Sudan Sanctions: Too Little, Too Late? President Bush is calling the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan "genocide" but some question whether the Bush administration is doing all it can to support peace in the region. Author John Prendergast, an Africa policy expert with the International Crisis Group, explains why.
NPR logo

Sudan Sanctions: Too Little, Too Late?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sudan Sanctions: Too Little, Too Late?

Sudan Sanctions: Too Little, Too Late?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later: one man talks about why he is helping the FBI track his every move. But first, more on President Bush's Africa policy. We just heard from Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, about the administration's call for tighter sanctions against Sudan. Now we talk with John Prendergast. He is co-author with actor Don Cheadle of "Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond," and he served as former director of African Affairs at the National Security Council in the Clinton White House.

Thanks, John, for joining us.

Dr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Africa Policy Expert, International Crisis Group; Author): Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: President Bush said he is now going to impose tougher economic sanctions against Sudan, and he's going to press the United Nations for additional action. Do you think these decisions will be helpful?

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Well, it's a little bit of the old adage, more of the same. You see, we already have sanctions on a few individuals in the Sudan government. We already have sanctions - the United States does - on Sudanese companies that are helping to underwrite the regime.

So adding a few more people to the list - and not the key people who are orchestrating the genocide in Darfur - and unilaterally sanctioning a few more companies to a sector, an oil sector that's already learned how to live around these U.S. sanctions doesn't affect anything on the ground in Sudan.

We have to work through the Security Council. We have to multilateralize these unilateral measures to make a difference, and the Bush administration, unfortunately, hasn't decided to take the kind of leadership necessary to do that.

MARTIN: Well, the administration says they are going to press the United Nations for additional action.

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah, this is the thing. But, of course, if you spend your time up there and you start talking to the 15 permanent members of the Security Council, they say, no, they don't have the votes. They haven't been trying. They haven't been pushing.

So you see, if this is a real plan B, as President Bush calls it, they would have had a resolution ready to introduce today as a demonstration of how important this is to them in their foreign policy. But instead, they've instructed the secretary of state to do what she's already been doing, which is consulting with governments and finding out, hey, you'd have to break a few eggs if you want to get this thing passed right now. Because right now, the majority of countries on the Security Council are passively or actively against moving against the Sudanese regime now on a sanctions package. So we have to work at it, just like we work at Iran and work at Iraq and work at North Korea.

MARTIN: Why do you think the administration came out at this time? I mean, it wasn't in primetime, of course, but he did give an announcement in the diplomatic room. I mean, it had the kind of, sort of, aura that one attends to an important presidential announcement.

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Because it has become a political issue. I think, you know, this - the constituency that cares about genocide in the United States has actually increased rather profoundly over the last year or two, and particularly amongst constituencies - faith-based constituencies, which are important to the president, important to the Republican and Democratic electoral strategies. So it matters, and the issue matters politically.

So they're going to put all the bells and whistles one would associate with a big policy announcement. They're going to do that, and that's what we saw from this announcement today. The sad thing is that once you inspect the actual details of the announcement, we're not really adding much value to anything here.

MARTIN: But - I'm sorry, but the president did ask U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice to draft an international resolution, and he did say that he was going to ask her to seek support from other nations on the Security Council to strengthen support for sanctions. Isn't that what you've been asking them to do?

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Right. See the thing is, A, it's the amount of preparation. And having spoken with some of the people in New York and a number of the offices in - of the Security Council members, including the United States, they're saying that they haven't done any groundwork up till now. They haven't started pushing it.

In order to get a resolution passed, you have to start working, you have to -you have to make a decision that, in fact, now we're going to start pushing. And that decision hasn't been made. We push other countries on Iraq and Iran. We don't push them on Sudan. That's the difference. And so that's the first problem.

The second problem is even more important, which is the names that we're choosing, the people we're choosing to target are not the people who have orchestrated the crisis in Darfur because those are the same people which we have cooperated with on counterterrorism efforts. So we haven't gone after Salab Dala Gosh and Nafi'a Ali Nafi'a. These are the guys that are really behind the policy that led to the destruction of Darfur. Those people are being, in fact, protected and have not been sanctioned and won't be targeted in the context of the Security Council effort.

MARTIN: How do you know that?

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Oh, I spend all my time talking to people who are in New York, who are in Khartoum, who are in the diplomatic community, in the agency and try to find out. It's my - it's the kind of work I do. So we'll see if it's true.

If in a month from now, we have a tremendous Security Council resolution that sanctions all the guys that are responsible for the Darfur crisis, then please don't call me again, because I'm obviously not a credible source. But I'm quite sure a month from now we will still be at the stage of symbolic pandering and pronouncements - presidential statements and fairly meaningless resolutions like we've seen up till now in the Security Council, because the United States hasn't been willing yet to exercise leverage.

You're going to have to break eggs to get a real resolution on Darfur, because the Chinese and Russians are against it. That means they're going to trade something. That means we're going to have work them hard. And there are other representatives in the council right now. The votes are against us. It's probably nine to seven against taking further action on Sudan.

MARTIN: Given that the U.S. does have these other foreign policy priorities as we've discussed - you know, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, Iran - can you realistically expect this administration, this government to make this more of a priority?

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Well, I think it's all a matter of, you know, every day any administration, they get together in their early meeting and decide, okay, what are we got to do today? What are the most urgent? And what goes into that decision are not purely national security concerns. They're not purely policy concerns. The politics seeps in.

So you've got the policy urgency of doing something about a terrible thing that's happening halfway around the world, but you've also got the political exigency of being seen to be really responding to constituencies that are part of your electoral base that care about this issue a lot. So that's the balancing act.

They're going to continue to try to do as little as possible, but enough to make something happen. And they're just going to have to keep going down the road of doing more and more and more begrudgingly until, finally, they do enough to actually change the calculations in Khartoum. But until that happens by the government of Sudan, it would be irrational for them to stop obstructing the peacekeeping force from being deployed in Darfur. It would be irrational for them to stop trying to win the war militarily in Darfur.

MARTIN: Because there's no real consequence.

Dr. PRENDERGAST: There's no consequence.

MARTIN: Finally, what levers should the U.S. be pushing to achieve a real improvement in Darfur now, and would those levers be visible to us?

Dr. PRENDERGAST: One of the most important potential levers is us - is the United States providing intelligence to the International Criminal Court to accelerate the indictments of key orchestrators and ring leaders of the atrocities that have been committed in Darfur. So I think that's - that would be a great tool that we could use that would bring a great deal of leverage to the table.

I think having our Treasury Department officials go out to talk to some of the banks in Europe about not cooperating in conducting transactions on behalf of Sudan to service its oil sector, like we've done on Iran - you know, there are a number of tools that we could use, some public and not so public, that would actually make a difference in the calculations of the regime officials in Khartoum. We haven't used any of them yet.

So that's the good news, in fact, that we have all these unrealized leverage that we could use once we decide, in fact, this is a top-tier issue. We're going to start breaking an egg or two to actually make things happen.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Dr. PRENDERGAST: Okay, thanks so much, Michel.

MARTIN: John Prendergast is author of "Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond". He is a special adviser to the International Crisis Group here in Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.