This week the United Nations Security Council approved sending a force of 26,000 soldiers to Sudan's western region of Darfur.
Will it make any difference? In fact, is the force set up to make a difference?
At least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur over the last four years by an armed militia called the Janjaweed, backed by the Sudanese government. People, overwhelmingly women, children, and the elderly, have died in the most hideous of ways. Their villages or traveling parties have been bombed and strafed; then the Janjaweed descend to rape and butcher them.
It has been a targeted slaughter of black African Muslim Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit people that the United States, European Union, and human rights groups call "genocide," but the United Nations scrupulously calls "war crimes."
Previous deployments of United Nations soldiers have seen war crimes — and genocides. The soldiers mostly looked away.
A quarter of a million people, mostly Bosnian Muslims, died in Bosnia while United Nations troops rarely intervened, so as not to offend the sovereignty of Yugoslavia: a U.N. member state committing war crimes.
A million people, mostly Tutsis, were killed in Rwanda while the United Nations forces also famously looked away, and then withdrew after 10 Belgian soldiers were disarmed and killed. The United Nations said their orders did not include using force.
In places where mass graves are now memorialized, like Srebernicia and Kigali, blue-helmeted soldiers stood around and shrugged while thugs and tyrants murdered.
This week's resolution finally passed because China, which buys most of Sudan's oil, agreed not to oppose it. China hosts the Olympic Games next year. It doesn't want U.S. and European governments, or celebrities like Stephen Spielberg, being called on to boycott the games because of Darfur.
But this week's resolution seems conspicuously feeble, even by the standards of past history. It says that the U.N. force — if it is ever even formed — will respect Sudanese sovereignty.
This may sound lawful and enlightened. But it essentially means that the government which has been allowing mass slaughter will decide where the U.N. soldiers can go.
That's a bit like letting the Third Reich tell Eisenhower and Montgomery where they can deploy their troops, so as not to disturb German sovereignty.
The United Nations soldiers are also forbidden to seize weapons from the Janjaweed. The Blue Helmets are empowered merely to "monitor whether any arms are present."
This after 200,000 people have been killed by bombs, shots, and blades.
And finally, the resolution doesn't contain so much as the threat of trade sanctions against Sudan if the government doesn't stop the slaughter of the Janjaweed.
The United Nations asks the world to respect its legal and moral basis. But that gets hard to do when, time after time, it sides with the sovereignty of criminal states against intervention to prevent murder.
All the people who have marched and sent money to call on world bodies to take action in Darfur may want to ask themselves this week what, after four years of death and suffering, is more important: salving their consciences that they tried to do something, or saving lives?