Sudan is a border region cobbled
together across the fundamental boundaries between the Middle East and
Africa, and also between Islam and Christianity. The southern part of Sudan is now
South Sudan. The period starting about 1956 right up to the present time has
been one of almost continuous civil wars and frequent coups. There were also
issues over how to distribute oil revenue between the southern parts of the
country that produced the oil and the north, which controlled the government. The
movement for South Sudanese autonomy or even independence continued to gain
traction. The so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 laid out
a whole series of reforms. Then there could be a referendum in 2011 in which the South
Sudanese could vote either to remain part of a reformed Sudan, or vote for
independence. The Khartoum government instituted virtually none of the reforms,
and to no one’s great surprise South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for
independence. South Sudan is one of the least
developed parts of the world. Infrastructure is almost entirely
nonexistent. The quality of the soil is not particularly good and the rainfall
is erratic. The conflict in South Sudan is about personal rivalry in an ethnic
context—a personal rivalry which is proving to be breathtakingly expensive
for the people of South Sudan. The president, Salva Kiir, comes from one ethnic group. Machar comes from the other. The conflict is made worse by deteriorating
economic circumstances. Also the government in Khartoum continues from time to time to make forays across the border. The interests of the United States in
South Sudan are overwhelmingly humanitarian. But there is also a
political dimension. Huge numbers of people are internally
displaced. Huge numbers of people have died needlessly. But it goes a little bit
further than that. The United States was one of the godfathers of the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement. South Sudan has received significant amounts
of American assistance. The successive administrations in Washington have been
diplomatically involved at a very high level. When you are talking about humanitarian
intervention in one of the poorest countries in the world, with no
infrastructure, you have to be concerned about the capacity of those doing
the intervening. Deciding whether or not to conduct a
humanitarian intervention is not easy. You’re gonna have to think about whether it
will be unilateral or multilateral, how hard is this going to be, how far away is it.
This is just basic military logistics. Once you get on the ground and you
realize this isn’t exactly the problem that I thought it was, sometimes things can evolve. People often call that mission creep. But on the other hand, it’s also adapting
to the changing circumstances. And so you have to weigh these problems, the risks
and the costs, and you have to do it quickly. We have to remember history. We are
talking about a polity which had been at war with itself, in one form or another,
by now, for more than fifty years.