Thu, Aug 23, 2007 - Page 9 News List

The flawed options in Darfur

Many African leaders insist that they should retain principal control of any peacekeeping force in Darfur, but many Western governments refuse to place their forces under the command of a `weak' AU

By Richard Weitz

The long-sought joint peacekeeping force for Darfur, which would combine the existing 7,000-man African Union (AU) force with as many as 20,000 additional military personnel and civilian police under UN command, has now been approved. But several roadblocks still stand in the way, making it very difficult for the joint AU-UN mission to bring about a peaceful settlement to the Darfur conflict.

Although UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pressed the UN Security Council to move rapidly to authorize the proposed joint force, member governments remain deadlocked over the mission's mandate.

With the encouragement of Sudan's government, China and Russia have thus far blocked a resolution sponsored by Britain and France that would allow the proposed hybrid force "to use all necessary means" to protect humanitarian workers and other civilians. Sudan's UN ambassador has called for a draft whose language is "more Sudan-friendly."

Moreover, UN analysts estimate that most of the additional troops will not arrive in Darfur until early next year.

The preceding phase envisages only providing the existing AU force with extra logistical support from non-African countries, such as engineers from China.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has called for merging these two phases to accelerate progress, which would require substantial funds to secure and deploy the additional UN peacekeepers.

According to Jean-Marie Guehenno, the head of UN peacekeeping operations, any hybrid force must be "robust" because of the "very challenging" situation in Darfur.

The draft British-French resolution would provide for an authorized ceiling of 19,555 military troops and 6,400 police officers, with an estimated cost of over US$2 billion during its first year.

The Bush administration has been a leading advocate of deploying a robust peacekeeping operation in Darfur.

But the US is impeding this process by falling far behind in its obligatory payments to the UN peacekeeping budget, with total US arrears estimated at more than US$500 million -- and possibly exceeding US$1 billion by the end of this year.

The EU has also encountered difficulties in fulfilling its pledged financial assistance to the existing AU force in Darfur.

Moreover, the division of labor for any joint mission -- especially regarding financing and command -- remains unresolved. Many African leaders insist that they should retain principal control of any peacekeeping force in Darfur. Their preferred model calls for the UN to provide the funding and most other support for the mission, while allowing the AU to maintain its leadership role.

Many Western governments, however, refuse to place their forces under AU command -- owing to its perceived weaknesses -- and have conditioned further support for peacekeeping operations in Darfur on the UN's assuming control.

But the UN has found it difficult to attract sufficient volunteers for such a force, since foreign governments have acceded to Sudanese demands that the hybrid force remain predominantly African.

At the same time, the complex chain of command envisaged for an AU-UN force recalls some of the worst features of NATO-UN operations in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. AU commanders on the ground would retain tactical control, a joint AU-UN command would exercise operational supervision, and the UN would establish the force's overall strategic objectives. Such a convoluted command system will make it difficult to react to any rapidly developing crisis or threat.

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