Providing air defense for South Sudan not ideal, but best available option
While there are flaws with the idea of providing air defense capabilities to South Sudan, it may be the best option for protecting civilians, writes guest blogger David Sullivan from the ENOUGH advocacy group.
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Which brings us back to air defense. The concern that such capabilities could be used to target civilians is valid, which is why the provision of equipment needs to be accompanied by training, close monitoring, and be conditioned upon rigorous vetting of southern forces to make sure they have both the will and means to use these capacities responsibly. Given some of the alarming reports of SPLA violence in the South, it is hard to overstate the degree to which the United States would need to exercise control over this process.Skip to next paragraph
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Jenkins is especially correct to note Khartoum’s use of attack aircraft painted to look like U.N. flights in Darfur and the potential for similar tactics that could put humanitarians at risk from southern missiles. There is no doubt that the training and equipping of the southern army would need to be accompanied by the development of rigorous systems to distinguish UN flights from military bombers – systems that would have to rely upon more than just what color a plane is painted.
There is also the possibility of doing nothing, given the possibility for any action to do more harm than good. But let’s be clear about the possible consequences of this approach. The South, which has been asking for air defense capabilities for years, has been covertly rearming in preparation for potential war all this while. There is no doubt they will use the benefits of sovereignty to expand their arsenal, and the alternative to U.S. support is likely to involve much cheaper and more easily trafficked weapons including man-portable air defense systems, which can easily be used for purposes other than those intended and would likely be delivered without conditions. This would have all of the alarming negative consequences and none of the supervision that a more responsible U.S.-assisted program would entail.
It is important to clarify the objectives, limitations, and consequences of US support for South Sudan air defense. The likelihood of US-provided arms being used to down Antonov bombers in Sudan in the next couple of months is zero. But the United States can take tangible steps to begin training southern forces in the use of these systems, vetting units to participate in the program, and shaping the contours of a policy that would be a less worse way to try to protect civilians in the region than the alternatives.
Putting this process into place will take time. But unlike direct military action or a no-fly zone, which are effectively empty threats, credible planning for long-term air defense support will have an immediate influence on the calculations of Sudan’s ruling party whose systematic use of aerial bombardment of civilian populations remains premised upon a solely rhetorical international response. In this regard, it should be only one component of a more comprehensive effort to use both incentives and pressures, unilateral and multilateral, to press the Government of Sudan to abide by its previous commitments and use peaceful means to navigate the future relationship both with its new southern neighbor as well as with its own people.
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