Global Ethics Corner: Southern Sudan: Would You Declare War?

Jun 3, 2011

Within weeks of independence for Southern Sudan, the Northern Sudanese Army annexed the disputed town of Abyei. Should Southern Sudan respond militarily, risking a larger war? Or should they move ahead with independence on July 9 as planned?

Border disputes often lead to war. What would you do if a hostile neighbor seized your territory?

In Sudan, the South is splitting from the North after decades of conflict and millions of lives. The split was to be peaceful, following a 2005 peace treaty and a January 2011 vote by Southern Sudan overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

But as Jeffery Gettleman reported on May 25, "With just seven weeks to go before independence…Southern Sudan's leaders watched the Northern Sudanese Army… steamroll into the disputed town of Abyei… and essentially annex it overnight."

The North claimed provocation, occupying Abyei and its province after Northern troops were ambushed twice. They also prevented an earlier referendum in Abyei and refuse to accept new borders recommended by an international commission.

The North's occupation creates a difficult choice for the Southern leaders. The choice is starker because many have deep personal ties in Abyei.

The South has two options. It can respond militarily, risking a larger war, and providing an excuse for the North to reject independence.

Or it can ignore a humiliating fait accompli, and move ahead with independence on July 9, as planned. However, the occupation then becomes a bargaining lever for the North against unresolved problems like "how to exactly to split the oil; where to draw the border; (and) how to share Sudan's $38 billion debt," notes Gettleman.

So far, Southern leaders have ruled out war. But, renewed war is strategically tempting, righteously fulfilling, and extremely dangerous. What would you do?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Jeffery Gettleman, "Dusty Border Zone a Test of Sudan's Peace," International Herald Tribune, May 25, 2011, p. 6

Douglas H. Johnson, "Sudan's Peaceful Partition, At Risk," International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2011, p. 6

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Yana Amelina
Jenn Warren
ENOUGH Project
ENOUGH Project
Jesse B. Awalt/ U.S. Navy
Jenny Rockett
USAID Africa Bureau
Steve Evans
USAID Africa Bureau
Jesse B. Awalt/ U.S. Navy
Sudan Envoy
Stein Ove Korneliussen

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