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Sudan: The Oil Drums of War

April 15, 2012
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By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

The U.S. special envoy for Sudan told reporters in January he was "very concerned" about the situation in Sudan. South Sudan and Sudan split last year under the terms of a comprehensive peace agreement that ended one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II. The envoy, Princeton Lyman, admitted some of the outstanding issues from the CPA were "set aside" but where now "coming to the surface." This week, with South Sudanese authorities seizing oil territory in Sudan, the situation has now boiled over into war.
 
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said this week that, as the sovereign leader, he's not obligated to bow to demands made by the United Nations to pull his forces out of the oil-rich region of Heglig across the border in South Kordofan state. Juba said it was responding to attacks from Sudan on its side of the border, an allegation Khartoum challenges. The Sudanese government, however, called for a "general mobilization" and rhetoric from both sides sounds like calls for war.
 
South Sudan claimed last week it unearthed an illegal pipeline coming across the border from South Kordofan into Unity state. Heglig, in South Kordofan, makes up about half of the 115,000 barrels of oil per day coming out of Sudan. South Sudan, at independence, gained control over most of the oil fields but is forced to rely on Khartoum's infrastructure for exports. South Sudan maintains its actions are in self defense, but claims over oil are never that clear cut. Similarities to Iraq have been made before, thought it bears mentioning the current conflict between South Sudan and Sudan is strikingly similar to the prelude to the first Gulf War in the 1990s.
 
Lyman, nearly four months before the current escalation began, said the situation over oil was "very bad," warning that both sides could get hurt. The U.N. Security Council called on both sides to resolve outstanding issues in the comprehensive peace agreement, many of which Lyman in January said were "set aside." But nobody in the international community seems to listen much to what the United Nations says, given the year-long conflict in Syria and South Sudan's insistence on autonomy.
 
Theories regarding the link between oil and war are abundant. The United States made oil in the Middle East central to its foreign policy doctrine during the Carter administration in the 1970s, leading to speculation that adventurism in Iraq thirty years later had little to do with weapons of mass destruction. In the Libyan war last year, the British government was under fire given the alleged links between BP and the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Conspiracies aside, however, there is a responsibility to intervene in the Sudanese region. China, which has a substantial interest in South Sudan's oil sector, has just as much responsibility to bring peace to the region given what's at stake financially. But the peace deal that brought independence to South Sudan was largely the brainchild of former U.S. President George W. Bush. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could largely be discounted as a U.S. reaction to Sept. 11, there remains a hesitation by world powers, whether oil is involved or not, to bear the burdens of hegemony because superpowers, the notion goes, "don't do windows." Sudan and South Sudan are no exception.

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