Center for American Progress

The Bush Administration on Darfur – Less than Meets the Eye

Bush's decision last week not to veto a U.N. resolution referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of war crimes was an extraordinary turn around for an administration that spent the past four years doing everything possible to undermine the newly established court. As soon as it entered office, the administration unsigned the treaty establishing the court. Next it browbeat friends and allies, to the point even of withholding financial and military aid, into signing agreements ensuring no American could be prosecuted by the court. Then the president signed a law authorizing the use of force to free Americans held by the court.

Given this background, why did the administration abstain on the U.N. resolution (which had been introduced by France, no less) when it voted at midnight last Thursday? Some will see the decision as the latest sign of moderation by a president who started his second term promising to reach out to friends and allies. Perhaps – though the nomination of John Bolton, who regarded the unsigning of the ICC treaty as the proudest day of his government service, suggests there are limits to Bush's professed moderation.

Washington has argued that the ICC's jurisdiction should not extend to non-members of the court unless the U.N. Security Council decides otherwise. Sudan is not an ICC member, so it required a U.N. vote for the ICC to consider prosecuting Sudanese nationals. The same resolution also exempts citizens from other countries that are not members of the ICC from prosecution – another administration demand.

The real reason for the administration's turn-about may be more sinister, however. In allowing Sudan to be referred to the ICC, the U.S. is helping to create an appearance of action in Sudan even though this resolution, like those that went before it, will do nothing much to stop the actual killing.

Darfur remains a horrific crisis. Since last summer, when the United States determined that genocide was taking place, another 200,000 people may have died. Although good statistics are hard to come by, a recent analysis by Eric Reeves of Smith College concludes that 380,000 have now died – including more than half killed by violence.

Unless something drastic is done, the future looks worse. There is an acute water shortage in some of the largest camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Darfurians. Disease is ripping through the population – including meningitis in the north and dysentery in the south. International aid workers, including U.N. personnel, are pulling back from major parts of the region, while some key nongovernmental organizations have left altogether because of the deteriorating security situation. And all the while, militias supported by the Khartoum government maraud the countryside in search of women to rape, boys to kill, and villages to destroy.

The ICC referral, though welcome as a means to see that some justice will be done, will do nothing to prevent the situation from getting any worse. That would require some form of military intervention. Unfortunately, despite all the talk about the horrors facing the people of Darfur, no one – not the U.S., the U.N., nor the EU – has been willing to do what needs to be done.

It would not require all that much to bring about a major improvement in the security situation of the region. The following steps would be a good start:

  • Establish a clear mandate to protect civilians for any international military presence in the region. The African Union troops now in Darfur are there to monitor a non-existent ceasefire and have no mandate actually to prevent or respond to attacks against civilians.
  • Enlarge the AU to 8,000 troops (up from the 3,400 that have been currently authorized, and the 2,200 that are currently deployed).
  • Provide military support to make the AU force an effective instrument. This is a job for NATO (or for the EU). It would require deploying military liaisons at every level of command – from the AU headquarters down to the lowest level in the field. It would also require providing helicopters to ensure mobility for the troops, as well as reconnaissance, intelligence, and communications support.

Recent discussions with top NATO civilians and military officials indicate that the organization has given a lot of thought to how it might support an expanded AU force operating under a new, more expansive mandate. The capability is there to help. What is missing is the political will to make it happen.

In a shameful display of irresponsibility, the leaders of key organizations – the U.N., NATO, the EU, and the AU – as well as of major countries like the U.S., France, and Britain have all remarked upon the horrors that have befallen Darfur, but then done nothing to stop the killing. The time for action is now.

If President Bush is serious about ending the genocide, he will have to do more than acquiesce in a role for the ICc= He will have to call these key leaders to Washington, lock them in a room, and not let them out until they have decided on a course of action. Only then will the ICC referral have real meaning.

Ivo Daalder is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and special adviser on national security at the Center for American Progress.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.