July 1st was the start of Susan Rice’s new position as National Security Advisor to President Obama, marking the end of her term as Ambassador to the United Nations during some of the most contentious periods in recent history. During farewell remarks, Rice was open with her perceived successes and failures during her time at the UN. She drew headlines with her remarks calling the UN Security Council’s lack of action on Syria a ‘moral and strategic disgrace’ while being sure to point out that this had more to do with Russia and China and “is not part of my legacy or the U.S. legacy”. What the headlines didn’t seem to catch were her statements towards Sudan and the ongoing violence in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Throughout Rice’s time on the Security Council, these three regions have faced near-constant violence resulting in the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions of civilians. While Rice celebrated the administration’s work in supporting the independence of South Sudan, she acknowledged that the Security Council has failed to achieve “desperately needed humanitarian access.” As tragedy and violence continue, many wonder how Rice’s commitment to genocide prevention will surface in her new role as advisor to the president – arguably a position that would link her passion for genocide prevention to more active policy formation.
Rice has had a long history in opposing the genocide in Sudan – in 2006 she co-authored an article advocating the use of airstrikes to compel the Sudanese government to stop its campaign in Darfur, stating that “if the United States fails to gain UN support [for military action] we should act without it.” In May of this year following the adoption of S/RES/2104 extending the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Abyei for an additional six months she remarked that “Sudan’s refusal to allow international humanitarian access to the Two Areas (Blue Nile and South Kordofan States) is wholly unacceptable,” strong words that the Sudanese government fiercely rejected. Since accepting her new position as National Security advisor she has stated that improving relations with Sudan will rely on Bashir’s government “meeting the most fundamental obligations to its own people,” a sure sign that her position on the rogue African state has not faltered in her new role.
Rice’s history with genocide prevention is impressive, and during her farewell remarks to the Security Council she made it clear that she expects to continue with her work on the Sudan issue, claiming that Sudan and South Sudan have been “high priorities for President Obama and will continue to be.” Questions remain on whether Rice’s appointment signals a shift to a more activist-approach in foreign policy and whether humanitarian goals will be a focus of Obama’s second term. Certainly Rice’s bluntness towards speaking against human rights abuses has been helpful in Security Council discussions in the past, but it is yet unknown how her candor will translate to foreign policy goals in the administration’s final years.
Ultimately her remarks last week concluded that the United States will continue to remain in contact with the Sudanese government, but “there are important steps that the United States feel ought to be taken to protect the people of Sudan.” The question now becomes what those steps will be and how, in her new role as National Security Advisor, Susan Rice will be able to take them.