Page 1 of 2 US, China brace for Sudan trainwreck
By Peter Lee
The success of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is one of the few
areas in which the United States and China enjoy a genuine convergence of
However, even the joint efforts of the world's only hyperpower and Asia's
emergent superpower may not be enough to avoid calamity in the Horn of Africa.
The United States is committed to the success of the 2005 CPA, the culmination
of a protracted multi-lateral process that, under the aegis of the George W
Bush administration, brought a cessation of hostilities to a two-decade
conflict between north and
south Sudan that had claimed approximately two million lives.
Sudan is a pillar of China's energy security strategy, and Beijing is anxious
for a smooth implementation of the CPA, respect for China's extensive oil
concessions, and uninterrupted production and export of Sudanese crude.
Neither country may get what it wants.
Darfur is the fly in the ointment. Oil is the aggravating factor. But US
inattention, internal divisions, and an overall inability to manage its Sudan
portfolio effectively may be the precipitating factor in renewed civil war.
To geostrategists, the conflict between north and south Sudan has been the main
event. Darfur, where the Sudanese government is waging a war against the
non-Arab indigenous population, is simply a sideshow.
Southern Sudan has oil - perhaps 85% of Sudan's estimated reserves of 5 billion
barrels - a sizable agrarian population, a deep sense of alienation as a
Christian/animist society long oppressed by the Muslim/Arab regime in Khartoum,
and a natural affinity for political and economic alliance with the East
African nations of Kenya and Uganda.
Darfur, on the other hand, is oil-free, pastoral, relatively under-populated,
and utterly impoverished.
The north-south Sudan war became a focus of a prolonged peace process
spearheaded by Kenya that gained momentum only after the September 11, 2001,
attacks on the US and the active involvement of the Bush administration.
The Sudan government, led by President Omar Bashir, could easily imagine that
its radical Islamicist, terror-exporting, Osama bin-Laden harboring history
could make it a target for US regime change channeled through the insurgency in
the south and decided, like Libya, to come in from the cold.
Reconciliation and rapprochement were also on the mind of the Bush
administration. A successful outcome for southern Sudan - because of its
Christian character, the personal charisma of the rebel leader John Garang (a
fluent English-speaker who had studied at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course
at Fort Benning and at Iowa State University), and its potential as an
oil-rich, pro-American ally - was a focus of American evangelists, petroleum
companies, and geopolitical strategists dear to the president's political base.
Bush was also eager to demonstrate that he was not at war with Islam and that,
indeed, he could bring US power to bear in a distinctly effective, moral way in
Africa that would contrast with what president Bill Clinton acknowledged to be
the greatest foreign policy failure of his administration: America's dilatory
response to the Rwandan genocide.
According to Debkafile, in 2004 Bashir may have been willing to undertake an
effort in moral burden-sharing that was unprecedented in international politics
and would have been gratefully welcomed by a US Republican Party that, in
modern times, has found it virtually impossible to put behind it the white
racist roots of its political power:
Bush also has a special occasion
in mind with an eye on the African-American vote where his support is
relatively weak. He will step forward as the first US president to plunge deep
and head-on into problems endemic to the African continent ... On the agenda
too is a highly evocative ritual at the White House at which Sudan's president
will solemnly forswear his country's dark past as recruiter of slaves for
America and the Arab caravans carrying African slaves around the world. 
In 2005, the CPA was concluded. It allowed for a cessation of hostilities,
established an autonomous south Sudan regime, set a 50/50 split of oil
revenues, required various reforms in the areas of democratic processes and
religious toleration from the Khartoum government, and stipulated a referendum
in January 2011 that would allow the south to vote for secession.
Given the endemic distrust between the Bashir and Garang forces and the absence
of any unambiguous upside for the Khartoum regime, the CPA could never have
been concluded without American encouragement, including public indications
that Sudan would be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism,
sanctions would be lifted, and relations with the US normalized. Perhaps
private assurances that the US would promote unity and economic and political
integration between north and south - instead of encouraging the forces
advancing southern secession - were offered as well.
In the event, CPA execution has been a fiasco. A southern vote for secession is
a foregone conclusion, as is the north's determination to make the cost of
independence unsustainable. The six-year term of the CPA has served primarily
as a ceasefire opportunity for each side to stockpile money, munitions and
diplomatic support against an eventual resumption of hostilities.
The main reason why the faint promise of Sudanese unity never came close to
being realized has a lot to do with Darfur, and the inability of the Bush and
Obama administrations to reconcile the needs of the north-south peace process
with the agonized international response to the bloodshed in Darfur.
The Darfur rebellion was already percolating during the negotiation of the CPA.
Despite the ongoing carnage inflicted by the Bashir regime, Darfur was
universally viewed as a dangerous distraction and source of confusion and
dispute that would hamper the smooth progress of north-south negotiations.
Darfuri interests were excluded from the peace process. Perhaps more than
malign neglect was at work.
An exhaustive dissection of the CPA process remarked:
of Sudan] sources interviewed during the course of this research report that
the US encouraged military action by the government in Darfur that would end
the rebellion because it threatened the IGAD peace process. The Americans have
labelled this allegation "utter fabrication". 
In any event,
the international outcry over the Bashir regime's outrages in Darfur made
rapprochement between Khartoum and Washington impossible. Sudan stayed on the
terror list and subject to US sanctions. Successive American administrations
have been unable even to achieve internal agreement on how to reconcile US
assurances to Bashir over the north-south CPA with revulsion over his excesses
in Darfur, let alone impose a coherent policy on the US Congress and the vocal
non-governmental and human-rights advocates deeply interested in Sudanese
In the Bush administration, Colin Powell as secretary of state championed the
forces wishing to label Khartoum's actions in Darfur as genocide, thereby
irrevocably consigning Sudan to pariah status. In the Obama administration,
United Nations ambassador Susan Rice and - to a somewhat lesser extent - and
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been associated with the anti-Bashir
Although Sudan was incensed at the US "moving the goalposts" by making Darfur
the litmus test for acceptable behavior, Bashir, for his part, has executed the
north-south CPA in form if not substance or spirit and has determinedly kept
his promise to the Bush administration to engage in intelligence-sharing on the
subject of Islamic militants in Africa.
Nevertheless, the CPA and the de facto US recission of its commitments to
Khartoum have turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for Bashir.
In 2001, a senior southern official speculated that the southern rebels would
have been defeated within three to four years thanks to Khartoum's ruthless
leveraging of its oil revenues to import and manufacture arms and push the
fight into southern Sudan, if Bashir had not opted for the peace process and
engagement with the United States. 
Instead, it looks like Bashir gave away a third of Sudan and most of its oil
for an improvement in US relations that never materialized.
This unfortunate history has made things awkward for US-Sudan diplomacy.
For US envoys to Sudan, who have tried to keep Bashir engaged on the
north-south peace process even as the international community savages him for
his brutal policies in Darfur (and the envoys for their appeasing ways),
Khartoum has become the graveyard of reputations.
The latest victim is apparently Scott Gratian, a retired air force general and
Africa-hand who has been the subject of harsh language and rough handling both
from Darfur activists and within the Obama administration for his inability to
extract satisfaction from Bashir.
If the confirmation gods permit, Gratian will apparently lose the Sudan brief
and be eased into an ambassadorship in Kenya.
In a September 15 briefing at the US State Department (after Sudan has
peremptorily rejected the inconsequential carrots that he was allowed to offer,
such as renewed access to American irrigation and agricultural technology),
Gratian's politically awkward understanding of Bashir's dilemma was on display:
South] look[s] forward to the referendum that will occur on the 9th of January
of 2011. The North, on the other hand, is looking at losing 80 percent of its
oil - or oil reserves, 50 percent of the oil revenues, to a third of their
land, and to 30 percent of their population.
the CPA, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has, despite some shady
accounting by Khartoum, received around $2 billion a year in oil revenues. A
significant fraction of these revenues has been spent on armaments (in
violation of the CPA, with the connivance of Kenya and Uganda, which have close
links to the GoSS regime and are wholeheartedly committed to its independence,
and apparently with the tacit approval of the United States).
To the embarrassment of Kenya, as the International Crisis Group reported in a
detailed analysis of the extensive, sub rosa support of East African states for
southern Sudan independence, one arms shipment fell into the hands of Somali
pirates and became part of the public record. 
The ship, the MV Fania, was seized in October 2008 and released only
after four months of negotiations and the payment of a ransom of US$3.2
million. The cargo included an impressive load of 33 T-72 main battle tanks
from the Ukraine, anti-aircraft guns, RPG-7V grenade-launchers, BM-21 122 mm
rocket launchers, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and spare parts bound for
southern Sudan under Kenyan auspices. 
It is estimated that southern Sudan holds an inventory of over 100 tanks. GoSS
also recently concluded a purchase of 10 military transport helicopters to
create its first military air transport capability.
Given the total inability of the United States to contribute to the viability
of the Khartoum regime and the growing diplomatic and military resources of
GoSS, it was inevitable that China should emerge as Sudan's most conspicuous
public source of financial, military and diplomatic support.
China lifts approximately half of Sudan's oil, accounting for about 7% of
China's total imports.
China's major petroleum interest in Sudan resides in the Greater Nile Petroleum
Operating Company, in which China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) holds a
40% (Malaysia's Petronas Carigall Overseas holds a 30% interest and India's
ONGC Videsh holds 25%; somehow, these investors have escaped the international
execration that has accrued to China for its investment). Its key oilfields are
either in southern Sudan or in border regions likely to be contested by GoSS.
The CNPC also constructed the Greater Nile Oil Pipeline, a critical piece of
infrastructure connecting its southern oilfields to Port Sudan in northern
Sudan for export. Since this is currently the only way for southern oil to get
out of the country, Bashir can, if desired, cut this lifeline and deprive GoSS
of the oil revenues it currently relies on to arm itself and sustain its
operations (GoSS relies on oil for 98% of its non-aid revenues and the dusty
capital of Juba is known as an "NGO town" in recognition of its total lack of
local, non-rentier income).
A combination of interest and ideology - with its Tibet and Xinjiang issues,
China is eager to support the preservation of multi-ethnic regimes - led China
to support the principle of Sudanese unity and become a major provider of
investment, infrastructure and arms to Khartoum. Many of these arms, either by
transfer or capture, have also found their way into the hands of the vicious
militias that Khartoum relies on to pursue its battles with its myriad enemies
by proxy and with a veneer of deniability.