TCS Daily

Diplomatic Shock-and-Awe Against Sudan

By Carroll Andrew - July 19, 2004 12:00 AM

If the American people thought that they could, they would stop the slaughter of civilians in Sudan's western province of Darfur. If the situation in Darfur were a disaster created by the forces of nature, aid would already have arrived. Americans are famously generous when acts of nature cause human suffering. We help first and ask questions later.

But Darfur is not a disaster created by the forces of nature. Darfur is a disaster created by the forces of politics. Government supported militias have launched scorched-earth attacks disrupting the production of the Darfur's subsistence farmers. The attacks have been followed by government assertion of territorial sovereignty to impede the delivery of aid. The goal is to wreck civil society and weaken the population through starvation, allowing the government to more easily consolidate its control over western Sudan.

When humanitarian crises are man-made, Americans reverse their order of response. Before trying to help, we ask, "is it any of our business?" or "can we really make a difference in the long run?" Remember Ethiopia? For about 30 years, civil wars, droughts, and their combination have been killing civilians in Ethiopia. When the primary cause of death is perceived to be drought, aid flows generously. When the primary cause is perceived to be war, America and the west pay much less attention.

The difference in response is a form of triage informed by historical memory. The United States knows that it does not have the resources to help everyone. Resources must be directed to the places where they will do the most good. Americans do not see attempting to alleviate the suffering caused by the Third World's Hobbesian politics as a good use of emergency resources. Even if immediate aid fixes the situation today, the political circumstances that created the problem will still be there tomorrow. So, when Americans hear about yet another third-world government massacring its citizens, we make a cold but rational choice not to overly involve ourselves in a situation that we probably cannot resolve. Better to save our efforts for one-time events like natural disasters.

The consensus of despair magnifies the power of dictators. Democratic leaders are slow to advocate foreign interventions, even for noble humanitarian purposes. Driven by domestic political calculations, they fear (justifiably) that the magnitude of commitment involved in fixing broken states will frighten their constituents. Meanwhile, the measures that do garner public support -- UN resolutions and amorphous ideas of "diplomatic pressure" -- cannot be effective unless backed by a credible threat of force. The result is a vicious cycle. Dictators expand their intrastate power by the most violent means possible, knowing that the outside world is fearful of intervening in situations where violence is too extreme.

The cycle can be broken. There are steps that lie between the poles of military intervention and quietist non-involvement. Nations unwilling to tolerate Sudan's state sponsored program of killing can derecognize Sudan's legal control over Darfur and support the secession of western Sudan. If the outside world cannot solve the problems in Sudan, it can remove Sudan from the problems.

Recognizing the secession of oppressed provinces of failed states should be a part of the standard diplomatic toolkit. Do we not agree that every reasonable non-violent alternative should proceed the use of force? Recognizing secession is a non-violent option, though one that is rarely mentioned. Somehow, the international system has evolved to a point where threatening to derecognize a savage government is considered unthinkable while allowing hundreds of thousands to starve to death is considered business-as-usual. Arguments that recognizing western Sudan as an independent state will lead to violence are not compelling. The violence is already out of control. Doing nothing only enables its continuation.

Endorsing western Sudan's secession is a reasonable course of action given Sudan's utter failure as a state. For democrats and humanitarians, Sudan's failure is beyond obvious. For those agnostic about democracy so long as state machinery delivers efficient rule, Sudan is still a monumental failure. And for hard-headed realists, disinterested in domestic tranquility, so long as the stability of the international system limits and regulates of the use of force, preserving Sudan is of no value. Since 1955, Sudan has been engaged in a brutal winner-take-all contest for power and prestige that comes from legal control of a populous nation. Removing the prize will reduce the violence.

As a precursor to a full blown secession plan, the United States should introduce proposals to suspend Sudan's United Nations vote and commence Sudan's expulsion from the United Nations. Even if such measures are not likely to pass, they will let Sudan and its allies know that the outside world will support major changes in the international order if such changes will stop the killing. These initial steps are not unprecedented. In the mid-1970's, apartheid era South Africa's vote in the United Nations General Assembly was suspended, and outright expulsion from the UN was considered. Why is it not reasonable to assert that Darfur's black African population deserves the same help from the international community that South Africa's black African population received?

Most importantly, support for a series of steps culminating in the secession of western Sudan will lift the fog of insolvability from the crisis in Darfur. By thinking outside-of-the-box, the civilized world can propose a reasonable choice that can be backed up with reasonable commitments. The present government of Sudan can help the people of western Sudan or it can get out of the way while the people of western Sudan help themselves. It can either end the killing of civilians in Darfur or turn the governance of Darfur over to people who will.


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