Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why Darfur Remains Untouched

Lots of people in the university world like to protest about Darfur and "raise awareness;" it's a popular means for picking up women at cocktail parties. Sadly for those taking the issue seriously, I think their efforts are futile. Awareness is already pretty high; raising it more is not going to do much to pressure Western statesment into acting. It is ultimately logistical problems are keeping anyone from doing anything. It's harder than it looks.

Any intervention into Somalia would be met hostilely. Where would one land, unless one was willing to fly in shooting? The UN has serious problems with actually killing people in peacekeeping missions, and the Darfur problem would be militarily untenable for them unless they made a deal with the Sudanese government (which the Sudanese government is uninterested in).

While in my Great Power Military Interventions class today, Professor Barry Posen brought up a few more interesting points about Darfur that I had not considered. After some thinking, I realised the following, that make Darfur largely doomed for the near future:

1) Only three countries in the world have global lift. These are France, Britain, and the US. The US outstretches the other two by far, but nobody besides these three countries can actually pick an arbitrary location on the map and sustain a conflict there. The EU is purchasing C-17's (probably about 200 in 10 years), which is great; they will soon be able to supply their own foreign peacekeeping missions. But for the past 15 years, all eyes have turned to the US, UK, and France for ever-critical logistics in these affairs, giving the three serious veto power in any kind of global foreign mission.

2) The US has all the airlift. France and the UK only have boats--and each country only has about as much sealift as the US Marine Corps. A mission without the US would mean absolutely zero rapid response, emergency supply, etc--making it unbearably risky for most European states.

3) The US is tied down. Iraq/Afghanistan obviously have US supply vessels pretty tied up, and the US can't afford to promise dozens of such vessels for a long, difficult mission in Africa.

4) The US is politically insular. After the Iraq debacle, both international and domestic pressure flared, and any international action by the US is likely to be laughed at by policymakers that have any hopes of a pension.

5) Darfur is geographically nasty. Out west, past Khartoum and other large cities in the Sudan and away from arifields, the jungles of Darfur are highly reminiscent of Vietnam--making military commanders wince at the idea of plunging back into anti-insurgent warfare in a climate they don't yet know how to handle.

So the Darfur mess is likely to stay a mess for some time. As much as we feel good by screaming "do something!" and blaming current statesmen for inaction, neither incoming presidential candidate is going to have a magic bullet to easily and cheaply go "fix" Darfur, and wacky African dictators are likely to get away with genocide for some time to come.
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