02/04/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Defusing Sudan's Ticking Time Bomb

In a matter of weeks, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is widely expected to issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's genocidal president, Omar al-Bashir. The ICC prosecutor has charged him with ten counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Bashir has openly and brazenly threatened to accelerate violence against innocent Darfuri civilians and completely block humanitarian aid if the warrant is issued. Last week, the Sudanese army unveiled new fighter planes and missiles in a "parade" seen as a show of strength aimed at critics supporting the ICC prosecution.

With 2.7 million displaced Darfuri people vulnerable in IDP camps and the UN estimating that at least 300,000 Darfuris have already been killed, threats of "more violence and blood" from Bashir are deeply concerning.

Is the world prepared? Have we established consequences that will be imposed on Bashir and his murderous sidekicks in the National Congress Party (NCP) if the violence escalates? Have we proactively communicated those consequences to the NCP as a deterrent to this unacceptable course of action? Have we developed a rapid response plan that will enable us to live up to our responsibility to protect innocent civilians if deterrence is unsuccessful?

On December 8th, the Genocide Prevention Task Force, a prestigious group co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and jointly convened by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the American Academy of Diplomacy, released a ground-breaking report which makes recommendations to enhance the U.S. government's capacity to recognize and respond to emerging threats of genocide and mass atrocities.

The report states, "Even when signs of preparation for genocide are apparent, there are opportunities to alter leaders' decisions and interrupt their plans. By improving our crisis response system, we will be better prepared to mount coherent, carefully calibrated, and timely preventive diplomacy strategies."

Today in Sudan, the signs are not only apparent, but explicit. What is our "coherent, carefully calibrated, and timely preventive" strategy?

In the USIP press release announcing the report, Albright states, "We believe that preventing genocide is possible, and that striving to do so is imperative both for our national interests and our leadership position in the world." Yet as Richard Solomon, president of the USIP wisely points out , a key part of getting genocide prevention beyond a worthy goal will be stepped-up international diplomacy and more capacity for multilateral organizations like the UN to stop mass atrocities before they occur.

Omar al-Bashir has given the world loud and clear warning signs of his intent to commit more mass atrocities. Sudan is precisely the type of situation that calls out for this stepped up diplomacy and multilateral cooperation.

It is therefore urgent for the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration to work quickly and decisively, together with the UN and other international partners, to formulate a plan to deter and prevent any actions by Bashir that would pose an immediate threat to the lives of the millions of completely vulnerable Darfuri citizens.

President Bush will host two meetings this week which present opportunities for discussion on this urgent issue. On Monday, he will meet with Salva Kiir, president of the semi-autonomous southern Sudan as well as national vice president. The White House said that the two will meet to discuss the situation in Darfur as well as the troubled Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended two decades of civil war between the north and south in Sudan and established the foundation for democracy in Sudan. On Tuesday, President Bush will have his final meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. According to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, the two leaders will discuss Darfur among other topics.

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, world leaders, including former president Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice, incoming US Ambassador to the UN, expressed remorse and regret over the failure, on their watch, of the world community to react swiftly to save hundreds of thousands of lives during the Rwandan genocide. The current and future US administrations, as well as the world community, must act now to ensure that the nightmare of Rwanda is not replayed again and again in Sudan.