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America’s South Sudan conundrum

It could be an essay assignment for introduction to diplomacy: What do you do if you are the U.S. government and you know that South Sudan is going to secede from Sudan proper in a January 2011 referendum? Much harder than it initially sounds — because here’s the catch: Even though you know what the ...

PETER MARTELL/AFP/Getty Images
PETER MARTELL/AFP/Getty Images

It could be an essay assignment for introduction to diplomacy: What do you do if you are the U.S. government and you know that South Sudan is going to secede from Sudan proper in a January 2011 referendum? Much harder than it initially sounds — because here’s the catch: Even though you know what the result of the referendum vote will be, you can’t do anything that would seem to be biasing the outcome.

Except this is no poli-sci class. This is actually what’s happening. South Sudan is utterly unprepared for independence. It government lacks institutions; its civil servants lack training; and its policing capabilities are essentially just those left over from the region’s decades long war against the North. In other words, it relies on soldiers of various levels of training. It has no public service structure, and the region is plagued by internal disputes between various ethnicities and economic interests. Many Sudan watchers are already labeling it a "pre-failed state." 

What’s the contingency plan? The United States has its hands pretty much tied. To boost South Sudan’s governing ability would be tantamount to proclaiming their independence vote in the upcoming referendum. Big no no in diplo-speak. Doing nothing nearly insures that the new entity will be unprepared for its new statehood.

If I were sitting in Foggy Bottom right now, I’d want to start thinking about how to put the pieces back together after everything breaks.

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