Sudan And South Sudan Prepare For War: Who Will Win?

ANALYSIS

on April 23 2012 4:40 PM
Sudan
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses soldiers in Heglig

Sudanese
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses soldiers in Heglig

At this point, the question of whether a new war between Sudan and South Sudan has started is a matter of semantics, not facts.

On Monday, around the same time that warplanes dropped bombs on a market in South Sudan's Unity State, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir declared that the language of the gun and ammunition had replaced the language of negotiation.

Bashir is declaring war on South Sudan. It's something obvious, Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the South's Sudanese People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, told Reuters about Monday's bombings, which killed two civilians and injured 10 others.

And so back and forth go the threats and the military confrontations. Weeks of clashes along the border have already resulted in the worst violence since South Sudan split from the north last July, and each side has labeled the other the aggressor.

With an all-out war almost inevitable in the nations' immediate future, the question is now who will win and what will it mean for the newly independent South Sudan.

The north is better armed and better trained. They have stronger air power, said Paul Sullivan, a professor of economics at the National Defense University. The south's most powerful group is the infantry, but that is not saying much. Without air superiority, fighting a ground war is a real problem.

Already Sudan is trying to prove this to be true. Gen. Kamal Abdul Maarouf, the Sudanese army commander who led a counter-strike against the south in Heglig, told reporters that his troops had killed 1,200 South Sudanese fighters and are forcing the southern forces back. However, the SPLA said the casualty figure is actually less than 50.

The north's vastly superior air power includes 23 MiG fighter jets, a handful of other fighters purchased from China and a number of Antonov transport planes that have been converted into bombers.  It was likely Sudan's Antonovs that carried out the bombing in Unity state on Monday, and they have been spotted carrying out airstrikes against Sudanese villagers in the Nuba Mountains who are allied to the south.

The southern SPLA, on the other hand, boasts a fleet of 10 helicopters -- nine of them the powerful but dated Russian Mi-17 gunships -- and only one fixed-wing aircraft, a Beechcraft 1900 light transport aircraft.

Sudan also has nearly five times as many tanks as South Sudan and an artillery arsenal 11 times larger than its southern neighbor, according to Reuters.

The real strength of the south would be in asymmetric warfare and guerrilla tactics, much like what they used in the brutal civil wars in Sudan in the past, said Sullivan.  

The south has found an ally in Uganda, another nation that is familiar with civil war. On Friday, Uganda's top military official, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, told the country's Daily Monitor newspaper that he will not sit by and do nothing if an all-out war begins between its northern neighbors.

Going by that old adage the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Uganda has pledged to support the south in part because the north has been supporting Joseph Kony's rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army. Additionally, South Sudan is Uganda's biggest export trading partner and contributes billions of dollars to Uganda's economy.

The Uganda Peoples Defense Force is small, but it has the personnel to tip the scales in South Sudan's favor and it has around 40 aircrafts and a number of tanks.

Big Losers

By most accounts, both Sudans are failed states. Oil money has been flowing into the government for the past few decades, but 50years of war and the ever-present threat of war during peacetime have sapped development possibilities and ravaged infrastructure.

Both nations are rife with starvation, poverty and economic inequality.

So then why would these two nations again willingly plunge themselves into chaos? Undoubtedly, part of it goes back to oil. When South Sudan became independent, it took with it 75 percent of Sudan's oil reserves and most of the northern government's revenue.

The south agreed to split its oil money with Sudan in exchange for using northern pipelines, but neither country could agree on the terms and both are flaunting their inflexibility.

The hotheads seem to be driving policy on both sides of the border. Emotions are running high, and recent statements, such as the one issued by President Bashir, are throwing kerosene on the flames, the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Richard Downie said in an e-mail.

There are also older, deeper issues that aren't related to the oil sector. The nations still haven't agreed on their new border and at the center of that issue are unending tribal conflicts and the need to avenge old injuries.

Ultimately, it's impossible to predict the outcome of this new war, and five decades of conflict have only shown that both sides are willing to fight indefinitely. But while the eventual winner is unknown, one thing is clear for Sullivan: The people of the Sudans will be the big losers.  

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