sudan would be fraught with peril. Not only have that country's rulers-who, lest it be forgotten, once played host to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda-had nearly two decades to build up a cadre of Islamist militants, but they have built up an infrastructure that could support the flood of jihadists that would pour over the country's 7,687 kilometers of uncontrolled and virtually uncontrollable land borders to battle it out against the forces of the "Great Satan." The ensuing conflict would hardly redound to the benefit of the hapless Darfuris.

Nor is it likely that any of our NATO allies are in much of a position to step in. Although undoubtedly some European countries will contribute to UNAMID, most are already stretched by their commitments to multinational operations in Afghanistan. And, if given the restiveness of some segments of their own Muslim populations, there is little stomach in the chanceries of Europe for peacekeeping duties, much less long-term stability operations, in Darfur.