Opinion by David William Pear, January 14, 2014.
The war in South Sudan is a proxy war between the United States and China. That is an oversimplification to say, because there are so many complicating factors involved as well. Yet the competition between the US and China cannot be dismissed either.
Some complications that obfuscate the proxy war are the power struggle between corrupt elites in South Sudan and who gets to raid the treasury of billions of dollars. Another important factor that cannot be overlooked is the ethnic, religious and tribal rivalries. Then there are other foreign actors involved too. There are also many armed groups operating in South Sudan. One of them is the infamous Joseph Korny of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Poverty, disease and lack of clean drinking water cause tremendous resentments among the people towards their new government. Other foreign investors are involved in South Sudan and have their self-interests at heart too. Tensions between South Sudan and Sudan over pipelines and border disputes are boiling over. Then there are South Sudan’s other neighbors that have a stake and their finger in the pie as well.
The US main stream media mostly covers the human tragedy. It is real. It also sells newspapers, as they say. The US government also uses humanitarian issues as a smokescreen to “manufacture consent” about what really matters in US foreign policy goals: Hegemony. World events have to be reduced to fit American mythology of democracy, human rights, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Islam and evil-doers to get the attention of the American people. In a democracy the consent of the people must be gotten by propaganda. The main stream media is obliged to help and mostly conform to the government’s wishes.
To manufacture consent of the people it is necessary to get them wringing their hands over the rapes, starving children, and slaughter. The people must see the huddled masses of refugees living in filth and squalor.
Once the American people are alarmed that “something must be done” then the US response is always to send in the cavalry: Direct military intervention, covert operatives, humanitarian bombing, drones and the use of proxies and mercenaries. The disaster relief workers have to get there on their own.
Rarely are the real issues of a tragedy addressed adequately. The desperate need of refugees for food, water, shelter, medical care and relief aid is either grossly underfunded or ignored completely. The government needs the photo ops to keep the public’s short attention span focused. The neglect of humanitarian needs exposes the truth that the intervention is always about realpolitik goals.
AFRICOM winning the hearts and minds. The US is negotiating a military base in South Sudan.
Yet to say that there is a proxy war between the US and China in South Sudan and much of the rest of Africa one need go no further than the mission statement of the United States African Command (AFRICOM). AFRICOM’s website mission statement clearly says that its mission is to “confront the threat of China”. The mission statement neglects to state exactly what the threat is other than the need to “advance U.S. national interests”. The American people and taxpayers seem to have been left out of AFRICOM’s mission statement. They are not mentioned.
To appreciate that South Sudan is a proxy war between the US and China it is necessary to understand the role of China in Sudan and South Sudan.
There is a lot at stake for China in South Sudan. China has invested heavily in Sudan and South Sudan. They have given gift-aid and loans without the burden that the IMF and World Bank impose.
South Sudan did not break away from Sudan overnight. There was a bloody civil war for decades between the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south. During the fighting many hundreds-of-thousands people were killed and millions were displaced. Some of the worst of the human tragedy took place in the region of Darfur where widespread famines broke out as well.
Civilians were massacred, raped, tortured, mutilated, assassinated and infanticides were committed by all sides. President George W. Bush backed South Sudan making it a top priority and a peace treaty was reached in 2005 allowing South Sudan to secede. For the following 6 years it was agreed that South Sudan could act independently. It was agreed that in 2011 South Sudan would be allowed to hold a referendum for succession. The population of South Sudan voted 99% in favor of the new nation.
“President for Life” Kiir with his new BFF.
(Kiir is the one wearing the black hat on the left).
When oil-rich South Sudan seceded from Sudan it walked away with 75% of Sudan’s oil. Sudan was left with the pipeline and the remaining oil. China had invested heavily in Sudan to develop the oil fields, refineries, storage facilities, pipelines, ports and infrastructure.
Sudan and South Sudan are a major source of oil for China
The agreement that was worked out would allow Sudan to continue to get significant oil revenue for transporting the South Sudan oil to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Sudan was to receive approximately $34 per barrel for transporting the oil. Most of the oil was then loaded onto tankers destined for China.
Now that sharing arrangement between South Sudan and Sudan is in dispute. It is no wonder since the going rate for pipelines is approximately $1 per barrel. Sudan is a special situation because Sudan agreed to give up the oil fields to South Sudan.
The main source of Sudan’s revenues is oil. The sharing agreement was the price that South Sudan was willing to promise for independence. Another major disagreement between the two countries is the ill-defined border. South Sudan claims that Sudan is stealing some of its oil.
The United States has a lot of leverage with South Sudan by proposing an alternate pipeline through Kenya to the Indian Ocean. The financial advantages are obvious and there are strategic advantages as well. The Red Sea is a choke that could be blocked; while it would be impossible, with the protection of the US Navy, to effectively blockade a Kenyan Indian Ocean port.
Still it is complicated. Even though the US backed the independence of South Sudan and continues to back the corrupt “President for Life” Salva Kiir, the US has not been successful in weaning South Sudan of their Chinese investors. Massive government corruption, intolerable poverty, ethnic divisions and politics have divided the military and the ruling party of South Sudan.
China has a firm grip on its investments in Sudan. The dysfunctional government of South Sudan still has ties to Sudan and is dependent on Sudan for technical assistance in operating their oil fields, refineries and pipeline. Why give up a good thing now for two- birds in the bush later? We are talking billions of dollars of which it is reported that $4 billion has mysteriously disappeared from the South Sudan treasury.
Now a civil war has broken out in South Sudan after “President for Life” Salva Miir sacked his Vice President Riek Machar, along with the entire cabinet and generals loyal to Machar.
Rebel leader the deposed Ex-Vice President Riek Machar.
Vice President Machar made the mistake of announcing that he was going to challenge “President for Life” Kiir in the upcoming 2015 presidential elections. The ruling party the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has now spit between Miir and Machar, too.
The armed forces and ethnic groups loyal to Machar are battling government forces still loyal to Miir. Publicly the US is backing President Miir. Is it possible that the US is militarily backing both sides? It would not be the first time. It is the Chinese that have the big investments to lose. It would be like the US playing Russian roulette only putting the gun to China’s head instead of its own.
The mission of AFRICOM is to confront the Chinese threat. The US wins by default if the Chinese lose. In a zero sum game of geopolitics anything that weakens China gives the US relatively more clout. Already China is weakened as the oil flow from South Sudan is just a trickle.
The US already decided years ago that the South Sudan oilfields are a prize it wants to own. The US made that decision when it decided to back the secession of South Sudan a decade ago. It is too late for The Guardian to ask, as it did on January 8, 2014, “Was South Sudan a mistake”? The US should have left Sudan alone. The Chinese are much better at dealing with dictators. That is not a criticism or a compliment, since the US has backed plenty of dictators too.
It is just that the Chinese are more pragmatic and deal with the existing status quo. They do not make their despots sit through insincere and boring lectures on democracy and human rights.
The US decided in 2007 that it wanted to be a real hegemon in Africa. That is when President George W. Bush created AFRICOM. Empires always overextend themselves. The African prize is just too tempting for the Empire to pass up.
If the US succeeds in taking over the Chinese oil in South Sudan it may find itself regretting getting bogged down in another quagmire. The US will then be left with making a choice either to deal with yet another troublesome dictator in a volatile and hostile country; or worse falling into the trap of nation building again as it did in Somalia and in Afghanistan.
(To be continued.)
Africa is the next frontier for the American Empire.
The overextension of Empires has been their fatal flaw.
The African continent is extremely rich in resources. It is rich in oil,
uranium, copper, gold, platinum, tin, diamonds, timber, agriculture,
biodiversity, strategic minerals, land, markets and people.
Background and reference sources:
New York Times After Years of struggle, South Sudan becomes a new nation, July 10, 2011: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/world/africa/10sudan.html
New York Times South Sudan to get aid from China; no oil deal April 26, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/asia/china-to-aid-south-sudan-but-pipeline-efforts-stall.html
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM): www.africom.mil
Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/africa-sub-saharan/us-africa-command-africom/p13255
International Business Times, Sudan Future Oil Exporting Powerhouse, March 2012: http://www.ibtimes.com/sudan-future-oil-exporting-powerhouse-214305
RT Who is the blame for the crisis in South Sudan, January 2014: http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2014/01/who-is-to-blame-for-crisis-in-south.html
Energy Daily South Sudan and Kenya sign oil pipeline deal: http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/South_Sudan_and_Kenya_sign_oil_pipeline_deal_999.html
Global Research “Proxy War in South Sudan”: http://www.globalresearch.ca/proxy-war-in-south-sudan/5362637
The Guardian “China urges immediate end to conflict in South Sudan” January 6, 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/06/presidents-sudan-south-sudan-meet-juba-discuss-conflict
The Guardian “Was South Sudan a mistake” January 8, 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/08/south-sudan-war-mistake
The New Scramble for Africa by Carmody (June 7, 2011).
Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill (Apr 23, 2013)
Myths, Lies and Oil Wars by F. William Engdahl.