By John Bith Aliap – Australia, SEPT/20/2015, SSN;
Under the recently “Imposed Peace Agreement” signed on 17th and 26th August in Addis Ababa and Juba respectively, by rebel chief Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir, a cease fire was due to enter into force in the following week, but fighting continues in Upper Nile, a region that historically pumps aimless, destructive and tribally–oriented rebellions in South Sudan.
On Friday Sept 4th, the 15 – member council met at the request of the United Nations after John Kerry, Secretary of the United States singly warned Kiir, an internationally law-abiding man whose forces are constantly attacked in their defensive positions by Machar’s rebels to respect the ceasefire agreement during a phone conversation.
However, as the nation desperate to bring the government of South Sudan to its knees, the United States had requested that a global travel ban and assets freeze be imposed on South Sudan’s army chief Paul Malong Awan and rebel commander Johnson Olony for their role in the continued fighting, but a million thanks to Russia – a Security Council veto-wielding member and Angola for blocking that US – driven, evil, ill-timed risk of achieving the reverse and ill–conceived sanctions against the government of South Sudan.
However, with threats of sanctions still lingering in the air, the question which begs answers from us is – will the threats of sanctions impede or expedite the peace process and subsequent healing and reconciliation in South Sudan?
The path of punitive action which the United States and its allies are currently pursuing in South Sudan won’t silence the guns. It will rather retard conflict resolution mechanisms already put in place by South Sudanese themselves.
The United States should be warned that any sanctions against the government of South Sudan will likely make it more intransigent. For example, the sanctions imposed on Burundi after the coup led by Pierre Buyoya in 1996 emboldened Hutu hardliners, undermined Tutsi confidence in reconciliation and strengthened extremists’ positions within the army and minority community by heightening their sense of vulnerability and persecution.
One key lesson we can all learn from history is that punitive action should not be taken by or associated with the peace mediator and the United States and its IGAD partners are not exception in this equation.
A mediator such as the United States which resorts to coercion has a reason to be mistrusted by the people of South Sudan as surely as a soccer team mistrusts a biased referee. The United States sacrifices its status as an ‘honest broker’ and it becomes a party to the conflict due to its support to Machar’s rebels.
The job of the United States as a peace mediator in South Sudan’s conflict should have been to build the government of South Sudan and the SPLM–IO’s confidence in negotiations as a means of meeting their needs.
Given the fears and mutual hostility that exist between the government of South Sudan and the rebels led by Riek Machar, their trust in the United States as a mediator is crucial.
The United States is expected to be non-partisan and fair, not a biased mediator which imposes a conflict-ridden agreement which grants one greedy minority tribe a lion share of power – 40 per cent.
In practice, strict adherence to non-partisanship has been a core feature of successful mediation. Sant’ Egidio’s strength as a mediator in Mozambique ‘was exactly not having to defend any vested interest in the country, but the one of a solid peace.
Conversely, the United States’ mediation in South Sudan has been severely hampered by its perceived bias in favour of Machar’s rebels.
However, instead of punitive action such as sanctions and threats, the United States should pursue other healthy options if it’s serious about bringing a sustainable peace in South Sudan.
The United States should be aware that its frequent threats of sanctions on the government of Sudan only sends a message of hostility and it will likely generate resistance that could result in non–implementation of the agreement.
Sanctions can have unintended consequences. Alexander George in his book Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War, published by United States Institute of Peace in 1991, discusses the potential “boomerang effect” of coercive diplomacy when he suggests that Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbour, and the subsequent entry of the United States in to world war two stemmed from economic sanctions.
Alexander argues that the oil embargo the United States imposed on Japan in July 1941 was so credible and so potent that it quickly provoked Japanese leaders into making a very difficult and desperate decision to initiate war rather than capitulate to Washington’s extreme demands that it gets out of China and gives up its aspirations for regional hegemony in Southeast Asia.
Similarly, Louis Kreisburg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution, 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield 2003, New York, explains that sanctions can widen the conflict, add to its destructiveness and sometimes prolong it.
Louis and Alexander are not alone when it comes to destructiveness of sanctions. John Mueller and Karl Mueller – Sanctions of Mass Destruction, Foreign Affairs June 1998 argue that sanctions are destructive to the targeted societies. A 1999 study suggests that post-Cold War sanctions have contributed deaths than weapons of mass destruction used throughout the history.
In Iraq for instance, it has been estimated that hundreds of thousands of children died between 1991- 2001 as a result of sanctions. Threats of sanction inherently cause stress and can affect problem –solving ability – Frontline Story: The Debate Over UN Sanctions available at www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/iraq/sanction.
John Gatung, the author of On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions, World Politics, April 1967 also suggests that sanctions can increase domestic support for targeted leader. The population under threat can unite behind its leader and become hostile to the international community.
External pressure can be used by leaders to ignore domestic troubles – placing the blame for economic instability on outsider, and providing political cover to further repress domestic dissidents, while directing resentment toward those who impose the sanctions.
But to Daniel Fisk, in Economic Sanctions: The Cuba Embargo Revisited, economic sanctions are policy instrument with little, if any, chance of achieving much beyond making policy – makers feel good about having done something for a particular domestic community.
The above literature review paints a grim picture about unintended consequences of sanctions and the United States should unconditionally abandon its frequent threats of sanctions against the government of South Sudan if it needs peace to bounce back to South Sudan.
The human costs of sanctions are unacceptable to people of South Sudan who have experienced untold suffering during the course of their struggle.
John Bith Aliap holds two Bachelor Degrees in Social Work & Social Planning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org