US foreign policy and genocide in Sudan

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Master of Arts in Security Studies
Title US foreign policy and genocide in Sudan
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2009
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as:
…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a
national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
( a ) Killing members of the group;
( b ) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
( c ) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring
about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
( d ) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
( e ) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.3
In 2002, Samantha Power published her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell:
America and the Age of Genocide. Among other things, the work provides a damning account of how the
United States and the rest of the international community not only repeatedly failed to stop genocide in the
20th century, but even denied its occurrence because of concerns for strict geopolitical interests. Indeed,
Power notes that the international community was slow and reluctant to stop genocides in Cambodia (1975-
1979), Iraqi Kurdistan (1987-1988), Bosnia (1992-1995), Rwanda (1994), Kosovo (1998-1999), and
elsewhere, despite the inherent moral imperatives and the legally enshrined promise to intervene created by
1948 UN Convention. Following straight from the title, Article I of the Convention clearly states that
contracting parties must “undertake to prevent and punish” the crime of genocide.
Considering this record of inaction and reluctance, the U.S. response to genocide in Sudan has
been unusually strong. Even before the well-published atrocities in Darfur in 2003-2004, the United States
had labeled Khartoum’s other war against the southern part of the country as genocide. In fact, Sudan is
one of the only cases where the United States called evil by its name while the crime was actually taking
place, rather than after. The U.S. response has not been strictly rhetorical either – the United States has
implemented a full-court press of economic sanctions and public condemnations targeting the ruling
regime, while pressuring other key international players to do the same. The United States has also been the world leader in pushing for the deployment of international peacekeepers with strong mandates to
Sudanese conflict zones.
Because of the United States’ uncommon reaction to genocide in southern Sudan and Darfur, U.S.
policy towards Sudan provides a rare and interesting case study for something that is not common in the
foreign policy literature – assessing the impact of external diplomatic and economic pressure on a state’s
decision to pursue genocide. A great deal of literature exists for a host of related issues – the international
community’s reluctance to respond to genocide, the usefulness of peacekeeping forces, predicting the onset
of genocide, tools for preventing genocide, creating lasting peace in post-conflict scenarios – but little work
has been done assessing the actual effectiveness of diplomatic and economic efforts at preventing or
limiting genocide, specifically.
Studying the effectiveness of diplomatic and economic efforts is also useful for improving
contemporary strategies for dealing with Sudan in particular. While violence today is much lower than it
was five years ago, conflict persists, and the possibility of more catastrophes still looms. Currently there is
no consensus among experts on how to influence the behavior of the Sudanese state regarding the use of
violence against civilians, as evidenced by the differing views of the two most prominent U.S. officials
involved in America’s Sudan policy. Susan E. Rice is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN),
and she advocates a hard-line approach that continues to squeeze the regime in Khartoum, while retired
Major General Jonathan S. Gration, the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, favors a softer approach with more
engagement. A critical assessment of U.S. policy to date would benefit the development of policy towards
Given the rare and useful nature of studying U.S. policy toward Sudan, I have created a case study
to serve two purposes: 1) to enhance our knowledge of foreign policy’s ability to stop/limit genocide, and
2) to provide lessons for U.S. policy towards Sudan, based on a critical assessment of past practice. To
achieve these ends, I ask the question: How effective have U.S. diplomatic and economic efforts been at
affecting the behavior of the Sudanese state regarding its use of genocide and mass killing of civilians?
The question is narrow, and for good reasons. First, it asks for an assessment. The current literature 3
contains numerous works proposing a range of policy options for preventing genocide, 4 without offering
conclusive evidence of their effectiveness. Second, it focuses strictly on diplomatic and economic efforts
short of violent force to prevent or limit genocide. Historically, it has been very difficult for the United
States to gain support – domestic or international – for military interventions (especially since its military
forces are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan). The simple reality is that diplomatic and economic efforts
will be the most likely response to genocide (if any) in the future. Furthermore, even if an escalation to
military intervention were on the table, determining the independent usefulness of diplomatic and economic
tools gives us a better understanding of whether or not violent force might be necessary. Third, because
military intervention to force a regime change is unlikely to occur, and because the nature of a new regime
is uncertain, the focus of the study is on influencing the behavior of the current regime – not recreating the
Sudanese government.
The structure of this case study is divided into five parts. Part I builds the necessary groundwork.
It presents a background for conflict in Sudan and U.S.-Sudanese relations. Part II presents some of the
important arguments in the literature on persuasion and deterrence, as this project is fundamentally a study
of influence. Part III explains the power structures in Sudan, as well as the interests of those in power. It
then reveals why the Sudanese government has at times viewed genocide as a way of furthering those
interests. Part IV is the actual assessment. It presents the different diplomatic and economic efforts the
United States has used in the past to influence the current Sudanese regime regarding genocide and
provides an assessment of their effectiveness. Part V explains how this case study 1) adds to the literature
on foreign policy’s ability to prevent genocide, and 2) provides guidance for the shaping of U.S. policy
towards Sudan.

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