Armed Humanitarianism: Can it work in Darfur?

This entry will examine military intervention (not including the No-Fly Zone, which was discussed previously) and its applicability to Dafur. I wish to emphasize my belief that Darfur is a conflict that will require international attention for years or even decades after the actual cessation of hostilities. Without long-term efforts to promote reconstruction and reconciliation of the Darfur provinces, the causes of the conflict will only fester and find expression through renewed violence in the not so distant future. We therefore need to consider policies that extend well into the future, while also considering the long-term ramifications of policies designed to immediately address the conflict. A military solution to the conflict, while not widely discussed at present, should nevertheless be seriously contemplated –both for its potential to end the conflict, and also to destabilize Darfur and Sudan for years or decades to come.
At its most basic, armed humanitarian intervention is the use of threat of military force to coerce an aggressor into respecting basic human rights. Usually, the violating power has not attacked any external enemies, nor has it challenged in any way those nations threatening its capacity of wage war. In principle, the lone justification for military action is empathy for the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide (though in practice, the motives for humanitarian intervention are often grounded in more traditional geo-political considerations).
In Sudan today the United Nations and African Union are slowly deploying a 26,000 personnel peacekeeping force to the provinces of Darfur. With so few troops (Darfur is roughly the size of France), limited logistical and transport support, and a weak mandate, UNAMID has been unable to effectively monitor the entire region, while it is also vulnerable to attack by rebels, government forces and bandits. It therefore seems natural to consider a more forceful mandate or perhaps something more aggressive, such as a NATO-led intervention, as the obvious solution. Afterall, external military power has been applied to Sierra Leone, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and East Timor, among other places, so why not Darfur as well? As will be outlined below, there are a number of problems regarding the use of military power to resolve conflicts, while it would also damage any prospects of establishing a permanent peace in the near future.
Short-term considerations leading to military interventions, without adequate situational understanding and driven only by a sense of urgency, can unleash a range of unanticipated developments. A most basic but serious problem is the inability of modern militaries to manage humanitarian tasks. As Gwynne Dyer observed in his book War, Western military powers (those capable of launching humanitarian interventions) are trained and equipped to fulfill a doctrine of decisive victory, achieved by the unrelenting application of superior firepower (witness the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing of Baghdad). Western forces have so far failed to adjust to the post-Cold War developments of humanitarian warfare, operations that require patience, restraint and a thorough understanding of regional culture, society, language, history and political system. Lacking the necessary training, background and expertise, soldiers and commanders can make insensitive decisions based on fear and frustration, slowly but surely fuelling resentment and building resistance against them.
Resentment and resistance can fester in other ways as well, as veteran Canadian war correspondent Paul Watson observed many time over the last two decades. For example, in Somalia Watson argued that powerful warlords perceived intervention as an attempt to deny them their rightful inheritance of the government, while in Kosovo he witnessed fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Amy attacking Serbian forces and civilians under the umbrella of NATO airpower. For these reasons Alton Frey, an analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that the short-term deployment of military forces “can make little or no contribution to mitigating the conditions that led to the atrocities.”
The use of military power in Darfur today (either a better mandated United Nations, or another country or organization) would explicitly claim the Darfur provinces as protectorates of the international community, while branding Sudan the enemy of peace and justice. Considering that political dialogue (or lack thereof) was a significant cause of the current conflict, the editors of Explaining Darfur argue that armed intervention could have very serious repercussions for the foreseeable future.
What do you think? Has Darfur passed beyond the point of no return? Has the time finally and truly arrived to risk the perils of more aggressive humanitarian intervention?

See these books for information on armed humanitarianism and its discontents.

Frye, Alton. Humanitarian Intervention: Crafting a Workable Doctrine. New York:
Council on Foreign Relations, 2000. (particularly pages 1-20)

Dyer, Gwynne. War. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2005. (see chapter on guerilla warfare)

Watson, Paul. Where War Lives. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2007.

van Ardenne, Agnes, Mohamed Salih, Grono, Nick and Mendez, Juan. Explaining
. Amsterdam: Vossiuspers UvA, 2006.

John R. Matchim

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