The United States gains a great ally with the birth of the Republic of Southern Sudan. ~John Avlon
This is obviously not true. South Sudan is many things, but it is not an ally of the United States. This is a word that gets thrown around all too easily, and sometimes it seems as if Americans bestow the title of ally on countries that the person using the word happens to like. To call South Sudan an ally suggests that we have a special obligation to provide for its security, and we do not. If it were an ally, that would hardly be something to celebrate. That would make it one more liability that the U.S. doesn’t need and cannot afford. As Avlon’s account of some of the country’s problems tells us, South Sudan begins its existence as an independent state with numerous major security problems related to conflicts along its border, and he is not telling the whole story.
Eric Reeves reviews the conflict brewing over Abyei and Khartoum’s campaign against the Nuba in South Kordofan, and then explains the third security threat to the new country:
In addition to direct military threats from Khartoum, South Sudan faces armed opposition from within. There are some six or seven significant renegade militia groups, the most dangerous of them headed by George Athor (a former SPLA general) and Peter Gadet (who changed sides constantly during and after Sudan’s long civil war). These two men and their ruthless forces pose perhaps the greatest security threat to the South, and they are backed by Khartoum. (The regime also supported these sorts of militias in Darfur.) These forces have one purpose: to destabilize and demoralize the civilian population in South Sudan.
This L.A. Times report lists some of the many difficulties South Sudan faces:
The country, roughly the size of France, has the highest incidence of maternal death in the world, one of the lowest rates of elementary school enrollment, and profound poverty, with more than 90% of the population surviving on less than a dollar a day and nearly 1 in 5 people chronically hungry, according to the United Nations; only about a third of the population has access to safe drinking water, and only a fourth are literate.
South Sudan also suffers from significant corruption, and its political leadership has a reputation for repressive tactics. According to Maggie Fick, a journalist based in the new state’s capital of Juba, the army is a significant drain on the country’s resources:
There are currently some 140,000 troops in the army, all of whom are drawing a salary from the impoverished state, but few of whom are fit to fight.
This is not the picture of a “great ally” or “strong friend.” It is the description of a state that will be plagued by almost every sort of political and economic problem that overly-militarized, poor, conflict-ridden states have. If the U.S. is to lend support or aid to South Sudan, we must understand that we are doing so because South Sudan desperately needs help, and not because the U.S. will be getting anything out of the bargain.