Why the world is failing in Darfur

Alex de Waal points us to Powers of Persuasion: a series of essays on the role of sanctions, incentives and conditionalities in peacemaking. The publisher, Conciliation Resources, usually produces excellent volumes, so I suspect the essays are quite good.

De Waal also summarizes his own contribution on Darfur, comparing the experiences of the current peacekeeping force to ‘friendly fire’:

I point out that the international community has used a wide array of measures to try to bring peace–and peacekeepers–to Darfur. In fact, rarely have so many instruments been used simultaneously on a single conflict. But the results have been disappointing, to say the least. Is this because the world hasn’t cared enough or hasn’t tried hard enough? There’s certainly an element of that. But there’s also a problem of poor coordination in using the instruments available. There’s a danger that unless the international community prioritizes and coordinates effectively, efforts at peacemaking, civilian protection and seeking justice will end up cancelling each other out.

I use the metaphor of the dangers of friendly fire when an insufficiently-trained army tries to use sophisticated equipment. An infantry force that uses heavy artillery, tanks and aircraft on the battlefield without adequate planning, training, command and control runs the risk of doing as much damage to its own forces as to the enemy. This, I suggest, is the lesson of Darfur–trying to achieve peace while pioneering new tools of civilian protection and punishing perpetrators, without clear prioritization, is simply too much for a cumbersome international system to cope with.

I argue that the effectiveness of the regime of sanctions imposed on Khartoum, and the conditionalities, incentives and guarantees provided by the US, other western governments and the UN was mitigated by three factors.

(1) The subordination of the goal of achieving peace to the objective of dispatching a UN peacekeeping and protection force. This was an experimental approach adopted against the advice of senior officials in most governments as well as the UN and AU. This advice was ignored because the top leadership of the two organizations was under intense pressure, mainly from the US, to deliver a quick agreement. It is likely that this prioritization of peacekeeping over peacemaking contributed to the failure at achieving either.

(2) The breakdown of trust between Khartoum and Washington DC, whereby reciprocal public condemnation for perfidy shifted from being largely rhetoric to becoming real policy on both sides. President al Bashir is unlikely to respond to sanctions and threats if he believes that the US intends that he share the fate of Saddam Hussein.

(3) The leaders of the Darfurian armed movements came to have inflated expectations of what guarantees should be on offer from the international community, because of the aspirational language of the ‘Responsibility to Protect.’