Eric Reeves – http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article33952 •
The evidence of recent months suggests that there is an increasingly grim logic governing the military and geographic future of southern Sudan—and a correspondingly urgent need for focused international diplomacy over the next year. In particular the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum must be made to feel real pressure to honor the key terms of its 2005 peace agreement with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). So far, the Obama administration has missed several key opportunities to increase that pressure, thereby making renewed military conflict in Sudan more likely.
Less than a year from now the people of southern Sudan will vote on whether they wish to remain part of a unified country or to secede and create an independent nation. Virtually all observers expect that this referendum will result in an overwhelming vote for independence; indeed, only the conviction by southerners that the results of this referendum will be honored by the northern regime and the international community has sustained the fragile “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” (CPA) signed five years ago. If the self-determination referendum is compromised, delayed, or preempted by Khartoum, the CPA will collapse and fighting will engulf much of Sudan. Such a conflict will threaten regional security.
Despite the importance of the referendum, far too little has been done to ensure that it will occur as stipulated in the CPA. The NIF/NCP regime—which will surely retain political and military power in Khartoum following compromised April elections—has consistently reneged on agreements and benchmarks set out in the peace agreement, including demarcation of the north/south boundary in the oil regions. Various machinations and pronouncements by prominent regime officials, especially over the last year, make clear that there is no real commitment to honoring key obligations under the CPA, including the referendum.
This was the situation in October when the Obama administration rolled out its new “Sudan policy;” and it was the situation again this month during a high-level policy review by senior administration officials (the senior deputies from the State Department, Treasury, Defense, National Security Council, and the US delegation to the UN). And yet neither in October nor subsequently has this policy come to terms with the key question facing the US: will we work vigorously with the international community to guarantee the integrity of the self-determination referendum? Will we support South Sudan in the event it votes to secede? Will we declare this support publicly and unambiguously? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words, and particularly those of special envoy Scott Gration, are hardly encouraging in their tepid character. The official administration policy announced on October 19, 2009 speaks only vaguely of wishing to see, in the event of a vote for secession, an “orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other.” But this is not policy, merely a stating of the obvious.
The real question is what the US is prepared to say—now—by way of guaranteeing the integrity of the referendum vote. What can we do to coordinate and focus international efforts to ensure that the referendum actually takes place? What consequences will Khartoum face if it undermines the referendum or refuses to accept the outcome? What economic, political, diplomatic, and military support are we prepared to guarantee a nascent South Sudan, a country-in-the-making that is presently wracked by ethnic violence, confronts a vast humanitarian crisis, and is plagued by various weaknesses of governance, especially in the arena of civilian security?
It matters enormously that the US and the international community be explicit about their commitments—for now is the time in which Khartoum is calculating the costs of subverting the referendum or resorting to military force as a way of controlling the oil fields and valuable agricultural land in the south. If the US and its partners are perceived as merely mouthing support for an independent South Sudan, if Khartoum is convinced that it will confront only blustering rhetorical condemnation, then the chances for war increase dramatically, especially given the feckless and deferential posture of the African Union. On the other hand, if Khartoum is convinced that failure to abide by the CPA or the terms governing the referendum will be truly costly, it will be much less likely to resort to military means as a way of controlling key parts of the south.
The tasks facing the US and those seeking to avoid a resumption of north/south war are, then, twofold: first, to convince Khartoum that there will be severe penalties for any abrogation of the CPA and in particular the self-determination referendum. Second, since a southern vote for independence is virtually certain, intense diplomatic efforts should begin now to engineer a “soft landing” after secession. Final establishment of a north/south border and an equitable division of oil wealth will surely prove the most contentious issues; but citizenship (especially for millions of southern Sudanese in northern Sudan), overland and air transport, water, a division of external debt, and full military disengagement will all be necessary.
Coherent, well-led, and energetic diplomacy to address these difficult issues is already long overdue; the US for its part should make clear, now and in robust terms, that we will fully support South Sudan if it votes for independence. We must also convince both Khartoum and the southern leadership that we are prepared to assist in an international effort to address post-secession issues well before they become the occasion for a catastrophic renewal of violence throughout Sudan.