The Referenda for Southern Sudan: The Cost of Belatedness

The Referenda for Southern Sudan: The Cost of Belatedness

Eric Reeves: The Referenda for Southern Sudan

It has been clear for well over a year that the Khartoum regime’s bad faith deeply endangered the southern Sudan referenda (including Abyei). The urgency of the situation was evident to all who would simply look at the evidence conspicuously at hand. But instead of full-scale engagement to forestall the looming crisis, the United States and other international actors of consequence were content with muddling prevarication and a thoroughly confused sense of the ambitions of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime. Diplomatic attention has finally begun to focus on the immense challenges to the referenda, the foundation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Having waited so long, however, the United States, the UN, the EU, the African Union, and others have allowed Khartoum to ?run out the clock? in complying with key terms of the CPA?and in the process allowed the electoral calendar to be compressed in ways that threaten both the integrity and timeliness of the referenda.

For a host of reasons, Khartoum will be able?if it wishes?to point to still unresolved north/south issues as well as problems in the conduct of the referenda (e.g., the Abyei Referendum Commission has yet to be established). On this basis, the regime may well refuse to accept the results, which will certainly be overwhelmingly for secession. Such refusal may immediately precipitate renewed war. At the very least, Abyei?s future will remain unsettled and continue to serve as a point of leverage for the NIF/NCP as it seeks to extract as much as possible from the Southern leadership under the exigent circumstances that now prevail.

War may also be triggered if Khartoum calculates that it has the military strength to seize Abyei and other southern oil regions by force (approximately 80 percent of the known reserves lie in the South). Here again the problem is U.S. belatedness, along with that of other militarily capable nations, particularly Great Britain. Although recently these two key guarantors of the CPA have begun to take seriously their responsibilities in helping South Sudan develop an adequate security sector, there simply is not enough time in which to make the progress necessary?either for internal security (a fully functional police force) or defense against northern aggression. Here the Bush administration bears heavy responsibility for not accepting the implications of the most basic military fact on the ground: no country was ever going to provide substantial strategic assistance to South Sudan in the event of renewed civil war. Any deterrence would have to be provided by the southern Sudan People?s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

This was always well understood by the SPLM/A, which consequently pleaded for more training, more equipment, and more guidance in developing its military and security capacities. The United States, as a guarantor of the CPA, should have shouldered the responsibility for providing such help; it did not. But if the Bush administration inaugurated this short-sighted and stinting policy, things have not changed nearly enough in the past two years.

Indeed, it is the Obama administration, and in particular special envoy Scott Gration, that bears greatest responsibility for inexcusable diplomatic lethargy, confusion, and misprision?failings that have allowed the CPA to reach the point of collapse. I presume to re-post this op-ed from the Christian Science Monitor (November 2009) on the occasion of its first anniversary, hoping that it might contribute something to an understanding of how consequential the failures of special envoy Gration have been, and how comprehensively the Obama administration has misread and underestimated the threats to peace in Sudan. As great as the achievement of the CPA was, its failure in the coming months would constitute an even greater diplomatic failure.

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