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A Non-Credible Threat

Why Khartoum continues to kill.

12:00 AM, Mar 23, 2007 • By DANIEL ALLOTT
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WHEN WILL PEACE come to Darfur? After four years of genocide (the killings started in February 2003), that question has lost all but its rhetorical significance.

A glimmer of hope was provided recently when New Mexico Governor Bill
Richardson helped negotiate a 60-day cease-fire with Sudan's murderous
president, Omar al-Bashir. Bashir's promise proved empty, however,
when, just days after the agreement was signed, government planes
initiated a fresh aerial bombing campaign targeting rebel groups and
innocent civilians in Northern Darfur.

A Consistent Pattern

A consistent pattern has emerged in the world's negotiations with the
Sudanese government over Darfur. The West (i.e. the United Nations,
with backing from the United States) pressures Sudan to reign in its
genocidal militias and allow peacekeepers to enter Darfur, while
threatening economic and military repercussions for noncompliance.
Bashir dawdles, fearing prosecution for war crimes by the International
Criminal Court and spouting derisory theories about "Jewish
conspiracies" and Western plots to re-colonize his oil-rich nation.

Then, with a deadline looming, the Sudanese government relents and
promises to behave. Hope is restored. But Khartoum promptly ignores
its promises, instead ramping up attacks against rebel groups and
innocent civilians. In response, the West feigns outrage, using stark
language to describe deteriorating conditions and the heavy price of
continued obstinacy. In the end, however, without the will to follow
through on its threats, the West gives in, and the cycle begins anew.

The cycle of impunity in Darfur began nearly three years ago, when the
U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 1556, giving Khartoum 30 days
to disarm or face economic and military sanctions. The deadline passed
quietly.

Last May, following months of intense negotiations, Sudan signed the
Darfur Peace Agreement authorizing the installation of U.N.
peacekeepers. A Sudanese government spokesman said: "The United Nations
is the only party that could help us, really, in implementing this peace
agreement." Days later, Bashir reneged, announcing that the
installation of U.N. troops "shall never take place."

Five months ago the U.N. Security Council threatened to impose sanctions
on Sudan if it persisted in barring peacekeepers from Darfur, a threat
punctuated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who declared
that Sudan must "immediately and unconditionally" accept a U.N. force or
face "a choice between cooperation and confrontation." Again, the
deadline came and went.

A Credible Threat

In game theory economics a "non-credible threat" is a term used to
describe a threat by a player in a sequential game that will not be
carried out but is nonetheless made in the hope that it will be believed
and, therefore, that the threatened undesirable action will not need to
be carried out.

The United Nations has spent four years making non-credible threats
against Sudan. Unfortunately for the U.N.--and most especially for the
people of Darfur--the Sudanese government has taken none of these threats
seriously.

This reality is not lost on United Nations Deputy Secretary General Mark
Malloch Brown. Speaking candidly at a recent Brookings Institute event,
Brown admitted that in Darfur: "...there is a little bit of bluff
playing, in that we're saying to President Bashir of Sudan, give us
consent for deployment or else. And there's a lot of questions about
what plausibly the 'or else' is. And President Bashir looks at us and
he thinks he's seen us blink, and that makes it hugely difficult to
credibly address this issue of winning his consent to our deployment."

President Bush, no stranger to feckless U.N. Security Council
resolutions, has similarly stated that, "The credibility of the U.N. is
at stake" in Darfur.

Breaking the Cycle

So, what can be done to break the cycle of impunity in Darfur?
France--previously mum on Darfur because of its financial entanglements
with the Bashir regime--has suggested entering Darfur without the United
Nations. Susan Rice, an Africa specialist in the Clinton
Administration, has urged the United States--with backing from European
partners and, ideally, African governments--to employ a bombing campaign
of strategic targets, such as airfields and command and control
installations.

Max Boot, writing in the Jewish World Review, called for a private army
(mercenaries) to quell the violence. Even the normally dovish New York
Times has fantasized about NATO pushing its way in (as it did,
successfully, in Kosovo) without permission from Khartoum. A NATO force
is the most viable option, given that it already provides logistical
help--including airlift support and officer training--to a beleaguered
African Union force in Darfur, and because the NATO Response Force would
be capable of deploying thousands of troops is less than 30 days.

Back at the United Nations, meanwhile, newly elected Secretary General
Ban Ki-Moon has pledged to make Darfur "a priority" during his tenure.
Yet Ban--echoing the ambivalence of his predecessor, Kofi Annan--also
argues that he sees "no military solution" to the conflict.

In the midst of such equivocation, only one thing seems clear: Unless
the cycle of impunity is broken, the fifth year of genocide in Darfur
will not be the last.

Daniel Allott is a writer and policy analyst for American Values, a
Washington D.C. area public policy organization.