Sudan's War Inside

As pundits warn of a north-south Sudan scuffle, they might miss the real brewing conflict: within Southern Sudan.

BENTIU, Sudan—Gen. Gabriel Tanginye has a complicated relationship with his home region of south Sudan. Born and raised there, he has spent much of his life fighting for the country's north. And during a 21-year-long north-south civil war, that meant Tanginye was fighting against his own regional kin. It's a role he seemed to have no qualms in undertaking; in 2000, he hijacked a U.N. plane to show his displeasure with the international body's assistance to south Sudan's vice president. Today, he lives in the northern capital of Khartoum, supporting his southern-based family from afar.

Recently however, Tanginye has been back in south Sudan trying to make amends. With the looming January 2011 referendum, in which south Sudan is likely to vote for independence from the north, Tanginye realized that his future as a northern military commander may have a limited horizon. So when the men now leading the Southern Sudanese government came calling, Tanginye's calculation was simple: Take the hefty reward they offered him for switching camps, rejoin the south, bring his 44,000-strong ethnic militia with him, and express his solidarity with his former enemies ahead of the crucial independence vote. Then after the ballot, reconsider his options.

These days, South Sudan is full of men like Tanginye, strategically positioning themselves for key roles in a new, independent nation. In fact, a conference in the Southern capital of Juba earlier this month was meant to take advantage of exactly that, "reconciling" the various Southern minority tribe factions. At this point, there is little attention paid to how or why those reconciliations are made; it's a matter of patching things up long enough to ensure political and military support for independence from Khartoum. The simple message: United we stand, divided we fall.

But in a fractured country, whose divisions are usually drawn between north and south Sudan, or Khartoum and Darfur, it's easy to forget that there are other, internal fault lines. In the south, huge fissures separate the population along tribal, linguistic, and economic lines. Two decades of civil war have made matters worse; guns and money bought alliances that have sliced apart communities and families. In recent months, the international community has been warning of a war in Sudan around the referendum -- between the north and south. But even if a new independent Southern Sudan emerges without a shot being fired early next year, it may not be at peace. The convenient reconciliations taking place today look frighteningly ephemeral, which means that the coming war in Sudan might be within south Sudan.

Many of those reconciliations took place last week, when the south's ruling party brought together more than 20 registered opposition parties at a conference aimed at building consensus on issues essential to the future of the Southern Sudan. The most significant outcome of the five-day meeting was a clear expression by the parties of their strong commitment to the January 2011 self-determination vote. Lam Akol, the leader of the breakaway Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement-Democratic Change faction, for example, ran against Southern President Salva Kiir in the April elections, but he seemed as committed as the next opposition member to southern secession. The support of these key South Sudanese political players is critical for the region's government, because these men could prove to be spoilers if not appeased or convinced to get in line with the common agenda.

Already however, a number of signs suggest that the government's bold attempt at political and military inclusivity won't last long. Many of the now reconciled enemies of the Southern government happen to have significant military forces under their command, leaving a huge margin for troublemaking should alliances falter. And it's not hard to lure many of these leaders away for a price: Since April, there have been three post-election insurrections of note.

Take Tanginye's case, for example. Despite spending most of his life as a bush fighter, Tanginye holds powerful cards in the Southern Sudanese political arena -- and he knows it. When I met him in one of Southern Sudan's provinces, Unity state, he was relaxing riverside near the regional governor's mansion. He boasted of his force strength, emphasizing that his tens of thousands of men are under the control of no army, and loyal to him alone. "I own these guys, and they will do what I tell them to do," said Tanginye. Stories are swirling around Bentiu, capital of Unity state, that Tanginye will leave town with suitcases of cash and swaths of land to enrich himself and his people -- simply for claiming that his men will fight for the south if it comes to that. After the referendum, Tanginye may well find a higher bidder for his loyalty and that of his militia. And there are many men in south Sudan in the same position.

There are other reasons to think that an independent Southern Sudan will struggle to achieve sustainable peace as well. Tribal loyalty bodes against long-term reconciliation, and its role in politics should not be underestimated. If the southern government is not carefully put together after the referendum, including representatives of all Southern Sudan's more than 40 tribes, it risks the wrath of an armed insurgency in one remote corner or another. The marginal populations that wouldn't be represented have in the past found other ways to make their voice heard -- taking up arms in militias like Tanginye's.

Indeed, tribal discontent is already rearing its ugly head. The past year has seen an uptick in armed cattle raiding and deadly intercommunal violence, perhaps in anticipation of how unequally the benefits of peace may be shared among ethnic groups. The southern army's attempts at disarming the civilian population in the run-up to and aftermath of the April elections illustrated how tribal tensions can be exacerbated by the composition of the army itself; various minority groups suspect that they are targeted for disarmament because of their tribe's relation with the majority groups within the army.

Every possible destabilizing factor here is also magnified ten-fold simply by the copious quantities of small arms swirling around. In Unity state, a tank sits ominously outside the Unity state governor's mansion; the governor himself is guarded by boyish looking soldiers who man anti-aircraft assault weapons mounted on pickup trucks. Every sign indicates that the military apparatus may be gearing up for an even bigger, internal fight.

To outside observers of Sudan, it is tempting to believe that an autonomous south would mean an end to the country's long civil strife. But the war on the horizon might not be the one that everyone is expecting.

Photo Courtesy of Pete Muller


Fortress Britain No Longer?

Fleet Street is in a tizzy about David Cameron's deep defense cuts. But it could have been much worse.

The British government's Strategic Defense Review published Tuesday has been a gift to headline writers -- "HMS Inglorious: 5 billion carrier Fiasco" thundered the Times, while the Telegraph's take was "New Navy Lark: new carrier will be sold after 3 years."

These headlines, based as they were on partly accurate leaks, hit the newspaper stands before Prime Minister David Cameron even announced the full details of his new military plans -- foisted upon him by the need to cut the general budget deficit of more than £150 billion and a £38 billion overspend at the Ministry of Defense -- to the House of Commons.

Perhaps the hostile reception was inevitable given that the review involves substantial cuts of 8 percent in the defense budget by 2015. On the other hand, it could have been worse: Far more dramatic cuts of up to 25 percent were being discussed in the summer.

But if the government was hoping for understanding or even support from the media, there has been little on offer, even from Cameron's supporters in the right-wing press.

The reaction from defense experts has been a bit warmer. Paul Cornish of the leading think tank Chatham House had feared the review would be a traditional bit of British "muddling through," but he told the BBC he's pleasantly surprised. "They're saying: Let's have a risk-based approach to national security and defense. They're delivering it, and I think they ought to be, in a sense, complimented for it." And Jane's Strategic Advisory Services argues the government has retained its core military capability in spite of the cuts.

Despite these warm words, three main criticisms have been leveled at Tuesday's announcements.

The government has been accused of not being strategic because the changes are not matched to the country's security requirements (announced earlier this week in the National Security Assessment). The critics also charge the review has been driven by the Treasury's need to cut the deficit, not the Ministry of Defense's requirements for personnel and equipment (which were announced only a day before the government revealed its program of spending cuts). The other main complaint is that the review is a rush job -- it has taken only five months compared with the 18 months taken by the previous government when it came to power in 1997.

So when Cameron stood up in the House of Commons to tell MPs about the plans, he sought to rebut these criticisms directly. He said his government had looked at all elements of security, not just defense, and that other departments -- the Foreign Office, the Home Office (responsible for counterterrorism, for instance), and the Department for International Development -- had been involved in the process. He argued that the review would create modern, flexible armed forces equipped for future threats. He also said that, from now on, Britain will follow the U.S. example and hold a strategic defense review at regular intervals.

Cameron said there would be no impact on the funding for forces fighting in Afghanistan, but he did go on to announce significant cuts in military capability. There will be manpower cuts in the Army, Navy, and Air Force totaling 17,000 personnel. The 20,000 British troops still based in Germany 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union will be brought home and the Army will have fewer heavy tanks and artillery. The Navy will retire its remaining aircraft carrier and naval strike aircraft early, leaving Britain without a carrier until the ones now under construction enter service at the end of the decade. The Air Force has lost its replacement for the Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft, which has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "worried" that Britain and other NATO allies would make cuts that undermined the alliance's military capability. So is Washington reassured now? Ahead of his announcement, the White House said that Cameron had briefed President Barack Obama, telling him Britain would remain a first-rate military power, committed to NATO.

In practice, this means Britain will still have the capability to field up to 30,000 troops anywhere in the world, fewer than joined the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but more than are in Afghanistan today. The prime minister also said British special operations forces would be strengthened and ready for immediate action around the globe.

The new government in London has already identified the United States and France as Britain's future strategic allies -- a decision underlined by Cameron's announcement that the new aircraft carriers will be modified so they will be interoperable with U.S. and French aircraft. He also said Britain would buy the more powerful version of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is being developed in the United States with some British funding.

Party politics clearly intruded Tuesday, though, when disagreement within the new coalition meant one very big decision was put off. Cameron's Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners are split on how to replace Britain's aging Trident nuclear weapons system, and for now they have agreed to disagree: The main decision has been postponed until after the next election, when they might no longer be in government together.

Nuclear weapons or not, it seems clear Britain intends to remain a useful ally to the United States and its NATO partners, with a renewed attempt to work more closely with the French.

What remains open to question is how that power will be used in the future. Cameron also signaled that Britain would be less interested in large-scale military interventions along Iraqi or Afghan lines, and instead would focus more on using diplomacy and aid to prevent conflicts from breaking out in the first place. It's just as well: That might be all a cash-strapped Britain may be capable of doing anymore.