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Opinion

Help for Sudan: bombing Africa to save it?

Last-ditch, often far-fetched, use of military force alone won’t bring resolution to the complexities of conflict and genocide prevention in Africa.

By Micah Zenko, Rebecca R. Friedman / November 23, 2010



New York

A gloomy consensus is emerging among policymakers, experts, and advocates that genocide may explode again soon in Sudan. In a referendum scheduled for Jan. 9, the south and the oil-rich Abyei region – which faces a choice between remaining with the north or forming a new state – will vote on self-determination.

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As tensions mount over whether the vote will occur, politicians from the north and south are warning of war if the referendum does not go their way.

Given Sudan's bloody recent past, renewed conflict there could be horrific. Yet, in a familiar pattern, the international community – despite its "never again" commitment to genocide prevention – is struggling to marshal the political will and resources to stop it.

Last-ditch military intervention

The Obama administration's approach to Sudan – a case of "too little, too late" – isn't getting results. So pundits have defaulted to suggesting far-fetched military schemes in Sudan, exemplifying the paternalistic militarism that often characterizes Westerners' approach to Africa.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof recently proposed complementing the Obama administration's diplomatic carrots toward Khartoum with an aggressive stick: "Why shouldn't we privately make it clear to Mr. [Omar al-] Bashir that if he initiates genocide, his oil pipeline will be destroyed and he will not be exporting any oil?"

Oil, of course, is the foundation of the Sudanese economy, constituting 95 percent of export revenues and 60 percent of government revenues.

This is not the first time Mr. Kristof has proposed force to bring the Sudanese government to its knees. In 2006, Kristof suggested that the United States could easily "enforce a no-fly zone" in Darfur by using the nearby air base in Abéché, Chad, and in 2008 he recommended that the US "warn Sudan that if it provokes a war with the South … we will destroy its Air Force."

The limits of force

Quixotic militarism is not limited to Kristof, nor is it aimed only at Sudan. Two years ago, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen called for a Predator drone to intimidate Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – a scheme one-upped by former diplomat and human rights advocate John Prendergast, who suggested a "messy in the short run" multinational military invasion to oust Mr. Mugabe.

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