North and South Sudan are at war. The reasons for the conflict are complex, but the solution is not: To stop the killing, the international community must arm South Sudan. Unlike interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States need not fire any shots. Just as we have provided weapons to support Israel but never put our own troops at risk, we can help bring peace to this region. We need only make sure that, for the North, attacking the South is a little bit harder than shooting fish in a barrel.
South Sudan is less than a year old. Its war with the North is the result of an imbalance of military power that has encouraged military adventurism. Omar al-Bashir, president of the North and a possible coup target, believes he can secure his future by bombing the South into submission instead of negotiating. For this reason, he has undertaken extensive bombing in South Sudanese civilian areas since January, killing hundreds — an act of war.
Although the South has a large, well-motivated ground army, it has no air force or antiaircraft weapons to defend its people. Southern leaders believe Bashir and his generals plan to invade, occupy oil fields and install a puppet government that will give them control over oil revenue lost when the South became independent.
The only way to end the North’s bullying and foster peace talks is to give the South the right tools: American antiaircraft weapons. If the United States provides the materiel, the South can end the North’s bombing campaign. Most Northern air force pilots are mercenaries — if they start taking heavy losses, they will leave Sudan quickly.
The decision to arm the South shouldn’t be controversial. The United States has provided more than $30 million per year in military technical assistance with bipartisan support from Congress to the Southern Sudanese army since 2006. I know because, as U.S. envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush, I helped put the program in place. Because the Republic of South Sudan is a sovereign state, the United States can provide military assistance without the approval of the U.N. Security Council or the African Union.
Given the remarkably broad coalition of U.S. grass-roots organizations on the left and the right behind South Sudan, providing antiaircraft weapons could have broad support. Franklin Graham, son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham and head of relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, called for the bombing of the North; a wide variety of humanitarian groups asked the U.N. security council for “escalated action” last month. If the United States does not act, the war could turn into a bloodbath as more southern cities are bombed — providing further fodder for critics of President Obama’s foreign policy in the heat of his reelection campaign.
But the risks of not acting are greater than those of further intervention. China provides advanced weapons to North Sudan, endangering any future relationship with the South, which has warned Beijing about playing both sides. China might protest if the United States armed the South, but not too loudly — U.S. involvement would end the conflict, which threatens Chinese investments in the North. To ensure tacit Chinese (and Arab) support, the South would have to agree only not to invade the North again.
Read More: Washington Post