The Answer to Darfur

How to Resolve the World’s Hottest War

ENOUGH! campaign report outlines the six sides of a Rubik's Cube of policy that can resolve the crisis in Darfur.

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Though it has garnered the concern and condemnation of governments worldwide and triggered unprecedented grassroots activism in the United States, the crisis in Darfur continues to intensify. In response to what both the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government have repeatedly called genocide, the gulf between rhetoric and action on the part of the Bush administration is profound. What is driving U.S. policy and that of the broader international community is a strategy of constructive engagement with the Khartoum regime driven either by considerations of counterterrorism (United States), commercial connections (China, Russia, and some other Asian and European countries), and solidarity (Arab League).

Four years into the Darfur crisis, it is imperative to take a fresh look—at what has led to successful outcomes in past efforts to affect the Khartoum regime, and what is urgently needed today.

A policy of gentle persuasion—interrupted occasionally with public statements and resolutions that suggest but do not lead to increased pressure on Khartoum—has encouraged the Sudanese regime to intensify its divide and destroy policy in Darfur, particularly in the aftermath of the May 2006 signing of the deeply flawed Darfur Peace Agreement. Regime officials have heard the message loud and clear: crime pays. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir felt so emboldened in early March that, in a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, he clearly rejected an internationally negotiated plan to deploy a United Nations/African Union hybrid force.

But on the heels of four years of failing to act effectively upon the international responsibility to protect civilians, there are finally signs of a pulse within the global crisis response framework:

  • The International Criminal Court is pressing forward with indictments of a senior Sudanese official and a Janjaweed militia leader for crimes against humanity, and is preparing more cases
  • The Bush administration is suggesting that it may soon move forward on the implementation of some elements of long-threatened “Plan B” punitive measures
  • The Blair government has indicated its intention to raise in the U.N. Security Council the imposition of targeted sanctions against key merchants of violence in Darfur, the extension of the arms embargo on the government of Sudan, and perhaps an enforcement mechanism for the ban on offensive military flights by the government of Sudan.

Enough Is Enough

The international community cannot credibly claim to have done enough unless and until all measures have been employed to promote an effective and durable peace agreement, ensure the protection of civilians, and punish the perpetrators for their complicity in one of the worst crimes against humanity in the world today. But if these signs of change mark a new beginning, and if the United States, United Kingdom, ICC, and other significant actors rapidly follow these initial moves with more substantial actions, particularly through the U.N. Security Council, the horrors in Darfur can be brought to a swift conclusion.

Most importantly, President Bush has finally decided that the present course of U.S. policy is inadequate and must be buttressed by more robust measures. Unfortunately, dissent, disagreement, and interagency turf battles within the “Principals Committee” of leading cabinet secretaries mandated to deal with foreign policy continue to stifle the implementation of multilateral punitive measures that would, if pursued aggressively, alter the political calculations in Khartoum. The Principals have met six times in the past four months to discuss ways to ratchet up U.S. pressure on Khartoum, but most of the proposed policies have been rejected or watered down. Others, such as additional financial sanctions against Sudanese companies, will be irrelevant unless they are multilateral and the agencies tasked to carry them out devote significant resources to monitoring and enforcement, which in most cases would require additional resources for those agencies given competing demands.

The United States has had strong unilateral sanctions in place against Sudan since 1997, and the best way to isolate the perpetrators of mass atrocities in Darfur is intense diplomacy aimed at imposing similar measures multilaterally. It is unfortunate, not only for the United States but moreso for the victim’s of Khartoum’s policies, that the president’s request for a muscular policy response to mass atrocities in Darfur has not yielded the robust set of actions and high-level diplomacy that are so urgently required.

Hope and unrealized intent are insufficient to influence the Khartoum regime, and “Plan B,” as currently configured, is too little, too unilateral, and very, very late. In order to break the logjam on more meaningful action, President Bush must act decisively and instruct the Principals Committee to finalize a much more robust plan that ratchets up the pressure rapidly in response to continuing obstruction and destruction by Khartoum. Such a plan—which must be implemented multilaterally—would mark an important reversal from an approach that Khartoum has viewed as all bark and no bite. It would also reflect the fact that no single punitive measure in and of itself is likely to have much economic or legal impact, but the political impact of an array of measures that would steadily ratchet up the real pressure on Khartoum and gradually isolate regime officials as international pariahs would force a change in behavior in due course. Such pressures would aim to support a peace and protection initiative that would seek a new or significantly amended peace deal and a U.N./A.U. hybrid force focused on protecting civilian populations.

Ultimately, President Bush will have to decide that the United States must pursue multiple objectives in Sudan with singular intensity. Currently, counterterrorism efforts remain the unspoken elephant in the Situation Room (the room for Principals Committee meetings inside the White House) preventing a more robust U.S. policy. While Washington and its allies must continue to ensure that the Sudanese remain sources of information for the war on terrorism, they must merge this counterterrorism imperative with the equally compelling goals of ending the crisis in Darfur and ensuring the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for southern Sudan. Walking, chewing gum, and whistling at the same time are prerequisites for a successful policy in Sudan.

The stakes could not be higher. Time is running out for huge swaths of Darfur. Insecurity is increasing, and humanitarian access is shrinking rapidly. The State Department recently reported that a staggering 1,500 villages have been damaged or destroyed in Darfur. Mortality rates are set to skyrocket as the crisis metastasizes into Chad and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the already shaky implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government and the southern Sudan-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement is increasingly at risk because of profound disagreements over what to do about Darfur between the ruling party and the SPLM. Perhaps most ominously, recent withdrawals of aid personnel—in response to targeted violence—threaten to result in widespread famine and increased epidemics, as well as much more violence as the last external witnesses are removed from the scene.

If there was a Sudan Study Group like that of Iraq, composed of relevant experts on Sudan and broader crisis-response approaches, such a group would presumably start by examining the historical context of conflict in the country to establish lessons learned from previous efforts at changing the Sudanese regime’s behavior. It would then construct a set of proposals that would build on those historical lessons, taking full advantage of all available tools in the crisis-response toolbox.

Sadly, no such energy or analytical attention is being focused on Sudan. Illustratively, a U.S. diplomat deeply involved in Sudan policy said recently, “The U.S. doesn’t have to understand the dynamics of the Sudan; we just need to help them move forward.” Disinterest in history leads to its repetition, as we are seeing in Darfur, where all the mistakes that were made for years by the international community in the deadly southern Sudanese war are being made again. Willful ignorance results in bad policy, and costs lives.

American and other policy-makers are ignoring Sudan’s own recent history, and thus the bulk of the most potentially effective policy instruments are still on the shelf. This paper outlines three highly relevant historical lessons, and puts forward a comprehensive policy that brings together all of the available tools in a unified framework focused on promoting peace, protecting people, and punishing perpetrators, the “3 P’s” of confronting atrocities.

Ultimately, U.S. policy won’t change sufficiently without more effective grassroots citizen pressure. Doubtless, the growing citizens’ movement across the United States is the reason Darfur is on the political map in the first place. However, the cacophony of voices, ideas, and opinions about what to do is deafening, and at times the multitudes cancel each other out because of the lack of coordination and clarity around the way forward. The hope is that as Darfur advocates across the United States pursue their individual agendas and projects—all of which are crucial for raising awareness and applying pressure on our elected officials—they will also become better informed about what would really make a difference and in turn will increase their advocacy on the specific U.S. actions necessary to end the crisis in Darfur.  

This strategy paper lays out these required actions, arguing that no single initiative will be sufficient for success. All six sides of the following policy Rubik’s Cube must align and be pursued simultaneously by the international community, led by U.S. policy-makers in the executive and legislative branches and citizen activists:

1. Support rebel unity

2. Build an effective peace process

3. Secure full-time, high-level U.S. diplomacy

4. Accelerate military planning and action for protection

5. Impose punitive measures now

6. Ramp up global citizen activism

Once the recent policy history is reviewed and the real lessons learned from the 18 deadly years this regime has been in power, the answers become clear and obvious. Only the elusive ingredient called political will remains missing.

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