How likely are states to implement the US proposed arms ban on South Sudan?

BY: Mark Deng, a Law Ph.D Candidate, Univ. of Queensland, Australia, FEB/20/2018, SSN;

The Trump administration has recently announced an arms ban on South Sudan as a response to the seemingly intractable civil war in the country and the resultant humanitarian crisis. President Trump has called on both the regional countries in Africa and the UN Security Council to implement a global arms ban on South Sudan.

The arms ban came a few days after the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called the government of South Sudan an “unfit partner” in the international effort to resolve the South Sudanese conflict.

While the comment may not have been an appropriate diplomatic thing to say to a foreign leader, and, indeed, an ally, it was made out of a frustration at the persistent failures of the South Sudanese leaders to make necessary compromises to break the impasse and bring durable peace to the country.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that the US government has invested over $11 billion dollars in South Sudan since 2011 to support the transitional process, peace talks, and development. Yet the situation in the country seems to be only getting worse.

The war has deeply divided the South Sudanese society and the arms ban was received in the country with mixed reactions.

The rebels and their supporters, on the one hand, welcome the ban as a necessary step to influence the government’s intransigent position on the ongoing consultations to resurrect and implement the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS) signed in 2015 between the government and the rebels.

The ARCISS collapsed in July 2016 after a ferocious fight erupted outside the State House in Juba between the presidential guards and the bodyguards of the rebel leader, Dr Riek.

Dr Riek instantly claimed that the incident was a government’s calculated attempt to assassinate him, prompting him to withdraw from the Government of National Unity in fear for his life.

The government’s response to the arms ban, on the other hand, has not been positive. The First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Ghai, was quoted recently in a newspaper, saying that the US is no longer a partner in peace.

The Vice President gave this statement shortly after the government of South Sudan recalled its ambassador to Washington in protest to the arms ban. It is unclear as to what these growing diplomatic tensions between the US and South Sudan would lead.

Whatever disappointments the arms ban may have caused to the government of South Sudan, however, the people of South Sudan should never see the US government as an enemy, bearing in mind the indelible role that the Bush administration played to help the South Sudanese achieve their independence.

It is clear that the arms ban raises with it a number of issues, one of which is state sovereignty. According to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, states are to respect each other’s territorial integrity. Put differently, no state should engage in acts that undermine another state’s capacity to maintain its national sovereignty.

The Treaty of Westphalia still holds today, however, it has come under heavy criticism. Some have argued that globalization and other factors that the treaty did not foresee and addressed have rendered the treaty ‘anachronistic’.

Mindful of the need to preserve the treaty, however, others have suggested that there should be exceptions to it. For example, it has been suggested that humanitarian crisis and breakdown of government in a state should be exceptions to the treaty.

I find myself in agreement with this view. A state sovereignty under which citizens do not enjoy the protection of their lives, rights, and freedoms serves no purpose.

The government of South Sudan may claim that the arms ban undermines its sovereignty but the ban, in my view, is justified as it is intended to stop human suffering in the country and further complications to the conflict.

However, the arms ban may have a justifiable ground, but it remains doubtful whether states will follow suit and implement it.

States are generally guided by their own national interests and international treaty obligations in implementing sanctions against a particular state.

The international arms trade is governed by the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) 2014, which is yet to earn the support of all states. As of present, only 93 countries out of the 193 UN member states have ratified the ATT. Among the non-signatory countries are China, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine, which all are the leading arms suppliers to South Sudan.

It is possible that Israel and Ukraine could implement the arms ban on South Sudan, given their close diplomatic ties with the US.

However, it is unlikely that China and Russia could do the same for two main reasons: (1) both countries have vested interests in mining the oil in South Sudan and may not be prepared to jeopardize these lucrative investments; and (2) they are not under ATT international obligations to implement the arms ban on South Sudan since they are not state parties to it.

In addition, the neighboring countries, particularly Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, may not be prepared to implement the arms ban on South Sudan. Aside from being members of IGAD, of which South Sudan is a member, these countries face the same issue of political instability as South Sudan.

On that basis, it is difficult to see how these countries can implement the arms ban on South Sudan due to the fear that any of them could suffer the same fate at any moment.

However, if these neighboring countries were to implement the arms ban on South Sudan, the ban could be effective. These countries are the channels through which arms enter South Sudan from arms suppliers.

In 2015, for example, a Chinese cargo ship, carrying different types of Chinese-made weapons, docked in the Port of Mombasa, Kenya. The cargo was unloaded and the weapons were transported by land to South Sudan.

In 2014, it was reported that South Sudan and Uganda signed a military cooperation agreement. The particulars of the agreement have not been made public but it is generally understood that the agreement authorizes Uganda to purchase arms from third parties on behalf of South Sudan.

While nothing is set in stone in diplomatic relations, the close ties between South Sudan and its neighboring countries, as well as the uncertain future they all face in the region, make it unlikely for these countries to implement the arms ban on South Sudan.

Sure, the Trump administration could apply pressure of any sort to these countries to get them to implement the arms ban but how that would play out cannot be predicted with certainty.

When talking about arms bans, it is important to consult history. History shows that arms bans hardly work. An Arms ban was, for example, imposed on Sudan by the European Union in 1994, yet it did not seem to stop arms supply to Sudan.

Reports indicate that China and Iran, two of Sudan’s close allies, continued to supply Sudan with arms despite the ban.

So, the reality is that it is difficult to control the flow of arms effectively, and the reason is that the arms trade is an international multi-billion dollar business. The states and international arms sale companies will always to try to flout and circumvent the rules in order to continue to make profits from arms sales.

The ATT aims to prevent and eradicate illicit arms trade but its regulatory system does not seem to be effective enough, considering the fact that recent arms sanctions against Syria and Libya have not been successful.

So, in the absence of an effective mechanism that ensures compliance with the treaty obligations for all countries, doubts hang over the success of the proposed arms ban on South Sudan.

It is likely that countries like China and Russia will continue to sell arms to South Sudan and it will all be business as usual.

Mark Deng is a law PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia.
Email: mark.deng@uq.edu.au

10 Comments

  1. Eastern says:

    Mark Deng,

    Are you paid mouthpiece?

    The Kiir-Taban regime has outlived its usefulness; please call a spade a spade!

    The Eastern Rock

  2. John Obalim Nyeri says:

    All of them in the business my brother, those are words.

  3. John Obalim Nyeri says:

    Dear my bro. Mark Deng,

    I appreciates your comments but don’t you know the jobs of Arm manufacturer’s ? Look at M7 of Uganda has been in power for 32 yours noun of the Supper Power doing nothing about his African Democracy why? Because they use him to carry their businesses and to buy their Weapon’s
    But they used to blame X-President of Zimbwabwe due to he denied White settlement in his country.
    I believed every men and women does masturbation, means everyone has undercover behaviours or weaknesses . The whites are doing good in Democracy in their own country but they have to support bases on their interest.

    Remember they used to support Iraq due to having their interest in Iraq in 80’s and against Iran because Iran wasn’t with them neither wants US interest’s , in 90’s when Iraq changed directions towards Russia – immediadely US turns her back against and follow by inflicted allegations on Iraq till managed to overthrown the system.

    And the African leader’s mostly greedy and triblelistics, that’s why they always stick into the power. With South Sudan issues, I would say its up to the President S. Kirr to make or bring the country into peace or face divisions in the nearest future that would be similar to what has happened to Yugoslavia. Dinka domination in South Sudan has become epidemics and embarrassment to the all nations and especially South Sudanese and other minority Dinka’s who doesn’t except nepotism of Kirr’s regime or government.

  4. Defender says:

    Fair analysis on the theory and practice on the US Arms Ban on South Sudan. The chance the regional countries that border South Sudan would go through with support it the ban is a different story. Interests of these countries lie in having control over the outcome of the conflict in South Sudan. Uganda to be specific has more to loose if it is not able to control the outcome of any political change in Juba. So, supporting the regime is a critical point of departure for its influence and power balance with Ethiopia (the perceived economic hegemon of the region) and Sudan, the potential existential threat for the state of Uganda. These factors play an important role for Uganda that is currently acting as the third party supplier of weapons to South Sudan.

    The options available to US in exerting pressure on weak-link states such as Kenya and its contested leadership, even after election, is keen at making sure not to rock the boat too much to call attention on the brewing time bomb associated with the questionable election that brought Uhuru back to the statehouse. So, staying under the radar is most likely to be the option that Kenya will adopt.

    Ethiopia with increased resentment from major ethnic groups that are frustrated by the rate of transformation and lack of economic dividend, may proof easy tool to pressure the post Desalegn government from playing fast with its breakneck economic transformation for the sake of protecting minor interests in South Sudan. Additionally, South Sudan is proving to be a threat (an existential threat, one might add) given its increasingly mushy relationship with El Sisi, something that Ethiopia sees as a new frontier in the Nile Water Politics.

    Sudan, though in the bad books of the US, will surely be keen to make sure that it supports any arms ban to fasten its rebuilding relationship and speed up the removal of economic sanction. As well, being a counterweight to Uganda, it wants to make sure that its influence in South Sudan goes beyond the pipeline politics. It wants to see that any government that is in control in Juba is favorable to its policies of containing the rebellions in the unmarked borderlines with South Sudan.

    However, the main catalyst for any effective application of the Arms ban is: how much resource would the US put for to effect this policy option? This is the one dollar question that analyst would need to ask in order to be able to determine how effective this tool would be?

    Otherwise, the whole Arms Ban thing would go up in flames as the ARCISS and possibly HLRF that we expect to bring peace.

  5. False Millionnaire says:

    Mr Nyeri,
    Why do u deviate from the correct Path?
    Every thing about american friendship depends on economic interests that they can exploite from you.
    Have à minority backround leader like général TC seated in the place of Kiir today and see if the americans wouldn’t back him in exchange of him guranteeing for them those interests.
    The hour is nearing for the tables to turn over my friend and you will not miss to see prove of the inevitable shit that’s looming.Just keep the sacred idea of justice and democracy outside the dirty jungle.

    • Mor-amook says:

      My friend John Obleim, first you started well by telling idiots about world politics, but later diverted to tribalism/generalization. First of all, why American supported us to get independent? Not because we are Christians and Arabs are Muslim, not because we are black and Arabs are brown, not because Arabs are enemies to Americans. It is because of her economic and defense interests if South Sudan gets independent. Now, American administration is not getting that interest.

      Believe me or not, we will continue to suffer even if Kiir’s leave power today, unless pro-American or stooge president takes over from Kiir. So, the problem is not Jieng as my brothers always say, it is not bad governance from Kiir to be honest, it is not dictatorship or so. It is western interest and influence not heeded to by the current government.

      Supposedly, Kiir turn page today to the interest of the west particularly to American, Kiir will die in office. How many people are suffering in Syria, Irag, Myanmar to mention few. Look at Palestinians, it is not different from apartheid in South Africa by then. Does American government say there is human right violations, or condemn land occupation not even grabbing? What happened in Libya with their intervention? Has that intervention that was called for by the opposition supporters made Libya better place today then Gadhafi era? Let’s understand world and solve our own problems as African.

      I can agree with you if opposition have prepared pro- American or stooge for us to be in lasting peace and no benefits from our resources.

      • Eastern says:

        Mor-amook,

        The US government has been demanding of the former bush warlords ACCOUNTABLE PARTNERSHIP. The SPLA way of doing things in secrecy is untenable in this current dispensation of the New World Order.

        The regime apparatchiks in Juba are comfortable dealing with the Chinese because these folks from the east have no problems paying kickbacks yet the leave a dirty trail. If the current disaster in parts of South Sudan where Chinese oil companies are exploiting oil were to be under companies registered in the US, there would have been consequences. Since the 1989 Tienanmen Square incidence in China, the common Chinese has been cowered. This is unlikely if the current pollution in South Sudan was a result of an American registered firm(s). The big picture here which you have missed or ignorant about is the NEED for ACCOUNTABLE PARTNERSHIP!

  6. Dear: Mor amook

    I love your comment to the fellow contributor SSN member Mr.John Obalim! You said all! This is the meaning of being in the school- when schooled! Take care! Our homeland will be better one after the dust have died down in the wind blow! Thank you!

    Sincere Healing Lying!

    Abiko!

    KC,MO.U.S.A.

    • Mor-amook says:

      Thanks Abiko for understanding that is why people like you could help others understand. We can learnt from one another by sharing information and knowledge as adult and intellectual, if we really think outside box. I want my fellow-countrymen on social media to pass information responsibly. As educated person, you have duty to look at things nationally considering nation as one people and avoid pointing at tribes, it will never solve any problem.

      Let’s look at personalities in government and in opposition, who really cares? I know who can I vote for if there was chance to vote. I can vote and I don’t even need their campaign. I want our leaders all to bring peace and bring ballot papers and don’t come to me, but I can vote

  7. Author says:

    Gentlemen,

    Thank you all for your comments. I appreciate your interests in this topic.

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