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Military Intervention Necessary to Stop Darfur Crisis

November 17, 2006 at 4:40 PM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, U.N. and African diplomats announced that Sudan had agreed in principle to a new plan to stop the killing in Darfur. The 3-year-old conflict in the western part of Sudan has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The new plan calls for sending a combined African Union and U.N. force of 17,000, plus 3,000 police, to Darfur. But diplomats said Sudan hadn’t yet agreed to the size of the force nor to the command structure.

With us is former Clinton Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Susan Rice. She’s now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

And welcome.

SUSAN RICE, Brookings Institution: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: So this agreement announced yesterday, is this the breakthrough that the world’s been waiting for?

SUSAN RICE: I’m afraid not. Even if the Sudanese government agrees to it — and it’s far from sure that it will — I think this amounts to a colossal sell-out, and let me explain why.

We began with the notion of a U.N. force, 22,000 strong, with a robust mandate from the United Nations Security Council, to protect civilians and stop the genocide. What we have, if this agreement goes through, is very, very unclear.

First of all, it’s a smaller force. Secondly, it’s to be comprised predominantly of African forces, but we know there aren’t African forces to fulfill the mandate. The reason why the African Union in the first place asked for a U.N. force is because it was unable to beef up its strength even to its authorized level.

So there’s 7,000 African Union forces. They’ve had a mandate for over a year to get to 12,000. They can’t do it, because the troops aren’t available. So we’ve created, in effect, a vacuum, unless, of course, the African troops are meant to come from Libya and Egypt, which is quite possible. They are Khartoum’s best friends in Africa, and their objectivity and their commitment to saving civilians that Khartoum has been killing is questionable, indeed.

So we have a fig leaf here that won’t solve the problem that the president and the international community and the United Nations have said we’re committed to solving, which is providing meaningful protection to civilians on the ground in Darfur. I’m afraid it’s a very grim development.

MARGARET WARNER: So what is your alternative?

SUSAN RICE: The alternative is to go back to the idea that we were dealing with some months ago, which is a robust United Nations force, with a Chapter 7 enforcement mandate of 22,000 or more, where the forces come from all over the world to backstop and augment the African presence that’s already there.

Those forces would include elements of support from NATO as the president, in the past, has suggested. And the Sudanese government should be made to accept that force.

We are now, instead, in the ridiculous situation of the international community and the United States negotiating with the perpetrators of genocide about what the international community can and will do to stop it. That is a perverse outcome in the first place. And the Sudanese who are committing the genocide are actually winning this negotiation.

Using force

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have called for using force to require them to accept a U.N. force. What are you proposing?

SUSAN RICE: Well, if the Sudanese government maintains its refusal of a robust U.N. force, then the international community should say to the Sudanese: You have a very short period of time, a week, perhaps two weeks at most, to accept this U.N. force unconditionally or face the threat of the use of military force.

And that would entail the United States, with backing from European partners and hopefully the political support of African governments, bombing Sudanese targets -- air fields, air assets, command and control installations -- that have been instrumental in the perpetration of the genocide.

The purpose of those attacks would be to persuade the Sudanese government that, in fact, the international community is dead serious about this U.N. deployment and that it needs to relent and allow the U.N. in.

We could also contemplate other military options if those don't succeed, even those as robust as considering blockading Port Sudan, through which Sudan's oil assets flow.

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, render their military assets impotent and also try to cripple them economically?

SUSAN RICE: Yes, but with the aim, not just for the sake of starting a war with Sudan. That's not what I'm proposing. What I'm proposing is that pressure be applied by the international community to persuade Sudan to let that U.N. force in to protect civilians. Because at the end of the day, that's the object, is to prevent the government of Sudan from continuing its second wave of genocide and killing massive numbers of civilians.

MARGARET WARNER: But just so I understand, you're saying, though, that Sudan would have to cry uncle first? Because it would be very hard to get troops on the ground, would it not...

SUSAN RICE: Exactly.

MARGARET WARNER: ... in a, quote, "non-permissive environment."

SUSAN RICE: Exactly. The aim is to get Sudan to cry uncle. The prior aim and the hope would be that a credible threat of the use of force would change the calculus in Khartoum and persuade them to let the U.N. in. Right now, they're assuming that we're prepared to negotiate our position away, which apparently we are, and that the international community and the United States, despite our rhetoric, is not serious about protecting civilians.

Combating violence

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the difference between the kind of robust force that you're talking about and the force that is envisioned in this deal that was just -- tentative deal that was just signed yesterday, I understand about the size, but does it also involve what they're mandated to do?

SUSAN RICE: Yes, that's one of the critical questions. This agreement that was signed yesterday is extremely vague. We have no idea whether the force to be constituted will have a robust, Chapter 7 peace enforcement mandate, which is critical.

MARGARET WARNER: The African Union can use force to protect civilians, not just stand by and watch?

SUSAN RICE: Absolutely, exactly. Right now, the African Union has a very weak mandate. The Sudanese government has been able to prevent the African Union from having independent mobility. The whole thing has become, in effect, a joke, which is why the Africans themselves led the call for the U.N. to come and reinforce.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, isn't it a very risky move for the United States, first of all, to inflame public opinion in the Muslim world? And, secondly, al-Qaida has threatened to strike at any international troops that come into Darfur.

SUSAN RICE: Well, the Sudanese have threatened to unleash al-Qaida on any U.N. presence. But if we've come to the point where the United States and the rest of the international community is going to be intimidated by a relatively weak African or other government around the world with the threat of the use of al-Qaida, then we've lost our way, we've lost the war on terrorism, and we've lost our moral compass, if we're not prepared to stand up to protect civilians from genocide. And these are Muslim civilians who are begging the United States and the international community to act on their behalf.

U.S. role

MARGARET WARNER: Now, under your scenario, what if the U.N. didn't agree?

SUSAN RICE: Well, that's a realistic possibility. And, ideally, we would do our utmost to gain U.N. agreement to authorize the threat of the use of force and, indeed, the use of force to get the U.N.'s own resolution limited.

But if that's not the case, we'll be back to a position we've been in before. In Kosovo, at the end of the last decade, where we couldn't get U.N. Security Council approval for action to save civilians, and yet the United States and NATO acted without that authorization. And, in fact, in retrospect, the Security Council came back and gave post facto legitimatization to that.

That's not the ideal way to go. Obviously, we would prefer to have a United Nations legitimization of this. But if that's not possible, I don't think the alternative is to allow genocide to continue.

MARGARET WARNER: Could the United States be accused of violating international law if it went on its own that way?

SUSAN RICE: Well, again, I hope it wouldn't be the United States alone, but the United States with European governments participating and African governments supporting.

But, yes, we were accused of violating international law when we did the same in Kosovo. But recall Kosovo. Not as many as 10,000 civilians had been killed by the time NATO launched its bombing campaign. A far greater military adversary under Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic caved under that pressure.

We now have as many as perhaps 450,000 Africans that have died in Darfur, and the government is in the midst of stepping up its killing spree. How many more Africans have to die before we're prepared to even contemplate the same sort of action as we took in Kosovo?

MARGARET WARNER: Former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice, thank you.

SUSAN RICE: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Our next conversation will be with former U.S. diplomat Morton Abramowitz.