South Sudan and the Neverending Peace Process
Dave Eggers and John Prendergast, responding to recent comments by Special Envoy to Sudan Gen. Scott Gration, declare that bold US action is necessary to prevent genocide and other political violence in South Sudan and Darfur. Contrary to Gration’s statement that the US has no real leverage against Khartoum, Eggers and Prendergast assert, “the peace in Sudan is one the United States ‘owns.'”
Now, firstly, I would hesitate to call the five-year ceasefire much of a peace. As the authors note, South Sudan has been arming itself relentlessly, and the northern government is preparing to undermine the referendum. Thomas Hobbes would not really call this peace, especially when discussing the internal politics of a country, and neither should we. So with that in mind, how can we call what is essentially a five-year lapse in open hostilities a meaningful peace, and how is that really leverage?
The authors suggest the tried and true carrots-and-sticks method, threatening sanctions and tougher ICC arrest warrants, and offering normalization of relations and a relaxing of ICC warrants if they cooperate. But Sudan is already heavily sanctioned, and since China is by no means guaranteed to go along with them, this both reduces the incentives of Western petroleum companies to comply, for fear of losing their claims, and increases the likelihood that China will circumvent sanctions. Even if it imposes the sanctions, is the US ready to enforce them against European or Chinese oil companies? As for the ICC, the US is not a member and the AU, despite including over 30 states that are members, will not uphold the court’s decision. The ICC just went ahead and charged Bashir with genocide so it is not clear how much more pressure can really come from these avenues. Furthermore, offering to weaken the already non-enforced ICC warrants further erodes the credibility of the ICC as a meaningful system for implementing justice (if further erosion was necessary), and I imagine Sudanese elites will take note of that.
Is the US going to be able to prevent the north from following a vital state interest or the south from following theirs by using such incentives? My guess would be no. There is little chance of the US convincing Sudan to restrain its armed forces or militia groups or the South Sudanese theirs, if they choose to use them – as they likely will. The biggest projects, such as getting sides to agree to a vote and actually holding the referendum, will have already been tried, and found lacking. Because both sides are better armed, both will be more confident in arms to achieve their aims, and both will believe it necessary.
The authors invoke the comparison of Rwanda, which I think is unfair. Rwanda is an example of a conflict the US could have decisively intervened in with credible leverage. Sanctioning Rwanda or the like would probably not have prevented violence, but the US could have at least jammed Hutu Power radio stations or even sent in peacekeepers to achieve much greater effects than it could ever credibly achieve by any method in Sudan today. Having knowledge of impending violence is not the same as having agency to stop it, and that is where Rwanda and South Sudan are profoundly dissimilar. Undoubtedly, the authors are right to warn of tragedy to come – but I suspect the realistic US role will be one of mitigation, not decision.