By William Tucker
The parliament of the Republic of Sudan voted unanimously to declare South Sudan an enemy state, however the parliament went on to say that this wasn’t a declaration of war. This vote comes after South Sudanese forces seized the border town Heglig – a major oil hub for Sudan. South Sudan claimed to have seized the town to prevent Northern forces from launching attacks against the South, but the underlying dispute of the town by the two nations is not lost on those following this issue. In response, the North has launched several aerial bombing raids against Southern targets and even hit a UN observer post. The situation has escalated and it is difficult to see how it could be diffused in the short term. When it comes to the Sudanese split it is not just over ethnicity, but also over natural resources. Both nations are heavily dependent on oil sales and a conflict between the two would pose a significant economic disruption. Indeed, the dependency is symbiotic.
Washington played a significant role in the final negotiations that led to the South formally – and peacefully – declaring independence. Part of the deal entailed the U.S. lifting some sanctions on Sudan in return for allowing and recognizing the South’s bid for statehood. This was done despite the Sudanese president being indicted for war crimes, thus showing how important Washington viewed the Sudanese situation. Unfortunately, the underlying issues that led to much of the past violence associated with the Sudanese civil war were not addressed. In fact, the actual border between the two states still has not been formally demarcated. The de facto border runs through the majority of the oil fields with the South controlling three-quarters of these fields and the North controls the remaining quarter. To correct this imbalance, the South pays the North for transit rights to move oil through Port Sudan – the only outlet available to the South at the present. With the South negotiating with its neighbors to find alternative avenues of moving the crude to market, the North sees a substantial portion of its GDP about to erode. Both nations are working toward their respective national interests and any détente in the near term is unlikely.