The Sand Trap of Darfur
After four years of delay and neglect, the United Nations has finally authorized a Chapter VII mission to the troubled Darfur region of the Sudan. As most readers are aware, this is the scene of an ongoing genocide perpetrated against the Black African inhabitants of the region by the predominately Islamic Arab population of the Sudan. Complex forces are at work here, ranging from shifting demographics within the region and the rising demand for the limited supply of water, to the desire of outside nations (particularly China) for the oil wealth of the Sudan. All have worked against the international community's ability to take effective action in the Darfur region.
Arabization is another huge problem that has not been discussed in the
media. In the intervening four years, while hundreds of thousands of
people have been displaced in Darfur, Sudan has simultaneously been
encouraging Muslims from other countries to move into Darfur. The idea
is to Arabize the entire region of Darfur, and effectively replace
Darfur's traditional population with a Muslim one.
The authorization of a Chapter VII mission by the United Nations is no
reason to celebrate. The mission is limited by the restrictions on the
use of force that have effectively hobbled many UN missions. There is
no authority to directly challenge or change the government of the
Sudan, or disarm the offending militias and brigands who have
perpetrated the slaughter.
In addition to the political limitations of
the mission, Darfur is a very inhospitable place. Geographical
isolation, harsh climate, limited infrastructure, long supply lines,
and an uncooperative Sudanese government will make supplying and
supporting any sort of mission in Darfur extremely challenging, to say
Canadian politicians and activists have clamoured for years for Canada
to “do something” about Darfur. The Ruxted Group is sure that these
same politicians, academics and journalists will now use the existence
of a Chapter VII authorization to demand Canada shift its focus from
the unfinished business of Afghanistan to the unstarted business of
Darfur. While Ruxted is moved by the plight of the people of Darfur, we
must point out the differences in the two missions so the people and
Government of Canada can have an informed debate as to what sort of
support (if any) we should provide this mission.
In Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces are engaged as part of a
multifaceted international mission to rebuild a shattered society. We
are working with traditional NATO partners with whom we have long
relationships and experience, and with whom our forces are well
accustomed to working.
The non-NATO partners of ISAF include Australia,
another long standing ally and partner of Canada, and various Eastern
European nations eager to become closer partners of NATO, the EU and
other western institutions. These nation’s armies already share many
technical and cultural affinities with their ISAF partners. We can take
advantage of the superb logistical capabilities provided by many of our
partners, and use the local infrastructure, including seaports in
Pakistan and a system of highways between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and
within Kandahar province itself to support our mission.
In Darfur, any participants in a Chapter VII mission will be part of a
large heterogeneous force composed of forces drawn from various African
Union nations, and presumably bolstered by large contingents from other
developing nations like Bangladesh. While their soldiers may be
individually brave and determined, their military forces are poorly
trained and ill equipped for the challenge. They do not have the
command or communications capabilities to operate large multinational
coalitions. They do not have the logistical skills or equipment to
operate at extended ranges or for prolonged times from their bases, and
they do not have the right equipment to send into an area with limited
infrastructure and severe climate. There is no plan to rebuild the
destroyed villages, restructure the political system or otherwise
remove the causes of the conflict. As in Afghanistan, the enemy can
resort to small scale sniping and bombing attacks which might not
defeat the force militarily, but may erode the political will to
continue at home.
While there is no doubt that Canada could provide
some of the elements lacking in the elements of a proposed Chapter VII
force in Darfur, we are unable to support any substantial Canadian
force in Darfur. Decades of neglect have deprived the Canadian forces
of the strategic air or sea lift for our own forces, much less the
vastly larger force envisioned for Darfur. Even the recently announced
purchase of C-17 transport jets and the upgrade of the C-130 Hercules
fleet would only just meet Canada’s needs, and the completion of the
conversion to these new airplanes is still several years down the road.
The naval leg of our support structure is more than a decade away, even
if Gen. Hillier's “big honking ship” plans were to be started today.
Aside from the issue of supporting such a force, Ruxted must ask how
our intervention in Darfur would benefit Canada? Afghanistan has
provided a safe haven for terrorist groups that have threatened Canada
and killed thousands of innocents throughout the world. Stabilizing
Afghanistan deprives terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda of their
safe havens and discourages other failing states from becoming
The creation of a stable Afghan state ruled by a
legitimate, consensual government will also help dampen the cycles of
violence which are rippling through the Islamic world and spilling out
into other areas. As a leading middle power, our efforts in Afghanistan
help protect us and stabilize central Asia, maintaining the conditions
required for the peace and prosperity of literally billions of people.
Darfur offers no such rationale for Canadian efforts. The Government of
the Sudan is hostile to the endeavour, and can be expected to obstruct
the efforts of the Chapter VII mission. Since the Sudan has the support
of China, any attempts to increase the UN presence and effectiveness in
Darfur are likely to be unsuccessful, especially after the end of the
2008 Olympics. Even without these difficulties, with no plan to rebuild
the region or restructure the political environment, there is literally
nothing to stop the genocide from resuming once the force is withdrawn.
With the mission hobbled by the terms of the resolution, there would be
no "exit point" from Darfur, no set of conditions to define when the
mission is complete.
Ruxted contends that Canada is a leading middle
power, capable of effecting change in the world. This is only possible
when Canadians choose to use their wealth and privilege in
well-considered operations, in concert with our friends and partners,
for clearly defined goals. Afghanistan meets all these conditions, and
should continue to be the focus of Canadian attention, military,
development and diplomatic efforts to 2009 and beyond. Darfur meets
none of these conditions, and would end up being a sand trap for
Canadian resources and efforts.
This sounds cruel and hardhearted, but it is not. Ruxted is appalled by
the suffering of the people of Darfur, but understands that Canada is
unable to make a meaningful military contribution. This is especially
true given the toothless Security Council resolution and the dreadful
combination of terrain, climate and distance in the mission area.
Wishful thinking is not a firm base on which to conduct foreign policy
or military operations; pretending that the Canadian Forces can make a
difference in Darfur is wishful thinking taken to ridiculous extremes.
There are other, non-military steps we can take. These need to be
examined without the usual self-serving clamour of the chattering
classes, and if feasible all our energy directed to these ends.
To call for Canadian blood to be spilled in the sands of Darfur in an
open ended mission for no result is perhaps the greatest folly our
politicians, academics and journalists could commit. The Ruxted Group
asks all Canadians to look at the evidence and weigh Canada’s abilities
and interests dispassionately. Only then can we discuss what Canada can
do for the people of Darfur.
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