A Breakthrough in Darfur?

In Addis Ababa yesterday, African Union and United Nations negotiators announced that the Sudanese government accepted a plan to send up to 25,000 troops to Darfur on an AU-UN “hybrid” peacekeeping mission. So should we cheer this news? I’d hold off the hosannas for now.

The government of Sudan has reneged on previous deals to send peacekeepers to Darfur. And even this newest agreement, it seems, is not without conditions. Apparently, Khartoum has demanded that the mission only deploy peacekeepers from African countries and that the African Union–not the United Nations–command the mission. These two conditions may seem innocuous, but they could be potentially crippling obstacles to the successful deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur.

First, there is simply not a surplus of African troops available for such a deployment. Second, countries that historically contribute the bulk of peacekeepers to UN missions will be reluctant to send their troops to a mission led by an external organization. These countries–India, Pakistan, Bangladesh–will be understandably hesitant to put their soldiers under the command of an organization with no track record in peacekeeping. Finally, there are a number of logistical challenges to the hybrid concept, and the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee will have to debate funding a hybrid mission when a traditional UN peacekeeping mission would be a more practical option.

Ambassador Khalilzad reacted cautiously to the news from Addis: “If this is an unconditional acceptance, this would be a positive step that we would welcome.” he said. “But, if it’s conditional, as we hear, that there will be only African troops involved and no non-Africans, that’s putting a condition on the acceptance and that would be unacceptable.” Given the complications of such a force–and Khartoum’s history of backing away from such deals–Khalilzad’s skepticism is understandable.