Andrew Natsios makes the dubious case for arming South Sudan:
North and South Sudan are at war. The reasons for the conflict are complex, but the solution is not: To stop the killing, the international community must arm South Sudan. Unlike interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States need not fire any shots. Just as we have provided weapons to support Israel but never put our own troops at risk, we can help bring peace to this region.
Natsios’ proposal seems ill-advised for a few reasons. Providing arms to one of the belligerents could make it more difficult to mediate the dispute, and it might not be sufficient to change Khartoum’s behavior. While Natsios limits his proposal to providing defensive weapons, greater U.S. military support could encourage South Sudan to become more aggressive in its claims and its tactics. The Security Council is already in agreement that both states should cease hostilities. Arming one side of the conflict undermines the effort to avoid further escalation.
South Sudan has been provoked into its recent military actions, but it shares responsibility for the current round of fighting. South Sudan has been showing over the last year why the U.S. shouldn’t have it as a client, and Natsios would like the U.S. to reward the new government. Armin Rosen’s recent article offers some useful background:
The south entered Heglig on April 10, after nine months of provocation from the north. The United Nations, U.S., and African Union have all declared the seizure “illegal.” The invasion had proven provocative, and even reckless — the South has earned international condemnation while ending near-term hopes for negotiated peace.
More military support may also be unnecessary. South Sudan is better-equipped to combat Khartoum’s forces than Natsios admits. Rosen describes South Sudan’s capabilities:
But the north’s war effort could backfire. The Southern military is stronger than many realize — the SPLA is organized, battle-hardened, and, by all accounts, far better equipped than it was when it fought Khartoum during the civil war (unlike the north, the South has no air force, but they do have anti-aircraft weaponry, and succeeded in shooting down at least two northern aircraft since hostilities began [bold mine-DL]).
It seems unlikely that providing South Sudan with more of the weapons that it already has will be a solution to the conflict, which is based in outstanding disputes over territory and South Sudan’s dependence on northern infrastructure to export its oil.
P.S. According to a leaked World Bank memo, South Sudan’s decision earlier this year to shut down its oil production as a protest against Khartoum’s siphoning will have severe consequences for the country and its economy:
Those consequences, he warned, include a “dramatic contraction of the economy” brought about by a “collapse of Gross Domestic Product,” which is almost entirely dependent on oil revenue. The country’s economic straits, he added, will put “catastrophic pressure” on South Sudan’s currency, the pound.
“The currency will almost certainly collapse,” triggering an “exponential” rise in inflation, Giugale said. “There will be a run for the dollars and families with dollars will almost certainly shift them outside the country — by walking them out if necessary.”
Giugale said that the government’s fiscal reserves will likely run out in July if the government continues to impose a set of planned austerity measures “at which point state collapse becomes a real possibility. Even if some of the more draconian measures which are being discussed are adopted, reserves will hold only through October.”
South Sudan’s most significant problems aren’t going to be remedied by more weapons.