Few conflicts have been subject to as much international attention and efforts at resolution as the conflict in Darfur between 2004 and 2009. In spite of these attempts, the situation in Darfur today can at best be qualified as an unresolved conflict. This article closely examines the ways in which the Sudanese state has been perceived and qualified in order to determine how the conflict was understood and how the state was approached by outsiders. As is shown, despite frequent descriptions of the nation as a ‘fragile’ or ‘failed’ state, throughout the conflict Sudan has primarily been approached as a ‘rogue’ state. The article argues that this distinction has led to the prioritisation of certain strategies based on ‘protection’ and ‘punishment’ over attempts to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, something a more sophisticated understanding of the Sudanese state’s internal weaknesses and instability might have allowed.