Get serious with Sudan
Get serious with Sudan
A Critical Window to Bolster Sudan’s Next Government
A Critical Window to Bolster Sudan’s Next Government
Op-Ed / Africa

Get serious with Sudan

Since well before Darfur's nightmare erupted over a year ago, a much deadlier war has raged, taking 30 times as many lives as the Darfur tragedy.

This two-decade war between the government in Khartoum and an insurgency based in southern Sudan, when combined with the Darfur conflict, points to the central problem in Sudan: a regime at war with its own people throughout the country and willing to retain power by any means. A two-day extraordinary session of the U.N. Security Council beginning today in Nairobi, Kenya, could help change that dynamic if it stops avoiding this central factor.

Sudan has reached a critical fork in the road.

If it chooses continuing confrontation, the bloodiest period of warfare that Sudan has ever seen will ensue. The Darfur conflict will continue to burn, the main civil war with the southern-based rebels will resume and attacks will intensify by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Khartoum-supported Ugandan insurgency that specializes in kidnapping children and attacking villages.

If the government chooses cooperation, peace throughout Sudan could be secured by early next year. Little of substance prevents a final deal with the southern rebels and forward progress with the Darfurian rebels. The LRA and other militias in the west and south could then be more easily neutralized.

The costs of confrontation would be catastrophic. The benefits of cooperation would be immense.

The evidence so far indicates that Sudan is leaning toward confrontation even while it conducts a diplomatic charm offensive in New York, Europe and throughout the Arab world. It is nothing short of slaughter with a smile.

The Security Council so far has been too divided to do anything but scold and cajole Sudan. The only punitive measure it has imposed in the 18 months of atrocities in Darfur is an arms embargo on the rebels, the only actor capable of protecting Darfur's vulnerable civilians. International strategies of constructive engagement have led to tenuous agreements dealing with humanitarian access, in which Sudan agrees to stop starving its own people.

But there has been little progress in basic civilian protection imperatives in Darfur, and no final peace deals have been reached that would address the root causes of the myriad Sudanese crises.

The real lesson of the last 15 years is that constructive engagement hasn't worked. When Sudan has been the target of serious pressure with a specific objective, it has modified its behavior. It is a pragmatic regime. It will do what it must in order to survive. U.N. and U.S. sanctions in the 1990s proved that; Khartoum renounced its ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

The time has come to pursue a similarly clear and multilateral approach to Sudan, this time focused on a comprehensive solution to its multiple problems in the long run and better security and protection for civilians in the shorter term, particularly through a strengthened mandate for African Union forces. They are deploying to Darfur and they will need buttressing with additional forces from middle powers such as Canada, Turkey, Morocco, Norway and India.

To succeed, pressures should focus on accountability. Sudan has been responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2 million people in the southern and central part of the country and tens of thousands in Darfur. And its complicity in crimes against humanity being committed by the LRA cannot be forgotten. The cycle of impunity must end somewhere.

Application of well-known instruments of pressure would begin with an arms embargo, an asset freeze on some of the ruling party's companies and a travel ban on senior officials most directly responsible for the killing.

The Bush administration cannot merely describe the unfolding Darfur tragedy as "genocide" and then not impose any cost on the government that is orchestrating it. The United States must push for further pressures in the Security Council and test China's veto threat. Passing lowest-common-denominator resolutions that have no teeth will certainly not influence Sudan's calculations. Left uninfluenced, the killing will continue and the African Union troops will have only front-row seats for the slaughter.

Ultimately, Sudan must understand that punitive action will be removed or avoided only if it stops killing its own people and obstructing real power-sharing deals. It cannot be allowed to pick and choose which issues it wishes to move on and play these issues against each other. The international community has allowed this to happen for too long and played right into Khartoum's hands, with deadly results.

This is the moment for Khartoum to make its intentions known as to whether it will pursue confrontation or cooperation, war or peace. History shows that Sudan will not choose the right path unless the international community -- particularly the Security Council -- pressures it to do so.

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