The last time these two fought a war, 2 million people died. The stakes are considerably higher this time around now that South Sudan is an independent, sovereign country.
Khartoum has vowed to replace the regime in Juba (the capital of the South), which it also referred to with the dehumanizing (and mass atrocity-encouraging) term “insects.” Word today is that Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir all but declared war on the South.
This is bad. Very bad.
It is the result of over a year of provocations by Khartoum and reactions by Juba. The two have not been sharing their oil wealth for several weeks, which would have raised the cost of outright conflict. Khartoum has routinely bombed territory considered part of South Sudan, and last week the South Sudanese captured disputed territory, which just happens to be considered Sudan’s largest single oilfield.
There is no easy way out of this conflict. As this clarifying International Crisis Group report warns, Juba and Khartoum seem willing to trade short term political gains, for the long term devastation that a war might bring.
The one way back from the brink is for the international community to raise the costs of war for both Khartoum and Juba. The African Union is scrambling to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis. The Arab League is also intervening.
In the meantime, major global powers have an important role to play. The United States holds considerable sway over South Sudan. Aside from oil exports, which are not actually flowing at the moment because the pipeline runs through Sudan, the South relies heavily on donor assistance. China wields influence over Khartoum. If Beijing can convince Bashir that bellicosity is not in his interest, perhaps a solution might be found.
For now, though the logic and rhetoric of war seems to be winning the day. And that is scary.