The economics of genocide and ineffectiveness of STAND

October 21, 2005

The national STAND (Student Taking Action Now: Darfur) organization believes that increasing consciousness about the crisis in Darfur both in the United States and abroad will lead to an end of the ethnic cleansing. While this is a noble organization, its mission statement is plagued with idealism and naivety, particularly regarding the ethics of the United States government. Ignoring the history of genocide and Americas role in the violence, STAND is destined to be another ineffectual pro-peace group unless it makes certain amendments to its plan of action.

In order for the United States government to be motivated to end any form of genocide, there are two factors that need to be present: political demand and economic demand. If one of the two are not present, especially economic demand, there is no executive or congressional interest in interfering in a given conflict. East Timor is a prime example, when from 1975-1999, the Indonesian government murdered around 25% of Eastern Timorese population. In 2001, documents were released by the NSA saying that then-president Ford and Henry Kissinger met with Indonesian president Suharto to offer their support for the upcoming invasion. Despite widespread protests, especially in Australia, Portugal, and among many US students, the United States refused to involve themselves until 1999, 24 years and 200,000 dead later.

Why would the United States and five presidents let this happen? Simple, there was no economic reason to end the violence. The United States had a major incentive to allow the genocide to continue: Indonesia wanted to tap the vast oil fields off the coast of East Timor and the US government was exporting billions of dollars worth of arms to the Indonesian government.

Examples of the genocide that occurs when pro-peace groups fail to make an economic argument in favor of US action are widespread. In addition to East Timor, STAND should investigate the failures during the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot (1.2-3.3 million dead in Cambodia, funded and armed by the United States), and Rwanda (which, being landlocked, offers very little to the United States).

STANDs fatal flaw lies not in what it does but in the inadequacies of their mission statement. What STAND does currently is crucial, as there is little popular demand for the United States to concern themselves with the conflict. However, they should amend their plan of action to also discuss the economics of genocide if they wish to have any lasting impact on the ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region of Sudan. It is a tragedy that we are forced to reduce genocide to economics. However, in the interest of the people who are victim to the violence, STAND should do whatever is necessary to bring a speedy conclusion to the conflict. By changing the discourse to both humanitarian and business concerns, STAND can have a much greater impact on the situation.

With rising energy costs, stability in Sudan will only help increase the flow of oil from Africa, and we must remember that oil is the preferred currency of the Bush Administration. If STAND manages to create an economic demand, they will be closer to achieving a major victory for the Sudanese.

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