WASHINGTON, DC – Sudan sits at the proverbial crossroads between potential peace and possible nationwide conflict, which would undoubtedly become the world’s deadliest conventional war in 2011. A referendum on South Sudan’s independence, scheduled for January 9, 2011, will likely split the country in two, with southerners finally achieving the freedom for which they have long fought. Such an outcome, however, would also leave the South with most of Sudan’s oil reserves.
Little wonder, then, that on the precipice of this historic moment, there are many snakes in the grass. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) appears poised to challenge the result of the referendum. Critical negotiations between the NCP in the North and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the South on issues that divide the North and South have stalled. The Sudanese armed forces have bombed areas along the North-South border. In Darfur, the human rights and humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, and the peace process there has made little headway.
All of this should be seen in the context of the NCP’s long track record of human-rights abuses and reneging on agreements. For more than 20 years, the Sudanese government fought a war against the South, in which more than two million people died. It has committed genocide and other atrocities in Darfur, where about 400,000 people have died. The NCP has a history of dividing and manipulating groups to achieve its aims, and it regularly ignores its commitments.
As part of the effort to support negotiations over the post-referendum issues that could lead to renewed North-South war, the United States has presented a range of incentives for the parties to choose peace and has committed to imposing serious measures should they choose violence.
Most European countries, and the European Union as a whole, however, have not matched this commitment by offering their own incentives for peace and consequences for war. European commitments in this regard, however, could help buttress the calculations of the parties in favor of peace.
Commitments regarding increased debt relief, further normalization of relations, and additional aid and investment are possible incentives that European states could put on the table, particularly in the hard push before January 9. Consequences could include new sanctions or the strengthening of existing ones (asset freezes, travel bans, an arms embargo, and capital-market sanctions); increased cooperation with the International Criminal Court on current and potential cases against those most responsible for war crimes in Darfur and the South; postponement of debt relief; and a freeze on oil transactions conducted in euros.
If effective carrots and sticks are put on the table and war is averted, the international community and Sudan would save more than $100 billion, according to a recent Aegis Trust report. For Europe, this means that money that would otherwise go to peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance can largely be saved and used in part for development.
The EU can play an important role in forging a common international response to the result of the referendum. The large and widely recognized EU electoral observation mission on the ground should issue a strong and timely final report that comes down clearly on whether the vote represented the will of the people of South Sudan. Such leadership can stymie politically motivated challenges to the referendum’s result and preempt a period of uncertainty that increases tensions on the ground.
European states can influence whether or not war consumes Sudan in 2011. One concrete contribution – above all others – would be to make clear that there would be significant benefits for those in Sudan who choose peace, and clear consequences for the party that plunges the country back into war.