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Darfur: Where’s Europe?

There are some points I’m happy to concede to Dr. Thomas Barnett – that disconnection from the global economy and media leads to danger, for instance. And then there are others where my strong temptation is to dig in my heels and fight his implications: that the US is the only country willing to intervene in many global conflicts and that, therefore, we should periodically be prepared to intervene unilaterally, as we did in Iraq.

But then he goes and says something persuasive and I’m forced to take him seriously, unpleasant implications and all. Tom recently blogged a Washington Post op-ed titled “Darfur: Where is Europe?” It’s a damned fine question and a pretty good editorial, which points out that the EU hasn’t mobilized any troops to intervene in Darfur and seems to be hamstrung both by the UN and by internal forces that make it easier to talk about military involvement than to actually get involved.

Tom points out that the US won’t intervene in Sudan until we’ve extricated ourselves, at least somewhat, from Iraq and Afghanistan. He then makes a statement I have some trouble with: “Simply stated: if the American military doesn’t show up, there is no multinational party.” Hence, Tom thinks the key is to get more local ownership of situations in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as creation of a global sysadmin force) so we’re able to intervene in Darfur.

It’s not that I have a clear counter-argument to him… it’s that the implications of the statement for Darfur are pretty dire. I think it’s unlikely that Iraq or Afghanistan are going to stabilize to the point where we’ve got the political will for a major intervention in Darfur. And the situation appears poised for a turn for the worse – Nigerian peacekeepers report that “astronomical” quantities of arms are pouring into the region.

“The quantity of arms and ammunition brought into Darfur to meet the present build-up of troops in the region is (so) astronomical that the issue is no longer whether there will be fighting or not, but when fighting will start.” That’s the prediction of Nigerian Major-General Festus Okonkwo, who heads up the AU forces stationed in Darfur. While the AU has stepped up and provided troops to the region, their mandate doesn’t allow them to meaningfully intervene – they’re in place as monitors. And the EU is going to need to provide some serious logistical support if the forces in place are to have any effect if the “bomb” Okonkwo is talking about is to be defused.

The folks in the US working on preventing genocide in Darfur have been good at getting the US government to say the right things, but pretty unsuccesful at provoking action. It’s possible that hoping for action from the US is wholly unrealistic given US entanglement in southwest Asia. Is it time for us to shift the focus of activism towards getting the EU and UN to pick up the slack from the US?