Monday, December 11, 2006

Crossing Poland

A long while back, I wrote a post positing that if Hitler had not invaded Poland, nobody would have cared about his genocide. Obviously, had Hitler not been expansionist, the death toll of the Holocaust would have been greatly reduced, but it still would have been horrific--the number of German Jews alone killed was around 200,000. The "it's not our problem" line of thinking allows us to ignore atrocities that are contained within one country's borders, and thus sanctions the mass killing going there. This dynamic, I argued, was going on in Darfur. And without any sort of regional implications, the Sudanese regime apparently would be allowed to continue killing with impunity.

But the thing about "contained" catastrophes is that it's hard to contain them. Refugee pressure, ethnic allies in neighboring countries, and generic instability can all push an intramural conflict into an interstate conflaguration. And it appears that might be what's happening in Darfur:
The crisis in Darfur has exploded in recent weeks, and now threatens to drag fragile neighboring countries into a regional war.

Both Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) have become engulfed in fighting that involves a toxic mix of rebel groups, government forces, armed militias, and civilians.

"It's not a steady deterioration," Jan Egeland, the outgoing UN humanitarian chief, told reporters last week. "It's a free fall, and it includes Darfur, eastern Chad, and northern Central African Republic."

In the past month alone, nearly 60,000 Darfurians have been forced from their homes to escape massacre at the hands of Arab militias known as the janjaweed. Aid workers, UN personnel, and independent observers say the janjaweed are backed by Sudan's government, but Khartoum has repeatedly denied this charge.

In eastern Chad, hundreds of aid workers have been evacuated due to increased hostilities between military forces and anti-government rebel groups, while Arab militiamen have ventured deeper into the country to conduct assaults, resulting in the displacement of nearly 100,000 Chadians.

And atrocities committed by a variety of rebel groups and armed bandits over the past few months have forced tens of thousands of people from the CAR to cross the border into Chad.

"The internal conflicts in Darfur, Chad, and the CAR are now linked by the regional presence and movement of armed groups, arms, and civilians across the three borders," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "And of course, the regional governments are using these insurgencies to carry out a proxy war against each other."

It would indeed be ironic if the prospect of an all-out regional war is what finally motivated the international community to get serious about ending the killing (when it's probably too late). But what lesson do we take from this? When we try to ignore internal conflicts as "not our problem", they become "our problem" because they metastasize into major threats to international stability. Had we not been locked into this short-sighted mindset, we could have nipped the Darfur situation before it got out of hand (and saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the process). Now, it may very well be too late. As with when Hitler crossed into Poland, the only way to stop the genocide now, in all likelihood, is to hope the right parties win the war.


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