Race the Darkness
The referendum on national unity scheduled for 2011 is an existential crisis for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP). This article examines the danger of war in the coming months.
Outlook for the NCP
The NCP is in a unique position. The most lucrative oil regions are along the north/south border — ground zero for serious ethnic strife.  Neither side possesses sufficient capability to police the 2,000km line-of-contact — a scenario which invites misbehavior.  Given Khartoum’s historical destabilization of neighboring Chad, and the tendency of its security apparatus to conduct what is essentially freebooting, one should expect frequent skirmishing between proxy militias in the event of secession, whether or not a wider war immediately erupts.  The thorny problems of “hot pursuit,” and localized violence offering pretexts for northern “oil-grabbing” and southern assistance to rebels on Sudan’s peripheries, may bedevil the region for years to come.
Northern elites have much to lose from southern secession. Three-quarters of Sudan’s oil is pumped in the South.  In 2005, Newsweek reported that two-fifths of total reserves were located in areas held by the SPLM/A.  According to Andrew Natsios, oil is central to governmental operations: “[It] allows the party to buy off opponents at home, guarantees a national growth rate of 12-14 percent a year, helps maintain prosperity in the Arab triangle, and supports a massive internal security apparatus.”  Present circumstances suggest that at least a temporary economic embargo is likely if the South secedes. Without prior or immediate assurances that substantial revenue-sharing will continue into the foreseeable future, war will probably result.
Currently, the NCP enjoys significant leverage. All oil is refined in, and shipped from, the North. Revenues are also managed in the capital, via a civil service dominated by the NCP.  Eddie Thomas warns that the present oil moneys “could be cut off in one month if the South left unilaterally.”  The potential impact would be enormous. About 98% of the GoSS budget is derived from its share of drilling in the Upper Nile and Unity states.  The SPLM is already working to reduce its vulnerability by building a refinery in Warrap and encouraging pipeline construction in Kenya.  Thus, if the NCP planned to contest secession, there would be no time like the present.
Southern Sudan is committed to independence. Salva Kiir urges secession.  The Government of South Sudan (GoSS), based at Juba, is virtually autonomous, with a separate constitution, an oil economy worth about $800 million annually as of 2007, and an independent foreign policy.  Most Southerners support independence.  If embargoed, the South would quickly wither on the vine, becoming a virtual ward of the international community. Today, even with revenue streaming in, 1.3 million southerners are estimated to be food-insecure.  The South would probably guarantee revenue-sharing, and perhaps joint control of the fields themselves. If this fails to satisfy the NCP, however, war is the likely outcome.
Flush with wealth, the SPLA has expanded “in … both size and scope.  Juba has received limited defense assistance from the United States.  Kiir may request more, confident of support from both Christian conservatives on the Right, and Obama appointees like Susan Rice and Samantha Power.
Yet the balance of forces still favors Khartoum. The Military Balance indicates that the government purchased many heavy weapons since 2002, including 130 main battle tanks, and 45 light tanks, as well as an assortment of armored vehicles.  The Air Force deploys 63 fixed-wing combatants, including A-5 Fantan jets capable of ground attack.  Sources in Sudan indicate that the Sudan Armed Forces and Popular Defense Forces have approximately 450,000 men on the payroll with more than 150,000 in other paramilitary organizations, with SPLA figures ranging as high as 200,000-300,000. Precedent in Darfur may also indicate readiness to pass heavy weapons to tribal allies: Khartoum strengthened Arab militias to the extent of “a full paramilitary fighting force after 2003, with communications equipment as well as plentiful new arms, some artillery, and military advisers.”  Both sides should be expected to employ military contractors to provide technical and even combat services. 
During the most recent fighting prior to the CPA, the government used tactics similar to those employed in Darfur, bombing civilian targets to discourage or punish local populations which might support the SPLA; attempting to garrison only oil infrastructure and “a few major towns;” and deploying tribal militias. The SPLA primarily conducted guerilla operations.  There were few conventional battles.  Neither side could consistently defend its oil infrastructure.  If the previous north/south conflict and the fighting in Darfur are any indication, then many of the strategies and tactics employed during a new war will be familiar. One might, however, expect the Sudanese Armed Forces to press its considerable advantage in equipment by launching concentrated early attacks on key population centers and oil fields. Alternatively, the SAF could employ its helicopters to add valuable strategic mobility on the battlefield — a method reportedly suggested by Russia in 2002. 
There are some limiting factors on Northern action. In mid-2001, the SPLA won a string of major victories contrary to the expectation of most observers.  Khartoum proved unable to consistently improve combat performance by buying new equipment, however, and the fighting indicated that its forces were ill-trained, badly-motivated, and poorly-led. The North is also likely to have a problem finding fresh troops, especially with new buildups for fighting in Darfur, where it deployed three divisions in 2007.  However, the South will have problems of its own: fighting between the Nuer and other southern tribes may distract the SPLA, while the military assistance of former allies in eastern and western Sudan is no longer assured with the South going its own way. 
Facing the potential for economic ruin, Khartoum will probably impose an economic embargo on an independent South to extract concessions, and may gamble on war. The military balance suggests a possibility of early Northern gains (assuming the SAF holds together), although a repeat of the “Toyota Wars” would be possible, depending on the assistance which Juba secured.
Matthew S. Sinn recently obtained an M.A. in International Security from Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focused closely on African security issues. Mr. Sinn is currently an Associate Analyst with the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute in Arlington, VA.
 “Investing in Tragedy: China’s Money, Arms, and Politics in Sudan,” Human Rights First, Stop Arms to Sudan, Background, China’s Arms Sales to Sudan, March 2008, p. 4.
 Edward Thomas, “Against the Gathering Storm: Securing Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” Chatham House Report (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs/Chatham House, 2009), p. 28.
 See: Alex de Waal, “Sudan: The Turbulent State,” in War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, ed. de Waal, (Cambridge, Mass./London, U.K.: Global Equity Initiative/Justice Africa, 2007), pp. 4-5, 15, 19, 36
 Thomas, “Against the Gathering Storm,” pp. 14-15, 19.
 Alexandra Polier, “Sudan: A Catalyset for Peace,” 21 February 2005, http://www.newsweek.com/id/48576.
 Andrew S. Natsios, “Beyond Darfur,” Foreign Affairs, 87:3 (May/June 2008): 77-93, [electronic; no pagination].
 Thomas, “Against the gathering storm,” pp. 16, 18-20.
 Ibid., p. 28.
 James Gatdet Dak, “South Sudan to build its first refinery in Warrap state,” Sudan Tribune [online], 4 October 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article32667.
 Ibid.; “Kenya, China mull massive corridor for Sudan oil: FT,” AFP, 15 October 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gmyjd6bbuGSa5HQgpy3TBCJxmekw.
 “Sudan’s Kiir calls on Southerners to chose independence,” Sudan Tribune [online], 1 November 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article32967.
 Thomas, “Against the Gathering Storm,” p. 9; Jonah Fisher, “Peace brings boom to south Sudan,” BBC News Online, 8 January 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6241259.stm; Mark Doyle, “DR Congo outsources its military,” BBC News Online, 27 February 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7910081.stm.
 “Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement: Beyond the Crisis,” International Crisis Group, Policy Briefing, Africa Briefing No. 50, 13 March 2008, p. 5.
 “UN needs over $50m to cover food gap in southern Sudan,” Sudan Tribune [online], 22 August 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article32202
 Heba Aly, “Arms race, uneasy peace in Sudan,” The Christian Science Monitor, 12 November 2008, http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/1112/p06s02-woaf.html.
 Natsios, “Beyond Darfur,” n.p.
 The Military Balance (London, UK: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 2009), 1995-2008.
 Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur: A New History of a Long War (London: Zed Books, 2008), p. 103.
 Simon Nicol, “Contractors recruiting Kenyan troops for eventual operations in South Sudan,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 26 March 2009.
 Prendergast, “God, Oil and Country,” pp. 15-116. On the war in Darfur, see: “Sudan: Arming the perpetrators of grave abuses in Darfur,” Amnesty International, AFR 54/139/2004, 16 November 2004, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR54/139/2004/en/41a51ade-d567-11dd-bb24-1fb85fe8fa05/afr541392004en.pdf, p. 1; see also: Final report of the Panel of Experts as requested by the Security Council in paragraph 2 of resolution 1779 (2007), S/2008/647, p. 78.
 Prendergast, “God, Oil and Country,” pp. 116-117.
 Ibid., pp. 118-120.
 The Military Balance, 2002, 102:1 (London, UK: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 2002), p. 193.
 Prendergast, “God, Oil and Country,” pp. 117-118.
 On the exhaustion of manpower for the SAF c. 2002, see: Ibid., p. 117. On the recent deployment of SAF forces to Darfur, see: “War in Sudan’s Darfur ‘is over’,” BBC News [online], 27 August 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8224424.stm; “UNAMID warns of military build-up in Darfur,” Sudan Tribune [online], 20 October 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article32839; “Final Report of the Panel Experts as request by the Security Council in paragraph 2 of resolution 1779 (2007),” Reports by the Panel of Experts Submitted Through the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1591 (2005) Concerning the Sudan, p. 13; “Final report of the Panel of Experts as requested by the Security Council in paragraph 2 of resolution 1713 (2006),” Reports by the Panel of Experts Submitted Through the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1591 (2005) Concerning the Sudan, United Nations, S/2007/584, 3 October 2007, p. 3; “War in Sudan’s Darfur ‘is over’,” BBC News [online], 27 August 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8224424.stm; “UNAMID warns of military build-up in Darfur,” Sudan Tribune [online], 20 October 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article32839.
 “160 Killed in Sudan Tribal Attack,” New York Times, 3 August 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/world/africa/04sudan.html?_r=1&ref=world; “Sudan cattle clashes ‘kill 750’,” BBC News [online], 26 March 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7965309.stm; John Prendergaast, “God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan,” International Crisis Group, ICG Africa Report No. 39 (Brussels: ICG, 2002), p. 119; Prendergast, “God, Oil and Country,” pp. 119-120.