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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.1 (2003) 85-91

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Peace or War?
The Moment of Truth for Sudan

Eric Reeves

Sudan's ongoing human catastrophe demands of the United States the clearest and most decisive policy response. Indeed, a clear policy is long overdue, as peace negotiations in 2002 at Machakos have foundered for lack of decisive and coordinated U.S. effort and adequate international support. The State Department must fashion a comprehensive policy for Sudan, devoting the necessary diplomatic resources to the effort. It must work with our European allies to create a clear and unified peace process at Machakos, one that brings appropriate pressures to bear on the negotiating parties; and it must respond effectively in the very near term to the incontrovertible and massively destructive realities of oil development in Sudan. It must do all this with an appropriate sense of urgency and with high-level leadership.

The ongoing destruction and displacement of the Nuer and Dinka people of the oil regions and elsewhere in the south is nothing less than genocide: the deliberate destruction of people as non-Islamicized, non-Arabized impediments to further oil development and the consolidation of Khartoum's military grip on political power throughout Sudan. The Khartoum regime has revealed an ongoing willingness to deploy high-altitude bombers, helicopter gunships, and ground assault forces against civilians, including innocent women and children, adding to the unfathomable human suffering and loss of life in southern Sudan—exceeding 2 million dead and 4 million displaced.

These realities lead me to believe that we simply cannot accept as a principle of U.S. policy the limitations articulated by former senator John Danforth in his report to President Bush in February 2002: "We would not [End Page 85] attempt to arbitrate the competing claims of the parties in Sudan." 1 Genocidal destruction does not afford us the luxury of such moral equivalency in assessing the war in Sudan, or the ways of ending it. This is not to argue against engaging in a serious peace process, even with the brutal National Islamic Front (NIF) regime. Rather, it is an argument for assessing soberly and realistically what will be required to ensure that Khartoum's re-engagement at Machakos, if it occurs, is in good faith.

For this reason, it would be unwise to see in the Danforth report anything approximating a policy roadmap. Indeed, the report is fundamentally misconceived in its approach—expending U.S. leverage with Khartoum, such as it is, in so-called confidence-building measures rather than in holding the regime to a clear timetable and set of benchmarks in a fully credible and unified peace process. This is not to diminish the importance of the issues addressed in the Danforth report, but ending the terrible scourge of government-sponsored slavery, securing unconstrained and ongoing humanitarian access, halting barbarous assaults on civilians, and even sustaining a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains all require a just and lasting peace if they are to be truly realized.

There is a particular urgency in the need for humanitarian relief. The NIF in Khartoum is deliberately withholding humanitarian aid from many hundreds of thousands of people, according to estimates from the U.S. Agency for International Development and humanitarian sources in the region. This continues a long and unforgivably cruel policy of manipulating humanitarian aid as a weapon of war. Indeed, Khartoum has begun a process of limiting humanitarian aid access that could result in the total collapse of Operation Lifeline Sudan. But as important as it is to work now for an end to Khartoum's manipulation of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war—and it is urgently important—the most meaningful humanitarian relief can come only when a just peace has been secured.

With such a goal in mind, the United States should commit the financial support necessary for long-term peace building, in particular to the strengthening of civil society institutions and the capacity to ensure that a just settlement [End Page 86] will be deeply rooted and sustainable. This represents a modest commitment in light...


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