US Security Strategy in South Sudan
An anti-China Strategy?
Towards a peaceful or conflictual world? A Marxist debate over nature and evolution of the current international order
By Zeno Leoni
The cornerstone of an academic debate which took shape over the last twelve years among Marxist scholars - since the publication of Empire (2000) - focuses on what can be considered the mother of all questions for scientists of international politics: what is the structure of the current geopolitical world order we live in? And more specifically from a Marxist perspective: which kind of configurations of space – development and underdevelopment – and relations of power - struggle for power and hegemonic shift among states – take shape in a capitalist system of production? In particular, there is the need to understand if capitalist mode of production generates:
uneven or homogenous development all over the world system
conflictual or peaceful relations in international politics
With regard to this, three perspectives are of interest here.
David Harvey argues that, on the one hand the free circulation of flows of capitals – which periodically abandon one territory to outflow towards more profitable areas (e.g. Western capital invested in Asia over the last decades) - produces an uneven geographical development – see the crisis which is hitting Europe nowadays - while on the other hand it triggers conflictual relations of power, since states are in competitions for holding capitals in their territories and maintaining conditions of profit for private business. This conflictuality, may reach critical levels in a phase of hegemonic shift, as the one we are experiencing with regard to the decline of US and the rise of China – which reminds previous hegemonic shifts in the history (e.g. from the Dutch to the British, and from the British to the American).
On the contrary, Hardt and Negri argue that over the last forty years, Marxian auspice of capitalism as a progressive entity has taken shape. Empire’s authors in fact, see on the one hand the “end of geography” – a concept opposite to Harvey’s uneven geographical development - since with globalization capitalism has achieved its “highest stage” by spreading at every corner of the world. In this representation, Wallerstein-designed core-periphery portraits of the world economic geography have become obsolete.
On the other hand, they see the spread of capitalism as the driving power which, with its load of liberal ideology and economic wealth, was capable of producing a peaceful condition in which democratic states will not fight anymore each other – what Fukuyama called the “end of history”.
In this debate has been also developed the necessity to assess what is the role played in this world order by the global hegemon, the United States of America, and what is its relationship to capitalist mode of production and to the latter’s worldwide propagation – globalization.
For instance, Alejandro Colas argues that there is a strong link between the progressive expansion of capital and the establishment of an hegemonic structure of power by US. US through state-building operations, the support to democratic or pseudo-democratic government, the de-Somalization of non-ruled areas, the contrast to recalcitrant leaders, and the use of hegemonic institutions – in Gramscian terms - such as UN, IMF and World Bank, has been able to impose on a global scale compliant government willing to subscribe free market rules.
This has had the consequence of bringing potential inter-imperialist rivals – for instance China - under US’ capitalist umbrella, by giving them the possibility to benefit and develop inside the American order and making sure that none would have had the interest of challenging Washington, DC global leadership or capitalist principles.
However, the building of a global free market triggered the outflow of Western wealth towards more profitable territories such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa, with the consequence of generating that condition of competition among state for economic power that Harveys described, and enhancing the risk of a clash between the current hegemon, US, and its biggest challenge: China.
2.US Security Strategy in South Sudan
US’ geopolitical interest over Southern Sudan was firstly manifested when Chevron started exploration of new deposits during the oil embargo of 1973. The American corporation remained in Southern Sudan until the beginning of the ‘90s, but without being able to extract a drop of oil, before leaving the country because of the precarious status of domestic security. “With the worsening of political ties between the United States and Sudan in the mid-1990s and the withdrawal of US companies, Chinese oil firms stepped in to fill the vacuum” on a fertile and competition-free ground. This articles argues that behind US-designed road map towards South Sudan independence begun in 2005, and behind US’ security strategy in the new country since 2011, there is the intention of a re-appropriation of local resources – coherently with the shift on the importance of Africa in terms of energy security occurred with Bush and Cheney - against Beijing, the economic actor which took the lead in the area over the last fifteen years.
2.2.Military security: the terrorist threat makes US ready for China
From a regional perspective, US’ official aim to secure South Sudan for stabilizing the region, and in particular for enforcing a crackdown against LRA. Juba in fact is contributing to the hunt for Kony by joining African Union (AU) troops and by offering a base in its territory. The AU’s 5,000-strong brigade, is backed by US intelligence, while Washington has also deployed in the region 100 agents. Nevertheless, Lord’s Resistance Army number of soldiers is too small to offer a satisfying justification to a military intervention of these proportions, to the development of South Sudan’s system of defence and to the militarization occurred over the last years in neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, US’ regional allies.
AFRICOM is the agency in charge of leading the efforts for building South Sudan’s security apparatus, by forming South Sudanese military corps, and making the country immune to terrorism, despite the latter has never been an issue in South Sudan. In addition, to the provision of military expertise and intelligence, on January 06, 2012 United States’ President Barack Obama allowed South Sudan to buy US’ arms, even though in many say that this is just a pro-forma - however in the conclusion of this article is argued that South Sudan is developing a defence apparatus for supporting US in realizing regional goals, by following the same path of US’ allies such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda.
Despite all this, it is striking that at the same way the Global War On Terror (GWOT) made US ready to counter China with a military network of alliances and bases worldwide – particularly in the Pacific - in South Sudan and the rest of the region, US military strategy justified by the presence of a “boogie man”, but also by Somalia’s and the two Sudans’ instability, have made Washington, DC ready for contrasting China’s regional hegemony and sizing strategic resources in one of the richest areas of the world in terms of mineral resources.
2.3.Territorial and human security through the deployment of US-sponsored UN missions
Through the use of hegemonic institutions in order to maintain a postmodern form of control over distant territories – contrary to what was happening in Roman and British empires – US has been able to establish its influence over South Sudan in the name of human rights and regional stability. The UN missions currently deployed are the US-sponsored UNMISS and UNISFA. The former is committed in patrolling South Sudan’s territory, while it is interesting to note that China, despite being damaged by South Sudan birth – Juba took 75% of Sudan reserves - it actively takes part to the mission. UNISFA is composed of 4.200 Ethiopian troops and its tasks are to monitor Abyei’s demilitarization from Sudan Armed Force (SAF) and Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) and to provide security for oil infrastructures. However, despite being considered neutral state in Sudan/South Sudan dispute, Ethiopia represents a US’ strategic ally, to the extent that in the recent past Addis Abeba was able to receive arms from North Korea without any opposition from Washington, DC.
2.4.Economic and social security through the employment of hegemonic agencies and institutions
USAID commitment in South Sudan focuses on improving security by guaranteeing a safe and organized economic environment for attracting foreign capital. The US’ agency for development is building “the first paved highway outside urban area”, and coordinating the development of a country of the size of France with 90% of its land arable. Moreover USAID supports “the oil sector and oil revenue management”. This strengths the argument made in this article, regarding the fact that Juba government will not be independent in dealing with oil policies and strategic decisions. US will affect Juba decisions and Juba will follow US directions in order for Washington to win China’s or other states geopolitical competition
Also the admission of South Sudan in IMF is part of that process of incorporating states under the US hegemonic umbrella, while South Sudan’s inclusion in the Generalized System of Preferences (GPS) - a US instrument which allows South Sudan to ship oil and other goods to the United States free of import duties – is a fact that strengths the argument of an American rush to Juba’s black gold, a new scramble which can put under question China leadership in the region, as explained in the next paragraph of this article.
2.5.US’ target in South Sudan: China
In the previous sections, on the one hand it has been showed that US have provided South Sudan with an horizontally extended security (not only military security therefore, but also human, economic and territorial security). On the other hand, it has been argued that through this postcolonial form of intervention, US established the influence of its hegemonic umbrella over South Sudan – currently seeming a US protectorate – a condition which makes Juba – a weak, small, and indebted state - not independent on strategic issues such as oil. Furthermore, it has been claimed that South Sudan will support US regional strategy, and that South Sudan’s securitization cannot be justified by LRA’s insurgency. Therefore, South Sudan is taking the role of a US regional proxy to contrast China and to size strategic energy reservoirs.
US intervention in South Sudan provides Washington, DC with the possibility to take American corporations back to this oil-rich region and to threaten Chinese companies’ hegemony. Not by chance, as said above, South Sudan has been included in the GPS, in order to ease the shipping of oil towards US (see section 2.3).
However, what is even more striking, is that a non-independent South has reached an agreement with Kenya - a US’ strategic ally - for building a new pipeline which will divert the flow of oil to Lamu’s port and deprive Sudan – China’s strategic ally - of transit revenues. Juba will invest 4 billion for it, and a Japanese firm has already carried out a study for its feasibility.
In addition to this, it has to be considered Government of South Sudan’s (GOSS) authorities pressures on and clashes with the Sino-Malaysian consortium Petrodar, which appear as a US-maneuvered strategy to hinder Chinese geopolitics of oil in South Sudan.
The picture of South Sudan contrasting China on oil, matches Harvey’s illustration - rather than the one put forward in Empire and by Colás - when he says that “the control over Middle Eastern oil reserves would serve US interests very well if it ever felt it necessary to rein in Chinese geopolitical ambitions”. And with regard to South Sudan, Harvey’s perspective seems to find evidences, with US’ scramble for South Sudanese oil which is going to rein “Chinese geopolitical ambitions” in the region. Furthermore, US intervention only damaged Sudan and China interests, since the birth of South Sudan brought last winter to the stop of oil flow for few months, damaging that market that Colàs and Hadrt and Negri pretend to be by US protected in the name of global right.
Nevertheless, despite US is clearly attacking China, the latter has not reacted. Instead, Beijing keeps participating to UNMISS, which represents a US-sponsored mission aiming at maintaining control over a distant territory. This means that in South Sudan there has not been any inter-imperialist tension. China demonstrates to be currently willing to cooperate with US through US-designed multilateral institutions, and still to respect rules of a US-designed world order. However, US interventionism against China, appears clear as much in the Pacific as in South Sudan.
This article attempted to answer three questions:
- “what is US security strategy in South Sudan post-referendum?”
- “does US intervention in South Sudan represent a geostrategic reaction to contrast China global and regional rise?”
- “does US intervention in South Sudan generate a clash – an inter-imperialist rivalry – with China? Or a strategic partnership among the two powers is prevailing?”
With regard to the first question, United States has provided South Sudan with security both in classical and in an horizontally extended perspective. In particular, security has been guaranteed directly through Washington, DC military expertise and funds, and indirectly by the intervention of UN, IMF and other hegemonic agencies.
As a consequence – answer to the second question - US has had the opportunity to establish its hegemonic umbrella over a non-independent South Sudan: because of this, on the one hand South Sudan will have to respect US will when coping with oil policies; on the other hand, South Sudan has assumed the role of a US proxy which supports Washington, DC geostrategy to contrast China and sizing local resources.
However – answer to the third question – China still demonstrate of being willing to co-operate within a US-led UNMISS. From a global perspective, this means that in the current historical phase, despite US is contrasting China, the latter is willing to respect the rules of a US-led world order within its multilateral institutions.
Linking back to the theoretical background that was presented, few points deserve to be raised:
- United States have developed in the last years geostrategic arrangements in order to contrast China aspiration of becoming the first economy in the world – in South Sudan and the Pacific, for instance - respecting therefore Harvey’s forecast of a US reaction to an eventual hegemonic shift.
- Nevertheless, to US is still acknowledged the role of guardian of global right – as Hardt and Negri say – since China, despite being threatened in the Pacific and economically damaged in South Sudan, it keeps acting in the respect of the hegemon’s rules – vindicating claims of those such as Colás and Panitch and Gindin, which believe in a sort of pacification of international politics because of the incorporation of capitalist-rivals under US-led hegemony..
In conclusion, South Sudan case has showed that nowadays inter-imperialist rivalry is actual only in a new perspective: when referring to US geostrategic reactions against its competitors.
However, China’s non-reaction to US attacks, demonstrates that in the current world order World War I-fashioned inter-capitalist-rivalries have not taken shape yet.
Zeno Leoni is a freelance researcher, who graduated at Birkbeck College - University of London, with a Master on Global Politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org