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Strategic Interests Print

by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D. - World Defense Review columnist

A modest proposal for Darfur

As I write these lines, the genocidal slaughter, both direct and indirect, continues in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. This is notwithstanding the peace accord recently signed between the main rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Movement, and the Islamist regime in Khartoum that precipitated the crisis three years ago by unleashing the Janjaweed militias on the region's African tribal populations.

Unfortunately for the victims, many in the international community seem to pin their hopes for ending the atrocities on the same United Nations whose International Commission of Inquiry came up with the stupefying conclusion while the Sudanese government and its militias has committed acts proscribed by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the "crucial element of genocidal intent appears to be missing." Even if, against all indications, the UN were somehow to suddenly recovery its moral compass as well as its operational effectiveness, even the world body's in-house optimist, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, admits it would be months before it could assemble and deploy anything approaching a robust force needed to replace the moribund African Union "peacekeepers" whose 7,000 members have proven worse than impotent in protecting civilians. (The resolution unanimously passed by the UN Security Council on May 16 merely enjoined everyone to observe the recent peace accord and only began the study process for the possible deployment of a UN force.)

Nor, despite the moral outrage that the genocide has provoked in the United States – the April 30 demonstration on the National Mall in Washington highlighted the diverse composition of the unlikely coalition of advocates for Darfur which includes secular human rights groups, Jewish congregations and service organizations, Christian evangelicals, journalists, academics, and college students – is a significant American military "humanitarian" intervention, especially a unilateral one, a realistic option. Even without the strain that continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – to say nothing of the need to at least maintain at least the appearance of a credible military option on the table in the ongoing negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions – the deployment of a U.S. force to Sudan is would hardly be a cakewalk. Not only have the country's rulers – who, lest it be forgotten, once played host to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda – had nearly two decades to build up a cadre of Islamist militants, but they have built up an infrastructure that could support the flood of jihadis that would pour over the country's 7,687 kilometers of uncontrolled and virtually uncontrollable land borders to battle it out against the forces of the Great Satan and its NATO allies. The ensuing conflict would hardly redound to the benefit of the hapless Darfuris.

So while the international community continues its debates, Mother Nature herself may seal the doom of the victims in Darfur.

Next month, the rainy season will descend on the region. While the sedentary farmers among the African tribes of the harsh, landlocked region have long depended on the annual precipitation for the millet, sorghum, and groundnuts that were their livelihood, the rainy season was also the most dangerous period of the year with the gap between the planting and harvest as well as the threat of waterborne diseases attacking those already weakened by relative hunger. This year, the Darfuris normally precarious existence is rendered even more vulnerable: the Janjaweed have either kept most from planting crops or destroyed such fields as have been sown; facing a severe funding shortfall, beginning this month the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has halved the rations it doles out to the 3 million displaced people in the region who depend it for food aid – and even this pittance is not getting through because the security situation on the ground; and the concentration of weakened individuals in crowded camps is a public health nightmare.

Against this dire backdrop, my friend Professor Michael I. Krauss of George Mason University School of Law and I proposed in a recent op-ed that, at least as a stop-gap measure, the use of private military companies (PMCs) be at least seriously considered. I continued the discussion on the international affairs blog of Nikolas K. Gvosdev, editor of the The National Interest. Reactions to the proposal ran the gamut from reasoned disagreements over legal precedents to gratuitous ad hominem attacks on our sanity and commitment to comity between the different races of humanity. However, one valid question that was raised was, assuming the juridical basis and political will to employ PMCs in the absence of a credible UN force or a U.S.-led NATO mission, what would the mission be?

My modest proposal is to begin with the three principal challenges faced by the Darfuri refugees themselves right now:

    (1) just getting the minimal handouts to survive delivered;

    (2) being secure enough not to herd into disease-vulnerable populations concentrations; and, eventually,

    (3) returning to their traditional lands and patterns of life lest the perpetrators of the genocide be handed the victory of having been successful destroying their ancient African cultures.

In my estimation, it what is most required to meet the three objectives defined above – assuming the world's conscience will at least shame it into cover the WFP's fiscal shortfall – are aircraft to provide small payload distributions of aid as well as aid and security personnel from hubs within Darfur, thus preventing risky concentrations of people, and active aerial surveillance to monitor the ceasefire already agreed to and to document any breaches or further atrocities. To advance the discussion into the concrete, I relied on some cost estimates compiled in a concept paper, prepared two years ago by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), an organization representing firms involved in private security, medical services, logistics, training, and other aspects of post-conflict stability and reconstruction work who act according to a code of conduct. I modified the data from the IPOA study to fit my estimations of current needs as well as to make allowances for today's increased fuel costs and other inflationary pressures.

It would cost approximately $165,000 to preposition a rough/small airfield-capable aircraft of the AN-24 variety to direct support and relief airdrops with approximately 20,000-kilogram payloads. At an hourly operational cost of $1,650 and say 40 hours per week of service, the monthly cost for such a craft would be $264,000. Helicopter transport would cost a little more: approximately $220,000 to preposition and $3,850 per hour ($539,000 per month) to operate. Monitoring operations employing an aerial surveillance aircraft of the C337 type with live satellite feed video and infrared coverage would cost $220,000 to preposition and $451,000 to operate for 120 hours per month with two crews. A fully-equipped twelve person security detail to protect the operation as well as to train local security personnel would cost $440,000 to deploy and $132,000 per month to maintain.

As proof of concept, assume that a unit from a PMC would permitted to operate in one of the three states making up the Darfur region, say Gharb Darfur, the westernmost of the trio which has been the site of much of the violence. Three planes and three helicopters might provide the security and aid deployment capability and two aerial surveillance aircraft would render it considerably more difficult for future atrocities to occur. At least two security teams would have to be deployed to secure the operation. To provide the modicum of security that I outlined above through next year's agricultural cycle, the operation would have to plan on a duration of at least fifteen months (July 2006-September 2007), for which the total cost would be $48.2 million. While this last estimate certainly does not appear negligible to the average American, it certainly is quite modest by international peacekeeping standards: the UN Organization Mission in Congo (MONUC) and UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) cost, respectively, $1.2 billion and $438.2 million per year and, to put it diplomatically, have not quite delivered value for the dollar. And it certainly is within the realm of collective possibility of the hundreds of thousands of American individuals who have been mobilized by the specter of genocide at the dawn of the new millennium – to say nothing of the U.S. government which, since the genocide began, has sent close to $800 million in humanitarian aid to Darfur, some of which has gone undelivered due to security concerns.

This proposal is by no means perfect, but one should recall the maxim often attributed to Carl von Clausewitz: "The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan."

The moral as well as strategic and tactical imperative in Darfur is to create the minimum conditions for humanitarian assistance to reach Darfuris and, eventually, for the latter to resume their centuries-old way of life. All else – the political settlement of the conflict, the prosecution of those responsible for the genocide, and, eventually, the conciliation of ancient ethnic tensions – is meaningless without the basic security that someone must provide. And if the powers of the world are unwilling or unable to meet that need, the least they ought to do is to not obstruct actors, including PMCs, who might be able to deliver on the often invoked, albeit to date unfulfilled, promise of "Never again."

— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an academic fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. His primary research interest is the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.

Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).

In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. 

 
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