icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Youtube
The AU's Mission in Darfur: Bridging the Gaps
The AU's Mission in Darfur: Bridging the Gaps
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Remembering Javier Pérez de Cuéllar’s “Piecemeal” Approach to UN Peacemaking
Remembering Javier Pérez de Cuéllar’s “Piecemeal” Approach to UN Peacemaking
Briefing 28 / Africa

The AU's Mission in Darfur: Bridging the Gaps

The international community is failing in its responsibility to protect the inhabitants of Darfur, many of whom are still dying or face indefinite displacement from their homes. New thinking and bold action are urgently needed.

I. Overview

The international community is failing in its responsibility to protect the inhabitants of Darfur, many of whom are still dying or face indefinite displacement from their homes. New thinking and bold action are urgently needed. The consensus to support a rough doubling of the African Union (AU) force to 7,731 troops by the end of September 2005 under the existing mandate is an inadequate response to the crisis. The mandate must be strengthened to prioritise civilian protection, and a force level of at least 12,000 to 15,000 is needed urgently now, not in nearly a year as currently envisaged.

This requires more courageous thinking by the AU, NATO, the European Union (EU), the UN and the U.S. to get adequate force levels on the ground in Darfur with an appropriate civilian protection mandate as quickly as possible, which in practical terms means within the next two months. Otherwise, security will continue to deteriorate, the hope that displaced inhabitants will ever return home will become even more distant, and prospects for a political settlement will remain dim.

While the UN and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have taken the lead in responding to growing humanitarian needs and authorising accountability measures against those responsible for atrocities, the AU has the lead for reaching a political solution to the conflict and monitoring the humanitarian and ceasefire agreements. The AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has had a positive impact on security in some areas by often going beyond the strict terms of its mandate -- but its ability to protect civilians and humanitarian operations is hamstrung by limited capacity, insufficient resources and political constraints.

The assumption that the Sudanese government will fulfil its responsibilities and continued reliance on its cooperation as a pre-requisite for action against the militias with which it is allied are egregious self-deceptions. Khartoum's interest in seeking a lasting solution to the conflict is disingenuous, and it has systematically flouted numerous commitments to rein in its proxy militias -- collectively known as the Janjaweed. It has consistently opted for cosmetic efforts aimed at appeasing international pressure, minimised the political dimensions of the conflict, and inflamed ethnic divisions to achieve military objectives.

Equally flawed is the concept that the atrocities are African-only problems that require African-only solutions. The well-documented abuses that continue to occur demand broader and more robust international efforts aimed at enhancing the AU's ability to lead. In view of the Sudanese government's abdication of its sovereign duty and to the extent that the AU cannot adequately protect Sudan's civilians, the broader international community has a responsibility to do so.

Civilian protection needs to become the primary objective. Crisis Group recommends the following immediate steps, building on AU efforts, to deploy a multinational military force with sufficient size, operational capacity and mandate:

  • agree on a stronger mandate. The AU must strengthen AMIS's mandate to enable and encourage it to undertake all necessary measures, including offensive action, against any attacks or threats to civilians and humanitarian operations, whether from militias operating with the government or from the rebels. Without a stronger mandate, the ability of AMIS -- or any other international force -- to provide protection will remain extremely limited, regardless of its size;
     
  • recognise that many more troops are needed. 12,000-15,000 should, in Crisis Group's estimate, be on the ground now to protect villages against further attack or destruction, displaced persons (IDPs) against forced repatriation and intimidation, and women from systematic rape outside the camps, as well as to provide security for humanitarian operations and neutralise the government-supported militias that prey on civilians;
     
  • support a much more rapid reinforcement of AMIS. The current AU plan is to reach 7,731 -- including 1,560 civilian police -- by September 2005. The AU believes this relatively small force could largely stabilise the situation and that it might then need to go up to 12,300 by the second quarter of 2006 in order also to facilitate the eventual return of the displaced to their homes. Crisis Group believes even the latter number is at the low end of what is required first to provide stability in a still lethal situation, that these troops need to be appropriately equipped, trained and of a quality to undertake a dangerous civilian protection mission and that the AU should consequently approve and commence an immediate increase in AMIS to 12,000-plus highly ready personnel, to be in-country within 60 days. The need for civilian police is especially urgent;
     
  • provide strong, immediate international support. To meet these objectives, the UN, EU and NATO must offer the AU additional help in force preparation, deployment, sustainment, intelligence, command and control, communications and tactical (day and night) mobility, including the deployment of their own assets and personnel to meet capability gaps as needed;
     
  • develop a Bridging Force Option. If the AU cannot meet these objectives -- numbers and quality of troops, and time -- NATO should work closely with the AU to deploy its own bridging force and bring the total force up to 12,000 to 15,000 within 60 days and maintain it at that level until the AU can perform the mission entirely with its own personnel. The AU should agree that until such time, its units would come under command and control of the NATO mission. The UN Security Council should authorise the mission with a civilian protection mandate but if it does not, the AU and NATO would need to assume the responsibility and agree on an appropriate mandate. If the Sudanese government does not accept such a mission, NATO and the AU would need to prepare a much larger one to operate in a non-permissive environment; and
     
  • enforce the Security Council ban on offensive military flights. The AU and NATO should agree on enforcement measures to be applied if Khartoum violates the prohibition in UN Security Council Resolution 1591.

Nairobi/Brussels, 6 July 2005

Op-Ed / Global

Remembering Javier Pérez de Cuéllar’s “Piecemeal” Approach to UN Peacemaking

Originally published in World Politics Review

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, died this week.  In this piece, originally published in World Politics Review in February, our UN Director assesses his legacy.

When Javier Pérez de Cuéllar turned 100 in January, his current successor as Secretary-General, António Guterres, sent a congratulatory message stating that “I have often reflected on your example and experience for inspiration and guidance.” This sounds like a standard diplomatic pleasantry, but there may have been a more to it than that.

As UN chief from 1982 to 1991, Pérez de Cuéllar, a former Peruvian diplomat, was intimately involved in ending Cold War conflicts from Afghanistan to Central America. Guterres, since his appointment in 2017, has warned that the U.S., China and Russia risk starting a “new Cold War” if they do not rein in their current tensions. Senior UN officials, who have spent recent decades focusing on ending violence in the developing world, wonder if and how the international organization can work in a new era of great-power competition.

This February, Guterres warned that a “wind of madness is sweeping the globe” as governments fuel conflict and ignore climate change. “Security Council resolutions,” he added, “are being disrespected even before the ink is dry.” Perhaps unintentionally, he echoed Pérez de Cuéllar, who told the UN General Assembly in 1982—when the Cold War was still very much a reality—that “we are perilously near to a new international anarchy” in which Security Council resolutions were “increasingly defied or ignored by those who feel strong enough to do so.”

Most secretaries-general have lamented the state of the world in similar terms at one time or another. But Pérez de Cuéllar remains an interesting case study in UN leadership because, rather than simply complain about the state of the world, he made a real contribution to resolving crises involving its biggest powers, earning their respect along the way. His efforts included backchannel diplomacy with Russia and China over Afghanistan and Cambodia, and a drawn-out but ultimately successful effort to persuade the five permanent members of the Security Council to find common ground on ending the Iran-Iraq War. His tenure culminated with successful UN mediation in the Cold War proxy conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Pérez de Cuéllar was even able to engage directly in mediating disputes involving the permanent Security Council members, something that had stymied his immediate predecessors, U Thant and Kurt Waldheim. Thant had, for example, alienated Washington by trying to play a diplomatic role in Vietnam. In his first year in office, Pérez de Cuéllar attempted to broker a deal between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, after Buenos Aires captured the disputed archipelago. While that outreach failed, Christopher Mallaby, a British diplomat involved in the talks, recalls that the British government was impressed by the “able and impressive” secretary-general.

Pérez de Cuéllar’s “piecemeal” approach to peacemaking remains a useful point of reference for the UN at a time when it appears incapable of resolving major geopolitical crises.

In 1986, he arbitrated talks between France and New Zealand after French intelligence operatives sank the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, which had been monitoring a French nuclear test in the Pacific, while it was moored in Auckland. The French government ultimately agreed to pay New Zealand $7 million in reparations. It is hard to imagine any of the permanent Security Council members acceding to such arbitration now.

Why was Pérez de Cuéllar able to pull off such diplomatic feats? In part, he was lucky. Contrary to his bleak assessment in 1982, rapprochement between the Western and Soviet blocs created more space for the UN to help resolve conflicts that all sides wanted to end.

But as Alvaro de Soto, a close adviser to Pérez de Cuéllar, noted in a recent chapter on his former boss in a history of successive secretaries-general and the Security Council, he also brought important character traits to Turtle Bay. De Soto highlights Pérez de Cuéllar’s absolute commitment to impartiality in dealing with the U.S., Soviet Union and other powers, and his extreme discretion in quietly handling problems like Afghanistan. He also knew when to pick his battles. Rather than throw himself into addressing every conflict at once, he tended to step in only after other diplomatic actors had exhausted themselves. In the case of Central America, for example, he waited for regional diplomacy to lose steam before pushing UN mediation.

Overall, de Soto notes, Pérez de Cuéllar handled Cold War crises “piecemeal” instead of trying to resolve the core differences between Washington and Moscow, “relying on the judicious choice of individual conflicts that might lend themselves to practical solutions… in the expectation that they would lead in the long term to the return of some degree of largely absent cooperation.”

What guidance and inspiration might Guterres and his team take from these lessons today? It is important, of course, not to overstate current similarities or parallels to the late Cold War. Pérez de Cuéllar worked in the shadow of a nuclear standoff, but had the good fortune to cooperate with global powers that were in the process of building bridges and wanted to settle their differences—although, as de Soto notes, the trajectory of this process was hardly clear at the time. Guterres, by contrast, finds himself navigating a very fluid environment in which the major players at the UN are increasingly unwilling to compromise, creating fewer opportunities for peacemaking, even though the specter of major conflict among them remains relatively remote.

Pérez de Cuéllar’s “piecemeal” approach to peacemaking remains a useful point of reference for the UN at a time when it appears incapable of resolving major geopolitical crises like the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Syria. But the UN may still have openings to address other challenges, such as cementing peace in Colombia, where the landmark peace deal with FARC rebels has yet to deliver on all of its promises, or supporting the current transition to civilian rule in Sudan, where the interests of the U.S., Russia and China may diverge but are not irreconcilably far apart.

The UN cannot solve all the world’s problems, but it can fix some of them as opportunities arise. That is a realistic but nonetheless important lesson to learn from Javier Pérez de Cuéllar’s stewardship of the organisation in a new era of global tensions.