VANCOUVER, British Columbia On Thursday, the UN secretary general, representatives of the African Union and the secretary general of NATO will meet in Abbis Ababa, Ethiopia, to begin fleshing out plans for NATO assistance to the African Union in Darfur, Sudan.
The expectation is that NATO will bring a proposal to send a team to the region to assist with planning, communications and training. While such contributions are both appreciated and much needed given the severity of Darfur's humanitarian emergency, we strongly urge NATO to make an even greater commitment to this important African protection mission, one that would include putting NATO troops on the ground under UN authorization.
While much of the international community openly acknowledges the situation in Darfur as one of the world's gravest humanitarian crises, national governments and international organizations have thus far failed to find an effective way to halt the atrocities since they began more than two years ago. As former foreign ministers from Europe, Canada, Asia and the United States, we are very concerned about the current prospects for UN reform and feel very strongly that the "Responsibility to Protect" concept, among other proposals, be adopted this summer.
We have met a number of times under the auspices of the Aspen Institute to consider how new habits and practices of cooperation can be developed to tackle the myriad of interdependent threats facing humanity. We believe that genuine international cooperation is the only path to viable solutions, and the crisis in Darfur provides an urgent opportunity to act on this premise. The African Union has extended protection to civilians fleeing violence in Darfur, but if the death toll is not to rise beyond the hundreds of thousands of people who have already lost their lives, urgent action is needed to save the two million who are displaced within Sudan.
The fundamental cause of the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur is, at best, the failure of the government of Sudan to take effective action against the militias terrorizing civilians, and at worst, its active complicity and support in these activities. Sudan has demonstrated that it lacks both the will and capacity to protect its own people, and therefore we believe the international community, consistent with the emerging international norm of the "Responsibility to Protect," must act in this glaring case of genocide and do whatever is necessary to halt the killing and abuse of innocent civilians.
The courageous African Union mission deserves enormous credit for seeking to help the people of Darfur, and its deployment of nearly 2,500 troops, with a promise to add another 3,000 police and troops this summer, must be the backbone of any mission of protection. But because the AU force is currently too small to cover an area the size of France and lacks critical logistical capacities, the militias continue to burn villages and besiege refugees in their camps.
The African Union needs far greater support. And NATO can help. The alliance should immediately provide the AU with helicopters (already offered by Canada); command, control and support capabilities; and strategic and tactical lift. Drawing on its Response Force, which is now at its initial operational capacity of 17,000, NATO should put a brigade-sized element at the disposal of the United Nations to augment the AU force until it can build up sufficient strength of its own.
In addition, NATO should seek authority from the Security Council for a new Chapter VII resolution establishing a no-flight zone over Darfur, which NATO aircraft would enforce. Although some states on the Security Council, notably China, have opposed tougher measures on the grounds that the Sudanese government should be given time to resolve the conflict in Darfur through a new political process, it remains an open question as to whether these governments would vote against an action that was aimed at saving lives.
We applaud NATO's commitment to the ongoing crisis in Darfur but we also believe that this successful military alliance, strengthened by the warrant of Security Council legitimacy, could do much more to bring a halt to Darfur's horrific humanitarian crisis. The ever-popular mantra "never again" has to mean more than expressing political sentiment and issuing lukewarm resolutions that fail to stop the violence. It is not too late for meaningful action.
(This article was written by Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state in the Clinton administration, and former foreign ministers Robin Cook of Britain, Lamberto Dini of Italy, Lloyd Axworthy of Canada, Ana Palacio of Spain, Erik Derycke of Belgium, and Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand.)