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.
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Despite the complexity and duration of African nations' strife, Kristof, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Prendergast, and others think that US intervention can solve entrenched problems by taking a forceful show-them-who's-boss attitude, bolstered by American might.Skip to next paragraph
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What these ideas have in common is a fundamental lack of understanding of the limits of force, which does not always achieve its military and political objectives. Intelligence fails, missiles misfire, and the target rarely alters its behavior substantially and constructively.
Moreover, military force does not constitute a strategy for dealing with an adversary; rather, force must be accompanied by a whole-of-government approach that includes robust diplomacy and development components. Force alone is risky and potentially escalatory, with little promise of resolution.
However, the punditocracy is not entirely to blame for proposing to save Africa by bombing it. Belying this Hail Mary approach is the grim reality of America's limited appetite for engaging in African conflicts.
The US provides many words and some money, but not manpower. While the US funds 27 percent of the United Nations peacekeeping budget – the overwhelming portion of which is spent in Africa – the US government has largely abandoned active participation, with only 84 police, military experts, and troops deployed.
Half-hearted, sporadic engagement
This hands-off approach applies equally to genocide prevention, as was absent in Rwanda and Darfur, and to bolstering failed states that may serve as terrorist havens, as in Somalia today, where special-operations raids and cruise missile strikes substitute for real American involvement.
The US must end its half-hearted and sporadic engagement with Africa. Time after time, Washington focuses on conflicts only when they approach boiling point – and when military force seems the sole yet untenable option.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called Sudan a "ticking time bomb," but the clock has been ticking since 2005 when the Bush administration helped broker the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Sudan is only the latest example of the insufficiency of the United States' 11th-hour preventive efforts. Consequently, it is past time for Washington to get serious about sustained, long-term conflict prevention.
Micah Zenko and Rebecca R. Friedman are, respectively, a fellow and a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Zenko recently published "Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World."