Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 25 January 2008

Where to find helicopters for Darfur?


By Savo Heleta

January 24, 2008 — When in the midst of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 the UN members finally agreed to send 5,500 additional troops consisting of mainly African soldiers to try and stop the killings, the UN asked the US to supply armored personnel carriers for the mission. The Clinton administration agreed, but instead of lending military equipment to the UN (to whom the US owed hundreds of millions of dollars in membership fees at the time), the US government decided to lease it for $15 million.
The UN, fully dependent on its negligent members to pay for missions, did not have the money. The 5,500 additional troops never arrived in Rwanda to intervene. The genocide was stopped by the Tutsi rebel forces a few weeks later. Almost a million people died on everyone’s watch in only three months.

In July 2007, the UN members approved the 26,000-strong force for the Darfur peacekeeping mission. The UN is having problems to find enough troops for Darfur since the Sudanese government insists on African-only force. As in Rwanda, there is a problem in finding equipment for the mission.

For months now, the UN and African Union representatives are asking the world powers to provide the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) with six attack helicopters and eighteen transport helicopters so they can start protecting civilians in Darfur. To this day, no one responded positively.

The current world order is based on realism, or Realpolitik, the oldest and most used theory of international relations. The realist approach views states as rational and unitary factors focused on self-interests, national security, and balance of power. Realism influences states to pursue their national interests even if they are contrary to the interests of other states and peoples. Morals, ethics, and legality are the least important principles for realists.

One of the by-products of international relations based on the realist theory is the lack of interest in conflicts that do not come under the sphere of national interests.

Sadly for the people in Darfur, their suffering does not bother those in power who could make a difference. The Western world does not have burning interests in the area. China’s interest in Sudan is oil and Chinese will do everything to be on good terms with the Sudanese government. Not long ago, China claimed in the UN Security Council that the human suffering in Darfur was insufficient to provoke serious reflection on whether Sudan was fulfilling its responsibilities to its citizens. As one of the five members with veto power, China can block any UN decision concerning Darfur.

The UN cannot intervene in Darfur or any other conflict on its own, since it is an umbrella organization dependent on its member states for decisions, funds, equipment, and troops.

Many people, NGO’s, and human rights organizations care about the suffering in Darfur and elsewhere around the world. Many protest, write letters, and campaign. But this is often not enough to influence powerful states to intervene and stop the atrocities, as long as the international relations are based solely on realism, and not at all on empathy, legal principles, ethics, and morals.

* The author a postgraduate student in Conflict Transformation and Management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He is the author of Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia. The book will be published in the United States by AMACOM, New York, in March ’08. More about the book on www.savoheleta.com

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