U.S. Should Help Africa Prevent Terrorist Inroads, Soderberg Says

November 8, 2004
Amb. Nancy Soderberg

The United States and other Western democracies should intervene in African human rights problems to stabilize African nations before they become failed states and refuges for terrorists, Ambassador Nancy Soderberg told a Law School conference Nov. 5. Soderberg, a former U.S. representative to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, gave the keynote address at a conference on "International Law and U.S. Government Actions in the Global 'War on Terror,'" sponsored jointly by the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School and the Human Rights Program at the Law School. Soderberg is a New York-based vice president of the International Crisis Group, an international nonprofit organization based in Brussels that works to prevent and contain conflict. Under Clinton she was the third-ranking official in the National Security Council.

Authorization to intervene follows from the doctrine of "responsibility to protect," Soderberg said. For background on that doctrine she cited a 1999 speech to the U.N. General Assembly by its Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who said that it is now understood that the sovereign state exists to be the servant of the people, not vice versa. There is an "unavoidable" responsibility to intervene when a state cannot or does not halt the killing of its citizens, as in the Darfur region of Sudan. But that standard is "so far ahead of where the world is," said Soderberg, because a humanitarian intervention also challenges a country's sovereignty. "The world simply is not ready to step over that line to protect human lives." Meanwhile, neither can the world "ignore human rights abuses under the cover of sovereignty," she said.

By the fall of 2003, 65,000 Sudanese refugees had crossed into Chad after the Sudan put down a rebellion in Darfur, she said. Since then, the United States has declared the killing of Sudanese civilians in Darfur to be genocide, but nothing has happened as a result. She praised President Bush as "very forward-leaning about doing something in Darfur." The United Nations has passed a few threatening resolutions, but subsequently has been making excuses for doing nothing, Soderberg said. It endorsed the idea of introducing an African force to keep peace, but the Sudanese government has responded with delaying tactics, such as requiring any soldiers in such a force to first pass an HIV test.

"The dirty little secret is that there is no African force that can go in there," she said. Western governments "will need to create everything but the soldiers themselves to make up such a force.

"I call this the intervention gap," she said. "Nations are willing to intervene in their backyards, in their sphere of influence, but not beyond it." European powers are lagging, too, and were also slow to react to the crisis in Bosnia, she said.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council-the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France-contribute less than five percent of peacekeeping forces, she said. "The developing-world nations are doing it. The West pays, and they deploy."

The War on Terror has the United States tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq, causing Africa to be "relegated to the back burner," said Soderberg, who predicted that the "new challenges will be coming from Africa."

She said the root cause of 9/11 was "the failed state of Afghanistan," and that failed states in Africa are potential "magnets for terrorists." Neglect of African problems incubates terrorist responses.

She called the war in Iraq an "enormous diversion from the issues. But the main trauma in Iraq is over and I think it will work after the elections. But we'll be there another four or five years."

Soderberg's book, The Superpower Myth, is due out next March.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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