NEW YORK — To anyone who didn't know better, it might seem that the world is finally getting serious about stopping the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, which over the past two years has claimed at least 300,000 lives and displaced at least 2 million people.
After months of huffing and puffing, the UN Security Council finally agreed to freeze the assets of war-crimes suspects, impose a travel ban on them, and refer them for trial to the International Criminal Court. The latter resolution was the subject of tortuous negotiations between the Bush administration, which loathes the ICC (even though it hasn't done anything wrong yet), and other Security Council members who argued, correctly, that an ICC proceeding would be the most expeditious way to get the gears of justice turning. The Security Council deserves kudos for putting its ideological differences aside in this case.
But, important as the war crimes resolution is, who will deliver the bad guys to court? Not the Sudanese government, which is in cahoots with the Arab Janjaweed militia committing atrocities against blacks in Darfur, who happen to be fellow Muslims. The Islamist regime in Khartoum, led by Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, is one of the most loathsome on Earth. It has been responsible for mass murder not only in western Sudan but in the south, where victims have been black Christians and animists. The Security Council voted to send 10,700 peacekeepers to southern Sudan, but even if they're competent (history suggests otherwise), who will bring peace to Darfur in the west? At the moment, there are just 2,000 lightly armed peacekeepers from the African Union covering all of Darfur, a region the size of France. And they have no authority to stop rape, pillage, or murder; they're only supposed to monitor a meaningless cease-fire proclaimed last year between Khartoum and two rebel groups.
So who'll stop the killing? That question should trouble any tender soul who has ever mindlessly muttered, "Never again." That incantation is repeated after every genocide - after the Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, Rwanda - and yet the next time mass slaughter breaks out, the world conveniently averts its gaze. The major exceptions in recent years have been Kosovo and Bosnia, which had the good fortune to be on Western Europe's doorstep. The rest of the world is treated to high-minded clucking and, maybe, ex post facto prosecutions.
The only way to save Darfur is to dispatch a large and capable military expedition. But Security Council members France, China, and Russia have blocked a UN decision on armed intervention because they covet trade ties with Sudan. That still leaves the possibility of civilized states acting independently of the UN, as they did in Kosovo. But the only nation with a serious military capacity, the US, is overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The European Union should step into the breach. Its economy is as big as that of the US and its population is even bigger. But it has chosen to spend its euros on extravagant handouts for its own citizens rather than on the kind of armed forces that might bring a ray of hope to the "heart of darkness." Although the European members of NATO actually have more ground troops than the US - about 1.5 million soldiers - only about 6 percent are readily deployable abroad. The Europeans could still scrape together the 25,000 to 50,000 soldiers it would take to pacify Darfur, but it would be a stretch for them, given their existing commitments, and not one they're willing to make.
Even if they're not willing to send their own troops, the US and the EU could offer to provide much more logistical support to allow the African Union to dispatch more of its own peacekeepers to Sudan. That's not asking a lot, yet it's more than anyone has been willing to do so far.
Remember how exercised everyone around the world was about crimes committed at Abu Ghraib? Infinitely worse deeds are being done in Darfur daily. Where's the outrage? The street rallies that might spur Western governments into action? Aside from a handful of journalists and human rights activists, the only Westerners who've shown sustained interest in Sudan are evangelical Christians, who've been exercised primarily about the fate of their coreligionists in the south. The silence of the "antiwar" masses speaks volumes about their priorities: They don't object to war crimes as long as they're not committed by Americans.
• Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. ©The Los Angeles Times.