The prospects of a United Nations peacekeeping mission arriving in Darfur are fading fast. The Sudanese government is showing no signs of yielding to pressure to allow the deployment. And despite some belligerent rhetoric, notably from the US, there is clearly no international appetite for an invasion. It is also unlikely that China and Russia, Khartoum's allies on the UN Security Council, would allow such an intervention in any case.
The situation is bleak. But it would be premature to conclude that the struggle to protect the refugees of Darfur has been lost. An alternative to the UN force is being put forward by a collection of diplomats and supported by aid workers on the ground. What is proposed is an extension of the existing 7,000-strong African Union mission in Darfur. The President of the European Union Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, appeared to be moving in the direction of such a compromise on his trip to Sudan over the weekend.
This would by no means be ideal. The performance of AU troops in protecting the civilians of Darfur since they arrived in the region has been disappointing. UN troops would be much better equipped and trained. But beefing up the AU force would be far preferable to allowing a security vacuum to emerge again in Darfur. And we should remember that UN support does not have to take the form of manpower. The rest of the world can greatly improve the performance of the AU force by providing supplies and logistical support.
The international community is understandably distrustful of Khartoum. Its argument that UN troops would be an infringement of Sudan's sovereignty are specious given that there is already a UN troop presence in the south of the country to police a separate peace deal. And Khartoum has manifestly failed to deliver on its repeated promises to disarm the Arab militias that have been leading the attacks on the black population of Darfur. But the inescapable fact is that no real relief will come for these refugees without the co-operation of the Sudanese government.
Western leaders should heed Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary-general of the UN, who argued in The Independent last week that the use of "megaphone diplomacy" in this area is counterproductive. It will be much more difficult for the Sudanese government to resist an extension of the AU force, than a UN deployment. As a first step towards ending the crisis, this proposal should be seized upon.
The international community must concentrate on ensuring security for the persecuted inhabitants of Darfur, rather than denouncing Khartoum. Moral grandstanding may be satisfying, but it ultimately delivers nothing.