As the Darfur conflict in western Sudan approaches the two-year mark, it is clear that the international community is unwilling to provide either the diplomatic resources or material assistance that might halt what has become massive genocide by attrition. The gradual deployment of an African Union force of 3,500 troops for monitoring purposes is woefully inadequate to the crisis, but international refusal to entertain more ambitious plans for intervention has led to excessive and disingenuous celebration of this very modest achievement. Expediency rules in Washington, at the UN in New York, within the European Union, and within the African Union itself. Coupled with the intensive lobbying for a policy of “non-interference” by the Arab League, such expediency ensures that far too much of Darfur’s future will resemble its present.
More than three hundred thousand had died by December 2004, and a monthly mortality rate of thirty thousand human beings was accelerating. Disease and malnutrition overtook violence as the leading causes of death in midsummer 2004, but this must not obscure the most basic fact of Khartoum’s conduct of the war. The National Islamic Front regime has engaged in a genocidal policy of relentless, systematic destruction of the agricultural means of survival for the African tribal groups in Darfur. The present “humanitarian” crisis is not the collateral damage of war, but an engineered famine and health catastrophe, similar in many ways to the deadly famine deliberately precipitated by Khartoum in the southern Bahr el-Ghazal Province in 1998. The complete blockade of humanitarian aid to the Nuba Mountains region in Kordofan Province, commencing in 1992, offers yet another clear point of historical reference.
Though it has been clear that Khartoum will not relent in its current genocidal ambitions until confronted with unambiguous and serious consequences, the international community has not accepted this fundamental truth publicly. Doing so would put into sharp focus the hopelessly dysfunctional nature of the UN Security Council in dealing with issues relating to Sudan. The primary obstacle to effective UN action is China, which has repeatedly threatened to use its veto to block any sanctions measure directed against Khartoum. To be sure, China has several important allies (Russia and Pakistan most notably), but it is China’s perceived national interest that dominates the political calculus at the UN.
The Chinese economy has a voracious appetite for offshore petroleum, and consumption of imported oil has more than doubled in the last five years. China has the dominant stake in Sudan’s two oil-producing consortia and views Sudan policy almost exclusively through the lens of petroleum needs. It is hardly surprising that following the September passage of a second, weaker Security Council resolution on Darfur (which merely talks of considering the possibility ...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.