When it comes to the failure of the world to stop Darfur’s cataclysm of remorseless human destruction, there is blame to go around. There is the glaring duplicity of the U.N. Secretariat; the shameful hypocrisy of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference; the disorganized incompetence of the African Union; and the serene indifference of the various important nations in Asia. To many, it is the Bush administration that bears chief responsibility for international inaction.
Yet the nations and institutions of Europe also deserve special recognition for their complacency. Rhetorical performance is robust in some quarters, but, despite Europe’s diplomatic, economic, and military power–and its own experience with genocide over the last century–there is no indication that Europe is considering any commensurate action. There is certainly much to criticize in U.S. policy during the past three and a half years of massive, ethnically targeted violence. But, as bad as the United States has been on Darfur, Europe has been worse.
In September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell declared unambiguously to Congress that the United States had determined “genocide has been committed in Darfur, and the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.” Still, Powell declared that this determination required “no new action” by the United States (beyond referring it to an obviously paralyzed and hopelessly politicized U.N. Security Council). Consequently, Powell’s testimony may have marked the death knell for the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, at least as an international treaty that has any meaning for genocide prevention.
But, the same month, a much less well reported determination was rendered by the Parliament of the European Union, which declared in a resolution passed by a vote of 566 to 6 (with some abstentions) that realities in Darfur were “tantamount to genocide.” This striking turn of phrase gets to the very heart of the European attitude toward Darfur. There is no meaningful distinction between a determination that a given set of realities are “genocide” and a determination they are “tantamount to genocide” (“tantamount” means, in fact, “equivalent in significance”). So why the circumlocution? Why any indirection if we are speaking of the ultimate human crime?
The reason is entirely legalistic: The various (if disputed) obligations that follow from a genocide determination by any nation that signed the 1948 Genocide Convention all fall away if the finding is “tantamount to genocide,” rather than “genocide” itself. It is the perfect weasel phrase, and it does much to account for the lopsided nature of the vote. Invoking the word but not the contractual obligations, the Parliament of the European Union happily put itself on record as deploring, in a kind of ultimate language, the ultimate crime–but with no real entailments.
This disposition has defined European policy toward Darfur for the last two years. We may be hearing brave words from Tony Blair about troops to Darfur, but we heard the same talk last spring. And, in the summer of 2004, Great Britain’s top military officer, General Sir Mike Jackson, declared that Britain could field a brigade to stop genocide in Darfur. But no one in the British government seemed interested.
France has been even less helpful on Darfur, especially at the United Nations. So it was particularly significant when, last month, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy became the first senior French official to speak of “genocide” in Darfur, declaring it unacceptable and explicitly contemplating nonconsensual deployment to protect civilians in the region. He was quickly and completely undercut by comments from French President Jacques Chirac.
Peter Struck, the German defense minister, also declared Darfur to be the site of genocide in September 2004; so, too, did British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in April 2005. But the actions of the Europeans–individually, within the European Union, and within NATO (which moves by notoriously slow consensus)–have been dismayingly and consistently ineffectual, despite a determination that vast, ethnically targeted human destruction has been underway for years and is currently accelerating.
The strongest measure the Europeans seem willing to push for is continued deployment of an African Union mission in Darfur as the sole international response to catastrophic security conditions, threatening not only some four million conflict-affected human beings but the extensive humanitarian operations upon which they depend. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1706, passed on August 31, calls for a robust force of 17,300 troops, 3,300 civilian police, and 2,000 additional security personnel. But, instead of confronting Khartoum over its obdurate refusal to allow U.N. deployment, European officials have been perversely accommodating. EU policy chief Javier Solana recently declared that Khartoum’s acceptance of a modest augmentation of the A.U. force–comprising logistics, a few advisory personnel, and some additional equipment (what has come to be called “African Union-Plus”)–represented “progress toward a genuine U.N. force in the region.” Such disingenuous incrementalism ensures that no effective force will deploy in time to avert the second phase of the Darfur genocide now underway, violence that now threatens to become as great as the initial wave of targeted ethnic destruction in 2003-2004.
When President Bush spoke of “NATO stewardship” in February of this year, his comments were quickly “corrected” by the Pentagon, which declared that any specific commitment of U.S. resources was “premature”–but not before European NATO officials in Brussels had sniffed contemptuously at the very idea of such “stewardship.” And, while NATO has provided some logistics and transport–critical for an African Union mission that has none of the appropriate resources for a Darfur mission–the current attitude from our European NATO allies was recently summed up by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said, “Darfur will, as far as NATO is concerned, continue to see a continuation of what we are giving now to the African Union.”
“Continue to see a continuation” indeed. What such “continuation” means is that Europe will continue to impose no economic sanctions on the Khartoum regime (the Clinton administration imposed comprehensive trade and economic sanctions against Sudan in 1997). In fact, at a meeting last week in Luxembourg, the EU reaffirmed its decision not to impose sanctions on a regime defiantly resisting a U.N. resolution passed with the authority of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. And European diplomats will continue to speak a language of accommodation that the genocidaires in Khartoum understand quite well. Since European civil society hasn’t begun to engage meaningfully with the issue of Darfur, European leaders pay no political price for this complicity.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has signaled behind the scenes that the Pentagon will vigorously oppose any U.S. commitment of military resources, according to one well-connected former government official. So, whatever threats Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, or Bush may publicly issue, their threats are empty without European leadership. Without help from across the pond, the task of protecting millions of vulnerable African civilians will continue to fall to a vastly under-manned, under-equipped, disorganized, ill-trained, and badly demoralized A.U. force.
With the United States both burdened and badly wounded by Iraq, the chances of U.S. leadership for a mission to Darfur were always remote (despite a powerful domestic political constituency pushing for action). The situation cries out for European leadership–particularly from those nations (like Germany and France) that are unscarred by the debacle in Iraq. But we are learning, yet again, that some genocides matter more than others. And, from the perspective of Europe, Darfur just doesn’t measure up.
[Eric Reeves is a professor of English at Smith College]