Eric Reeves •
“The U.S. should assist in humanitarian efforts, send a senior U.S. official to negotiations, and strongly encourage the release of political detainees.”
United States engagement with the two Sudan’s has been fitful since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (S.P.L.M.), the latter of which formed the government of South Sudan in 2011. Even so, the Agreement remains an important foreign policy achievement of the Bush administration, and the creation of South Sudan a rare source of national pride.
That said, after declaring its independence, South Sudan had to confront not only the ravages of 22 years of war, but a hostile and aggressive neighbor to the north. Even before independence Khartoum began a war of economic attrition; attacked the South militarily; seized the contested Abyei border region in May of 2011 (flagrantly violating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement); and supplied various destructive renegade militia groups operating in South Sudan with weapons.
The South received too little help in confronting Khartoum’s belligerence and in establishing democratic institutions that would allow the S.P.L.M. to outgrow its guerilla warfare past. The U.S. couldn’t dictate governance, but could have done more to assist in that process—and to help oversee accounting for oil revenues that often disappeared amidst rampant corruption.
On December 15 violence began between competing political factions in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, and quickly spread to other regions of this vast country, which is about the size of France. The deficits in foreign assistance quickly became conspicuous. And what was initially politically motivated violence quickly took on ethnic inflection; now civil war threatens to tear the South apart.
The situation is urgent. The U.S. should assist United Nations humanitarian efforts, providing critical transport and surveillance aircraft; a senior U.S. official should travel to negotiations that have bogged down in Addis Ababa; and the U.S. should use its considerable leverage to urge President Salva Kiir to release political detainees to participate in talks. Only the most energetic international efforts can avoid the catastrophe looming closer by the hour.