Lauren Ploch Blanchard
in African Affairs
has played an active role in U.S. policy toward Sudan for more than three
decades. Efforts to support an end to the country’s myriad conflicts and
human rights abuses have dominated the agenda, as have counterterrorism
concerns. When unified (1956-2011), Sudan was Africa’s largest nation,
bordering nine countries and stretching from the northern borders of Kenya
and Uganda to the southern borders of Egypt and Libya. Strategically located
along the Nile River and the Red Sea, Sudan was historically described as
a crossroads between the Arab world and Africa. Domestic and international
efforts to unite its ethnically, racially, religiously, and culturally
diverse population under a common national identity fell short, however. In
2011, after decades of civil war and a 6.5 year transitional period, Sudan
split in two. Mistrust between the two Sudans—Sudan and South Sudan—lingers,
and unresolved disputes and related security issues still threaten to pull
the two countries back to war.
The north-south split did not resolve other simmering conflicts, notably in
Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan. Roughly 2.5 million people
remain displaced as a result of these conflicts. Like the broader
sub-region, the Sudans are susceptible to drought and food insecurity, despite significant
agricultural potential in some areas. Civilians in the conflict zones are
particularly vulnerable. Instability and Sudanese government restrictions
have limited relief agencies’ access to conflict-affected populations.
Humanitarian conditions in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have been at
crisis levels for months, but an estimated half a million people remain largely beyond
the reach of aid groups. Logistical challenges constrain the delivery of relief
for those who have fled, primarily to remote refugee camps across the
border in South Sudan. The harassment of aid workers is a problem in both
Sudans, further hindering aid responses.
The peaceful separation of Sudan and South Sudan was seen by some players as an
opportunity to repair relations between Sudan’s Islamist government and
the United States. Those ties have long been strained over Khartoum’s
human rights violations and history of support for international terrorist
groups. Among the arguments in favor of normalizing relations with Sudan has
been the notion that the United States has few additional unilateral “sticks”
to apply against Khartoum, given robust sanctions already in place.
Applying certain “carrots,” such as easing sanctions, might encourage
further political reforms, proponents say. The Obama Administration sought to improve
the relationship with Khartoum in 2011, given South Sudan’s successful
referendum and separation from Sudan, and Sudan’s cooperation on
counterterrorism. The U.S. effort has been impeded by ongoing reports of
abuses, including allegations that Khartoum continues to commit war crimes
against civilians. Some observers argue that improving the relationship would
reward bad behavior. Relations are also complicated by the fact that
several government officials, notably President Omar al Bashir, have been
accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide at the
International Criminal Court in relation to the Darfur conflict.
U.S. relations with South Sudan, which are rooted in years of American activism
and disaster relief to the south during the civil war, remain close,
though there have been signs of strain in 2012. The United States is the
country’s largest bilateral donor, but the Administration has expressed
concern over certain actions taken by leaders in Juba that have, in its view,
further aggravated the relationship between the Sudans and the economic
situation in both countries.
This report examines the shared interests and outstanding disputes between the
Sudans after separation, and gives an overview of political, economic, and
humanitarian conditions in the two countries, with a focus on possible
implications for U.S. policy and congressional engagement.
Date of Report: October 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: R42774
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