By William Church

Director, GLCSS

Recently, the Washington Post published an editorial, US Should Act Without UN in Darfur, by two former US officials and a current US Congressman. The former high-ranking officials-one of them served as National Security Advisor during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide—called for military intervention in Sudan and a naval blockade.


The editorial proves an old adage: “If the only tool you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.”


First, the Anthony Lake Plan is not a practical solution which can be implemented. Second, it would lead to a humanitarian and political disaster in Sudan and demonstrates the United States’ misunderstanding of the on-the-ground situation in Sudan. Third, it fuels the suspicions of the Khartoum government and hinders any negotiated solution.


Susan Rice, Anthony Lake and Donald M. Payne wrote:


“The US, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese air fields, aircraft, and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flows. Then UN troops would deploy by force, if necessary with US and NATO backing.”


The Anthony Lake Plan, despite his background as National Security Advisor, proposes a plan that can not be effectively implemented and inaccurately compares the Kosovo military action with military strikes against Sudan. The primary obstacle is not a US military pinned own in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Pacific waiting for a North Korean military response. No, the primary obstacle is that it is not practical and is more political posturing than solution. In addition, it fails to answer the Iraq question: What happens after the US destabilizes the Khartoum government?


First, the Lake Plan only argues the outcome and not the action. The nearest bomber-based, US air base is Al Udeid in Qatar, some 1214 nautical miles from Khartoum. Using this base, if practical, would strain the already weaken relationship with the State of Qatar, which was once a strong US ally.


The US would be required to gain airspace permission on its flight path to Sudan and Saudi Arabia is the most direct route. A time wasting Southern route could possibly infringe on the airspace of Yemen, and Eritrea, and it is highly unlikely it would receive permission from Yemen. A positive Eritrea response would not be well received in Africa, which is another obstacle.


However, there are African-based attack solutions. The United States government has increased its presence at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, which could be converted into a strategic base for air attacks on Sudan. Lake does make a reference to NATO, which opens the possibility of cooperation with France to use its numerous African-bases. This could include a joint operation from Djibouti; however, this would require the air space permission of Ethiopia or Eritrea.


Once again, if the Anthony Lake Plan involved the use of African-bases, it would change the face of regional cooperation and the role of the African Union. The Lake Plan, using African bases, spreads the risk of a destabilized region.


An aircraft carrier-based assault is equally impractical. The Red Sea at its widest point is only 355 kilometers and is bordered by Sudan on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. The Lake proposal does not anticipate the required space for even a partial aircraft carrier group to operate within Sudan’s territorial waters and still maintain a tactical distance from Sudan. It is highly improbability, considering flight conditions and potential tactical maneuvers, that at some point the attack aircraft would not cross into Saudi airspace.


The Anthony Lake Plan does not answer another what if military question, which ties into the issue of the aircraft carrier’s tactical distance from Sudan: What if Sudan’s relationship with Iran produced, as rumored, a missile production facility with North Korean technology. It also does not account for any possible weapons transfers from Hezbollah, which has maintained a good relationship with the Khartoum government.


The plan is also weak on an understanding of tactics. Anthony Lake compares the Sudan strike plan to Kosovo and once again demonstrates a lack of understanding of the situation. This author, as Director of the Centre for Infrastructural Warfare Studies at the time of the Kosovo War, published detailed accounts of the bombing tactics in both Defense News and the International Journal of the Red Cross. There is no comparison to the tactics used in Kosovo and that potentially could be used in Sudan.


The Kosovo air strikes were infrastructural warfare targeted at military command and control systems as well as civilian infrastructure. The United States bombed civilian electricity facilities, telecommunications, and transport infrastructure. In essence, it conducted a dual campaign of creating civilian pressure on the government and of military suppression of movement and command and control.


The proposed air strike scenario on Sudan disregards the reality that much of the fighting in Darfur is not controlled by the Khartoum government and the bombing would have little negative impact on many of the rebel groups. It characterizes a United States misunderstanding of Darfur, which is the belief that the Khartoum government is the primary cause of the war.


Bombing worked in Kosovo because the Milosevic government was the sole cause, but the Kosovo model does not apply to the muddled, Darfur conflict. The only purpose the Lake Plan would accomplish would be to weaken the Khartoum government and increase the intensity of the conflict.


The Anthony Lake Plan would increase the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and jeopardize the lives of international humanitarian workers or force their evacuation, which would leave hundreds of thousands of people without aid or protection. The US bombing and blockade would hinder humanitarian shipments and, even if the humanitarian workers remained in place, it would force all shipments by land from the south or risk humanitarian aircraft being targeted by the US/NATO military aircraft.


The Susan Rice and Anthony Lake Plan would place at risk thousands of humanitarian workers who could be subject to increased violence and a hostage situation. The plan would set off a humanitarian disaster because food and other aid supplies would be disrupted resulting in the starvation of the area’s aid-dependent Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).


As this author warned in Darfur Shared Responsibility (Sudan Tribune 17 September 2006), there is a grave danger of destabilizing the Khartoum government. A military strike against Khartoum and its political destabilization could weaken the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan and the newly inked peace agreement in the East. It would be a signal for the remaining rebel groups in Darfur to increase their military activities and consolidate their strategic positions.


Finally, the largest danger of the Anthony Lake Plan is that it promotes the use of violence over a negotiated solution. The danger of the non-African voices that push a confrontational approach with the Khartoum government is that they ignore the immediate solution of effectively reinforcing the African Union peacekeeping force and then taking the next step of building trust and restoring the Darfur Peace Plan (DPA) and steadily moving towards a peacekeeping force that can enforce the DPA, whether the berets are green or blue.




William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact William Church at GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.

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