Archive for October, 2008

US Vice-Presidential Debate, Darfur and ‘World Order’

October 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Relevant syllabus enquiry questions:

  • What are the legal measures for the peaceful settlement of international disputes?
  • How effective are the remedies that seek to achieve world order ?


The US Vice-Presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden (Democrats) and Governor Sarah Palin (Republicans) has been heavily analysed in the print and online media.1 The general consensus appears to be that while Palin has survived the debate without any serious hiccups that were evident in an earlier television interview,2 Biden has won the overall debate without sounding patronising to a rival vice-presidential candidate.

What relevance does this debate hold for legal studies students studying for the ‘world order’ section?

NATO in Darfur?

Interestingly, both vice-presidential candidates were very supportive of the proposal to adopt a strong interventionist approach with regards to the genocide in Darfur. Most notably is the articulated stance of Biden, who advocated posting NATO troops in Darfur.3 This cannot be dismissed as empty electioneering rhetoric. Biden has been picked by Obama as running-mate primarily because of his experience in foreign policy. In a televised interview with David Letterman,4 Obama stated specifically that he wanted to rely on Biden’s experience and analysis. If this is really the case, then the Sudanese government, widely accused of genocide, should be concerned.5 Biden has long advocated the stationing of NATO troops in Darfur. During his long career in Washington politics, Biden was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In particular he presided over many Senate hearings with regards to the situation in Darfur. On many occasions he expressed frustrations with lack of concrete actions by the international community over the genocide in Darfur, and advocated the use of NATO troops to protect civilians in Darfur under attack by the Sudanese government backed militias. This would be backed by the implementation of a no-fly zone, which currently is non-existent in southern Sudan, as well as a divestment policy against the Sudanese government. Biden’s current position on Darfur is a reflection of his past experience in Bosnia, in which NATO successfully took over the UN peacekeepers by enforcing a no-fly zone over Bosnia.6 In view of this, it is understandable that the Sudanese government greeted the selection of Biden as Obama’s running mate with alarm.7

How likely is this to occur? That reminds to be seen. There are currently AU and UN peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur under a Chapter 6 mandate. Interestingly, a significant number of the peacekeepers contingent are Chinese troops, whose government has been generally supportive of the Sudanese government.8 As Professor Michael Doyle from Columbia University School of Law noted in an online interview, the current UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur faces several major limitations to success.9 The terms of the Addis Adaba ceasefire agreement are vague, deliberately or otherwise, and enforcement of the terms of the ceasefire agreements have not been effective. There are confusions over the chain of command within the joint UN/AU peacekeeping mission, and apart from the Chinese contingent, this peacekeeping mission has been hampered by lack of resources and manpower. The lack of forceful mandate also limits the effectiveness of this peacekeeping mission as an instrument of enforcement, and is a lamentable reflection of the the fact that both China and Russia has not labeled the situation in Darfur as genocide. All this has led to a continuation of humanitarian disaster in Darfur, as documented by Human Rights Watch in its report ‘Abandoning Abyei – Destruction and Displacement’ dated May 2008, as well as numerous field reports by Medecins Sans Frontiers (latest field report dated July 2008).10

A NATO mission in Darfur will be an attempt to implement a ‘Bosnian/Kosovo’ solution to the Sudanese conflict. Provided the supporting factors are in place, like diplomatic support and the underlying forces of realpolitik that often dictates diplomacy, such NATO mission might well succeed. However there are reasons for pessimism. NATO mission in Afghanistan is currently experiencing serious setbacks against a resurgent Taliban.11 On top of this, there are continuing concerns about the failure of NATO to support Georgia during the recent conflict in South Ossetia in August 2008. It is likely that many NATO members will feel reluctant about expanding NATO missions to a war-torn country in Africa. Also, under the current NATO charter, NATO troops can only be deployed in a European conflict situation or if a member-state of NATO is under attack on home soil. NATO missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, arguably, fall within the mandate of NATO charter. It is hard to see how a mission in Sudan would fall within the NATO Charter.

A NATO mission in Sudan will probably encounter strong resistance from China and Russia within the Security Council. While members of the Security Council do not exercise the right of veto over NATO missions, their diplomatic support is nonetheless important. A resurgent Russia who is currently openly hostile towards NATO can be particularly problematic if it chooses to be uncooperative. If NATO mission in Sudan is to succeed, some careful diplomacy by a possible Obama/Biden administration will be needed to secure Chinese and Russian support.

It is also quite likely that a NATO mission in Sudan will be seen by many within the Arab world as another US attack upon the Arab world. It certainly would be interpreted as such by the Al-Qaeda propaganda machine.12 This is hardly an ethical reason for not intervening, but it is quite likely that al-Qaeda affiliated groups will seek to turn this into a second Afghanistan for NATO.

All this returns back to the home front. Are American voters likely to support such a mission, given the current disquiet over Iraq and the economy? Much depends on the strength of the political leadership. A prospective Obama/Biden administration will face skeptical and war-weary senators and congressman, especially within the Democrats. They will need a clear exit strategy. On the other hand, the echoes of Rwanda will be heard in foyers of the White House, considering Clinton’s past failure in stopping the genocide in Rwanda.

Change will be easier said than done.

1See “Alison Smale of the International Herald Tribune discusses European reactions to the Biden-Palin faceoff.” New York Times, 3 October 2008

2See Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin, CBS News America, 25 September 2008

3According to Biden, “We can now impose a no-fly zone. It’s within our capacity. We can lead NATO if we’re willing to take a hard stand. We can, I’ve been in those camps in Chad. I’ve seen the suffering, thousands and tens of thousands have died and are dying. We should rally the world to act and demonstrate it by our own movement to provide the helicopters to get the 21,000 forces of the African Union in there now to stop this genocide.” (‘US Vice-Presidential Debate 2008’, live broadcast by PBS America, 3 October 2008)

4‘Late Night with David Letterman’, 10 September 2008 (CBS America)

5The genocide in Darfur is a continuing indictment of the failure of the international system to achieve world order. At the moment, there are two government ministers in the Sudanese government who are charged by the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court with the crimes of genocide. Ironically this included the Sudanese Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, as well as the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir. However, Sudanese government has thus far refused to hand over its leader and minister for trial by the ICC. This can be seen as another illustration of how state sovereignty limits the effectiveness of world order and global justice, as argued by Geoffrey Robertson QC in his book, Struggle for Global Justice. An even more worrying development in recent months as been the attempt by the African Union to call for the ICC to drop its investigation against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

6Biden actually referred to this in the vice-presidential debate: “Look what we did in Bosnia. We took Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, being told by everyone – I was told by everyone that this would mean that they had been killing each other for a thousand years, it would never work. There’s a relatively stable government there now, as in Kosovo.” (‘US Vice-Presidential Debate 2008’, live broadcast by PBS America, 3 October 2008)

7‘Obama’s choice of Biden as VP is Sudan’s NCP worst nightmare’ Sudan Tribune (25 August 2008)

According to the article, NATO military officials have advised Biden that 2500 NATO troops would make a significant difference on the ground in Darfur.

8The fact that the UN DPKO has accepted Chinese troops within its peacekeeping mission in Darfur, despite its dubious connection with Sudanese government, is a severe indictment of lack of manpower the UN member-states have allocated to this peacekeeping operations.

9Professor Michael Doyle’s online interview with 24HoursForDarfur, an NGO lobby group that advocates on behalf of the victims of Darfur.

See also, ‘Peacekeepers in Darfur Hit More Obstacles’, New York Times, 24 March 2008 ( The article points to the severe lack in resources and manpower that plague the current UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Aside from a lack of well-trained peacekeepers, they are lacking in armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, surveillance equipment. Some peacekeepers even lack blue helmuts, and have to purchase ink to paint their helmut blue!


11See ‘Dictator ‘solution to Afghanistan”, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 2008. The article was a edited piece of an earlier article from New York Times, ‘Afghan ‘Dictator’ Proposed in Leaked Cable’, 3 October 2008. The article records the statement by UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, who criticise the current US strategy in Afghanistan as a recipe for disaster.

12It is worth remembering that Osama Bin-Laden once successfully seeked refuge with the Sudanese government.