So far, theatrical protests of the Beijing Olympics by Hollywood stars and sign-waving demonstrators have failed to stop the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region or restore Tibetan independence.
The sensationalist media love the fracas, since harassing Olympic torchbearers creates great video.
"Publicity politics" leveraging shame and moral outrage and calling for action can produce responsive change in those rare places where freedom is constitutionally or institutionally enshrined -- in other words, in democratic nations that practice open, responsive politics.
China is a curious, evolving dictatorship. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and a major importer of Sudanese oil, China can put diplomatic pressure on Sudan's Islamist government in Khartoum. The protests have embarrassed Beijing just enough to rhetorically nudge Sudan -- though in terms of getting on-the-ground results like stopping the genocide, the nudges have had little effect.
When it comes to fighting Sudan's multi-front war of which Darfur is currently the most genocidal theater, no nation exerts a decisive influence on Khartoum's Islamists. Why? Because Khartoum is waging a dictatorship's war on its own people, a war for the survival of Sudan's corrupt regime on the regime's preferred terms.
Despite Chinese criticism, the government-backed Muslim "janjaweed militias" continue to attack black African farmers and Sudanese aircraft continue to bomb rebel positions (sometimes) and the farmers' villages (frequently).
China did back the Security Council's creation of UNAMID, the U.N.-African Union "hybrid" peacekeeping and peace enforcement mission in Darfur that finally set up its headquarters in December 2007.
UNAMID's deployment, however, has become a sad joke. It will take a year before the mission is fully manned. UNAMID is short of helicopters. Transport helicopters give UNAMID the ability to quickly move observers and light infantry forces to threatened areas. Several nations (including Britain and Ethiopia) have promised to help provide helicopters, but until the force has them the Sudanese government will wage war on the non-Arab tribes with little interference.
Motivated people who really want to have an effect on the ground in Darfur should call for reform of the entire United Nations. Huge job? Yes. One that challenges the "politically correct" and "transnational" (usually anti-American) elites who always demand "international action" and look to the United Nations as a great "force for good"? Yes again. But reform needs to happen if effective peacekeeping is to occur.
The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has a rhetorical grasp of the problem. The DPKO Website will tell you that peacekeeping "defies simple definition" and that many peacekeeping missions are "multidimensional."
The Darfur conflict is definitely multidimensional. Sudan is clearly involved, as are various Sudanese rebel factions. Darfur tribes have kin living on the Chad side of the Chad-Sudan border, so Chad is involved. Sudan accuses Chad's government of supporting Darfur rebels groups, and it does. Sudan supports anti-Chad government rebels.
The United Nations has confronted similar situations in the past. Somalia and Bosnia ought to provide valuable and critically important lessons, which should organizationally and operationally inform and guide new missions. They do, though only in the most glancing sense. Every major U.N. peacekeeping operation remains a "shake and bake" exercise with personnel contingents assembled piecemeal, equipment a collective hodge-podge, supply a sometimes thing and airlift often supplied by the U.S. Air Force, since no one else can do it.
Recall that the Clinton administration got frustrated with United Nations fiddling in the Balkans and fought the 1999 Kosovo War using NATO as its "peace enforcement" instrument.
Perhaps the United Nations is just not institutionally capable of conducting "anti-genocide peacekeeping" in Darfur. Do the Hollywood stars and Olympic protestors favor a U.S.-British-French invasion of western Sudan? As it is, the Khartoum government paints UNAMID as an "imperialist invasion."
Khartoum's dictatorship is the fundamental problem. The celebrities and protestors ought to call for regime change, though wouldn't that sound uncomfortably like the Bush administration toppling Saddam Hussein's genocidal regime in Iraq?
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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