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This is the fifth part of a five-part series.

Ending the emergency in Darfur will take more than the threat of ill-defined sanctions, and preventing Sudan's collapse will require a level of engagement by the international community that is rarely afforded to Africa.

The worst case scenario goes like this: Unable to determine whether the crisis in Sudan does or does not constitute genocide, and unwilling to impose meaningful sanctions, the U.N. Security Council passes a series of resolutions threatening but not acting upon the Sudanese government's transgressions. Khartoum, meanwhile, rightly calculates that the world has no stomach for either sanctions or intervention, maintains its support for the militia, and stalls efforts by the African Union to expand its observer force. The African Union presses forward, but has neither the logistical capacity nor the political support necessary to force Khartoum's hand. The crisis spills over into Chad, which breaks relations with Khartoum, closes the border, and refuses to accept any more refugees. Hundreds of thousands more are displaced, the world provides more and more humanitarian assistance, and the deadly status quo multiplies. Darfur's youth join the rebels, who mount repeated and increasingly potent attacks against the Sudanese military. Against this backdrop, the Beja people in eastern Sudan mount an armed rebellion against Khartoum, and the fragile peace agreement between the government and southern rebels collapses. Spanning a territory roughly one-third the size of the United States, Africa's largest country – with nine international borders and ports on the Red Sea – becomes a full-scale war zone, and enters the pantheon of the world's failed states.

And millions die on the way.

The one thing upon which all Sudanese now agree is that the outside world is heavy on rhetoric but weak on answers – a state of affairs that empowers the bad guys and gives the people of Darfur little on which to pin any hope for the future. There is a way to change that view – but it requires that the international community take a fundamentally different approach:

1. First, we should pursue a comprehensive strategy.

In hindsight, the crisis in Darfur might not have erupted had the long-running peace negotiations between Khartoum and the southern rebels assumed a nationwide solution rather than a narrower focus on Sudan's primary war. Most believe that the rebel attack on El Fasher in April of last year was motivated by the desire to secure something for Darfur before the Sudanese government and SPLA rebels sealed their own deal on resource and power-sharing arrangements.

But it is not too late to forge a national solution building on the progress achieved on the north-south front. A first and critical step is to push for the prompt signing of the Naivasha peace agreement between Khartoum and the southern rebels of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army. Significantly, the agreement calls for the incorporation of southern Sudanese political leaders into the central government, and of SPLA units into the national military. A Sudanese government that includes southern Sudanese will prove more willing and able to reach a political accommodation with the rebel movements in Darfur, and an integrated military stands a far more credible chance of providing security over the long term. At the same time, we should urge that the AU-led negotiations now underway in Nigeria adopt the same resource and power-sharing principles that form the backbone of the Naivasha agreement. Finally, we should move now to press the government to enter into pre-emptive negotiations with political forces in eastern Sudan, where a new conflict is brewing.

2. The international community should offer a package of real pressures and incentives.

Empty threats of undefined sanctions do little more than undermine the credibility of the U.N. and its members. What is needed is the threat of real, targeted sanctions – aimed at militia leaders, government officials aiding and abetting the militia forces, and economic targets that will get the government's attention – timed to a set of verifiable benchmarks. The world should also send a strong and united signal – now – that impunity is not an option. The documentation of abuses already compiled by human rights organizations, observers on the ground, and the State Department should be held in trust for consideration by a Commission of Enquiry or, possibly, the International Criminal Court.

At the same time, however, the international community would be wise to dangle a package of incentives. Peace in Darfur will prove more tempting and sustainable if it is accompanied by resources and other assistance aimed at consolidating a new order. Donor countries should pledge to provide assistance to rebuild Darfur's local communities, retrain demobilized soldiers and rebels, build the local institutions and capacity that Darfur needs to attain a reasonable level of regional development, and design the new land tenure and environmental policies that will enable the settled and nomadic populations of Darfur to peacefully share a shrinking resource base.

3. We must make a real investment in the African Union.

There are already signs that the United Nations and United States want to hand the Darfur crisis over to the African Union. But there is a difference between actively supporting the AU's lead on Darfur and fobbing off the cost, risk and ultimate responsibility for the crisis onto a new, cash-strapped organization that views Darfur as its first test case for success in managing Africa's crises.

A real investment means, first, providing the resources required by the AU to expand its mission – this means fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, vehicles, fuel and the cold hard cash needed to pay the troops on the ground. But it also means planning, now, for the provision of additional resources when and if the AU is able to further expand its operations and delivering coordinated diplomatic support of the ongoing negotiations being run by the AU in Nigeria. Also, we must quickly move to reconcile the contradictions between the AU ceasefire plan, which calls for the parties to remain in place, and the U.N. 90-day plan, which authorizes the Sudanese military to expand its positions in order to create and secure "safe zones."

Endnote

Emotions in Sudan are worn close to the surface, and they rub off. One easily feels the abject fear of the displaced civilians; the acute frustration of the relief workers; the palpable rage of the rebels; and the cool disdain of government officials. But as compelling as Sudan may be, a return to the "outside world" is in many ways more potent, and equally disturbing.

Upon returning to the United States, I listened to U.N. officials who confirmed that the Sudanese government has not moved to end the violence, and to American diplomats who assert that the militias are still armed and dangerous. I read about the State Department report that confirms that the Sudanese government has promoted systematic killings based on the race and ethnic origins of the victims. And how the State Department has concluded that the determination of genocide is a not a legal matter, but a political choice.

We condemn, but we do not act. We raise our voices, but just watch. The State Department is right – it is a political choice. And the political choice America is making is to leave the people of Darfur to fend for themselves.

Gayle Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, served as a special assistant to the president and senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

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