Will NATO Go to Darfur?

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 3:38 PM EST

A few weeks ago we predicted that the Bush administration's bold new promises to help stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur—perhaps by employing NATO—wouldn't amount to much. Sadly, that prediction proved entirely correct. On Monday, NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Schefer said NATO had no intention of putting "boots on the ground" in Darfur. (As mentioned before, in most European countries there's not really any popular outcry among civil society groups to do anything about a bit of ethnic-cleansing in Africa.)

Eric Reeves, who's followed the Darfur conflict closer than just about anyone else on the planet, notes today that it's not just Europe that deserves the blame here. The United States isn't exactly leading on the issue, either. And while both the EU and the U.S. are pushing for UN involvement, that won't be enough—ultimately, NATO needs to get involved:

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Even if the United Nations agrees to relieve the African Union in Darfur, there is no reserve of U.N. peacekeepers from which to draw. Assembling a U.N. force will therefore take a good deal of time; and, meanwhile, the genocide will continue. Insecurity is on the rise throughout Darfur; humanitarian reach is contracting; and violent attacks continue to displace civilians. If security deteriorates to the point where humanitarian workers cannot stay in Darfur and continue to serve refugees, then disease and malnutrition will take over--and finish the genocidal work that the Sudanese government began. That is where NATO could have helped: by deploying troops now as an interim step until the United Nations is ready to send peacekeepers of its own.

According to the NATO diplomat, "to get a significant number of NATO nations involved would take a lot of persuading." Persuading, then, is what we will have to do. Bush's willingness to undertake such persuasion will serve as the ultimate test of whether his recent rhetoric on Darfur reflected genuine commitment or political expedience. As TNR argued last week, convincing NATO leaders to send troops will mean more than merely lobbying. It will mean leading by example: pledging that U.S. forces will participate if NATO deploys to Darfur. As the Senate resolution says, "[A]ll members of the international community must participate in efforts to stop genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur." That includes us.

The Bush administration's signals haven't been encouraging—its spokesmen still insist that it's "premature to speculate" on what a U.S. response would look like. And it's not just the Bush administration. Congress certainly hasn't rushed to require a U.S. commitment. No one wants to send American troops to die in the hot Sudanese sun just to stop African genocide. And that means that the genocide will almost certainly continue until there's no one left to kill.