Beyond Darfur

Beyond Darfur

It’s time for the world’s great powers—Western as well as otherwise—to start taking on more peacekeeping duties.

The United States and the world's other "great powers" have knowingly allowed an UN-peacekeeping force (UNAMID) to be deployed in Darfur without supplying it with the tools needed for success.


In 2004 the UN also knowingly endorsed an under-strength African Union force in Darfur-the countries of the Security Council pretended it would stop the violence. In deploying UNAMID the United Nations bet on so-far unfulfilled international promises that troops, police and equipment would be forthcoming.

The shortcomings of missions to Darfur fit a pattern of willful neglect of UN peacekeeping by the world's major military and political powers. It is analogous to the American failure to deploy sufficient troops to Iraq, and threatens the UN's critical role in preventing violence and ending conflicts.

Whatever the UN's defects, this time finger-pointing leads to the permanent members of the UN Security Council-the vaunted "P-5"-which, with their veto powers, dominate the Council and by extension, the UN's role in responding to numerous security challenges. While they remain some of the UN's top financial contributors (Japan being the notable absentee), the P-5's lack of material support for UN peacekeeping missions is notable. Darfur is just the latest example.

Presently, UNAMID has nine thousand blue helmets. "Full strength" is twenty-six thousand soldiers and police. Beyond the numbers, it's worse: very few new troops have actually arrived to supplement the existing AU force; most of the nine thousand just switched helmets from AU green to UN blue on December 31. Moreover, UNAMID's ability to move troops around, monitor the situation and facilitate efficient delivery of aid is severely hampered by the failure of countries to provide the minimum twenty-four helicopters needed, especially eighteen attack helicopters and the requisite highly-trained pilots. Notwithstanding the recent promises of several helicopters from Ethiopia and Bangladesh, there still remains a significant shortfall.

It has taken years of diplomatic effort to get the mission approved and deployed in the face of Khartoum's continuing obstruction, and achieving a full-strength UNAMID will not be easy. President Omar al-Bashir exploited international weakness by delaying signing (until just last Saturday) a Status of Forces Agreement with the UN (the legal mandate for the international troop presence in Sudan) and maintains a violent opposition to non-African, especially NATO, troops, on Sudanese soil-giving the P-5 a convenient excuse. Nor is there any chance that P-5 countries will step forward. Indeed, the U.S. government remains opposed to deploying U.S. troops under UN command and has shown little inclination to rustle up the required helicopters from its own reserves.

Even a full-strength UNAMID will not be the savior of Darfur, but allowing UNAMID to languish incomplete will undermine hopes for halting the violence. In light of the fractured nature of the rebel movements and international unwillingness to intervene forcefully, the Darfur conflict will metastasize further, sowing havoc across the region. An attempted coup in neighboring Chad by Khartoum-backed rebels, renewed fighting in Darfur between rebels and government forces, and new lines of refugees streaming across the border are the results. This deterioration again confirms the dangers the conflict in Darfur is fomenting and the beleaguered nature of UNAMID.

Only a strong, well-equipped force can reestablish order in Darfur, provide greater relief to the populace and create the political space for the warring Sudanese parties to negotiate a viable peace agreement. But even if UNAMID's problems are resolved by non-P-5 countries we will only be scraping the surface of a far-larger issue. Staffing and supporting UN peacekeeping operations is a chronic difficulty that requires a sustained commitment from the P-5 states.

There are one hundred thousand blue helmets deployed in seventeen world trouble spots, with the vast majority of troops coming from poor countries.

DPKO Contributions by the P-5 (Source: DPKO, December 2007)



















Russia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom combined currently have less than five thousand blue-helmeted troops between them. Indeed, the United States and United Kingdom's current commitments number less than four hundred troops each (as of December 2007), ranking them forty-second and thirty-eighth on the list of troop- contributing countries-behind such military heavyweights as Nepal (3,676), Ghana (3,379) and Uruguay (2,588).

In contrast, the P-5 maintain over three million active-duty military personnel between them. They possess thousands of military helicopters and the logistical capabilities vital for successful peacekeeping.

Admittedly, the Western P-5 countries are stretched by overseas military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, but beyond these high-profile conflicts, Western forces are also engaged in several vital peace-support missions elsewhere for which credit is due. However, participation in peacekeeping operations should not be based solely on strategic interests or colonial guilt. Being a member of the P-5 should entail more than a financial contribution to UN peacekeeping; the pick-and-choose philosophy toward peacekeeping must end.

Attaining a stronger commitment to UN peacekeeping from the P-5, especially the three Western states, will be no easy job bureaucratically and politically. It will also face resistance from many countries that perceive Western peacekeeping as neocolonialism. Nevertheless, for a long time to come the UN will need to field substantial peacekeeping forces. Effectively sustaining that mission requires serious P-5 involvement.

Many postconflict regions have UN peacekeepers to thank for their relative stability. On the other hand, several missions have been wracked with cases of fraud, mismanagement and even sexual abuses, yet others have been rendered ineffective due to a lack of resources and manpower. In a world full of small-scale conflicts UN peacekeeping needs an institutional and professional boost. One way to achieve that is through stronger involvement of the P-5. While some countries may resist the idea of Western troops in quasi-colonial roles, Russia and China should help take up the slack in those situations.

A standing commitment from each P-5 country to the UN to deploy five thousand troops as needed-a quarter of current peacekeeping requirements-would galvanize and improve the whole UN peacekeeping effort.

Even if P-5 countries were willing to provide the necessary manpower and equipment for Darfur, the Sudanese government's opposition coupled with continued attacks there make any deployment extremely difficult. But as the UN scurries to find the resources to address Darfur's never-ending tragedy, the episode powerfully bring homes the need finally to fix the system, not to search frantically for band-aids.


Morton Abramowitz is a former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, where Jonathan Kolieb is a research associate.