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.