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An all out war against newly independent South Sudan might not be in Sudan’s best interest. South Sudan’s saber-rattling is not an entirely independent initiative; its most recent territorial transgressions - which saw the occupation of Sudan’s largest oil field in Heglig on April 10, followed by a hasty retreat ten days later – might have been a calculated move aimed at drawing Sudan into a larger conflict.
The fact remains, however, that wherever there is oil political narratives cannot possibly be so simple. Sudan is caught in a multidimensional conflict involving weapons trade, internal instabilities, multiple civil wars and the reality of outside players with their own interests. None of this is enough to excuse the readiness for war on behalf of Khartoum and Juba, but it certainly presents serious obstacles to any attempt aimed at rectifying the situation.
In a statement published last July, Amnesty International called on UN member states to control arm shipments to both Sudan and South Sudan. It accused the US, Russia and China of fueling violations in the Sudan conflict through the arms trade.
US support of South Sudan is already well known. “The US reportedly provided $100 million-a-year in military assistance to the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army),” according to Russia Today on April 19, citing a December 2009 diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks.
According to political author and columnist Reason Wafawarova, US interest in South Sudan is neither accidental nor motivated by humanitarian issues. He told RT, “It would not be surprising if the US is trying to capitalize on the vulnerability of South Sudan in its efforts to establish the AFRICOM base somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.” RT goes on to reference Sudan’s Al-Intibaha newspaper for its reports on Israeli weapon supplies to Juba.
US and Israeli military support of Juba is not a new phenomenon. Sudan’s civil war (1983-2005), which cost an estimated 2.5 million lives, could not have lasted as long as it did without steady sources of military funding. And while the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the January 9-15, 2011 referendum, and finally the independence of South Sudan in July were all meant to usher in a new era of peace and cooperation, none actualized. Sudan’s territorial concessions proved most costly, and South Sudan, destroyed and landlocked, was ripe for outside exploitation.
Both countries are now caught in a deadly embrace. They can neither part ways completely, nor cooperate successfully without a risk of war at every turn. Bashir also knows he is running out of options. While Khartoum has already “lost three-quarters of its oil revenue after the secession,” according Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly, “now it is poised to lose the rest.”
Naturally, a conflict of this magnitude cannot be resolved by empty gestures and reassuring statements. The conflict has been festering for decades, and war has been the only common language. Powerful countries, including the US, Russia, China, but also Israel and regional Arab and Africa players exploited the conflict to their advantage whenever possible. In a recent analysis, the International Crisis Group in Brussels advised that a “new strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis.” The crisis group recommends that the “UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve international peace and security, including the implementation of border monitoring tasks as outlined by UN Interim Security Force in Abyei.”
Expecting the Security Council to act in political tandem seems a bit too optimistic, however. Considering that the US is arming and supporting South Sudan, and that Russia and China continue to support Khartoum, the rivalry in fact exists within the UN itself.
For a sustainable future peace arrangement, Sudan’s territorial integrity must be respected, and South Sudan must not be pushed to the brink of desperation. Rivalries between the US, China and Russia cannot continue at the expense of nations that teeter between starvation and civil wars. And whatever hidden hands that continue to exploit Sudan’s woes now need to be exposed and isolated.