Sudan: Interests favour avoiding war, despite new arms - 21 Oct 2008

EVENT: On October 15 Southern Sudan's minister of finance, Kuol Athian, revealed that military spending was set to far exceed budget.

SIGNIFICANCE: Since early October, pirates have been holding a Ukrainian freighter off the coast of Somalia, which has a cargo of 33 tanks and related arms and equipment. Despite denials from Kenya and the Southern Sudanese government, speculation has grown that they were part of an escalating arms race between the national government in Khartoum and Southern Sudan. National elections are due in 2009, and a referendum on self-determination for the south in 2011.

ANALYSIS: Contrary to the assumptions of parts of the international community, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) did not require any major disarmament and demobilisation of Sudan's two main fighting forces, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) during the six-year interim period ushered in by the CPA. Instead, unlike many civil war peace agreements, which require a merger and demobilisation of rebel and government forces, the CPA left the SAF and the SPLA intact, and free to consolidate themselves. This basic reality will not change even if the SAF and the SPLA proceed with a limited programme of demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of their own forces.

Disarmament. The CPA contained an agreement "on the principles of proportional downsizing" of forces, and provided for the parties to "begin negotiations on proportionate downsizing" once the SAF and SPLA redeployments required by the CPA have been completed. However the main disarmament directly entailed by the CPA was of militias and "other armed groups" (OAGs), attached to both sides. The CPA required SAF-SPLA "joint integrated units" (JIUs) to be set up during the interim, for confidence building and as the potential basis of a future single national armed forces:

Implementation. The main demobilisation and reintegration that has been carried out has been of OAGs, though with significant uncertainties about numbers and intentions. Some demobilisation of women and child soldiers has been carried out. The CPA survives, despite considerable distrust and anxiety about its implementation, thanks to the combined interest of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- its partner in the CPA.

Plans. In June 2008, the national and southern governments agreed with donors and the UN the outlines of a 430 million-dollar, four-year programme for demobilising and reintegrating up to 180,000 former combatants. However, detailed components in this programme have yet to be worked out, and it is far from certain how much will be implemented during the next two to four years.

Arms. Both the SAF and the SPLA have taken advantage of the peace brought by the CPA to buy new military hardware and improve their systems. However this does not amount to an arms race. Although the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and the SPLA are keen to buy new equipment, budget constraints mean that they will not try seriously to challenge Khartoum for supremacy. Meanwhile, despite the improvements in equipment, the military capabilities of both the SAF and the SPLA remain poor:

Khartoum. Aided by the boom in oil revenues since the late 1990s, Khartoum has been investing in new hardware, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft being the most notable (and expensive) items. It now has some 26 fighter planes, 17 fighter bombers, 14 transport aircraft, 10 attack helicopters and 28 support, transport and training helicopters. In the past decade the government has also invested heavily in expanding its domestic arms manufacturing industry. This is centred in the Military Industry Corporation, which produces tanks, armoured vehicles, heavy and light guns, and other items. Sudan's defence minister, Abdel-Rahim Mohammed Hussein, claimed last year that Sudan was now the third largest arms manufacturer in Africa, though this has not been verified.

Southern Sudan. In 2008, nearly 1 billion Sudanese pounds (500 million dollars) of Southern Sudan's budget of 3.4 billion Sudanese pound was allocated to the Ministry of SPLA Affairs. Much of this goes on salaries, but according to the GOSS minister of finance, the SPLA had almost exhausted its budget by June.

Therefore, he has asked the Southern Sudan parliament to approve a supplementary budget of 2.1 billion Sudanese pounds to cover extra spending on the military and other needs. Prior to the hijacking of the ship off Somalia rumours were already circulating that the SPLA had begun to take delivery of an order of 100 tanks (though the claim and the number have not been substantiated or verified) The GOSS is entitled to import military equipment, though donors are concerned that it should not waste money unnecessarily on arms.

Capabilities. The technical capabilities of the Sudan Air Force are low, as has been illustrated by the repeated loss of helicopters and fighter jets as a result of poor use or maintenance. For example, it appears that a MiG-29 fighter jet flown by a Russian trainer (from a private training company) crashed or was shot down during the attack by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on Omdurman in May. The SAF's tactical and military operational capabilities remain weak, as exemplified by the failure to prevent JEM's attack on Omdurman and the inability to defeat the rebels in Darfur. Meanwhile the SPLA is trying to professionalise and develop its capabilities. As part of a "security sector transformation" project funded by the US Agency for International Development, the SPLA has been receiving technical assistance from the US firm Dyncorp, and the UK Department for International Development has been planning to support SPLA reform.

Outlook. For both the NCP and the SPLM, consolidating and strengthening their respective armed forces keeps war as an option of last resort. Repeated stand-offs and limited clashes (such as around Abyei in May) are therefore probable in the future. However, both parties have a strong interest in avoiding a reversion to open civil war, as this would risk jeopardising the flow of oil revenues on which Khartoum depends significantly and GOSS depends for 95% of its budget. Open war would also likely be extremely unpopular:

Politics. In the short to medium term, the NCP and the SPLM both have more to gain from a continuation of the power-sharing political status quo than from a reversion to war. A radical change in the balance of political power -- for example because of a political reconciliation in the north, or a coup -- would not increase the chances of war.

Region. Whatever the exact truth about the intended destination of the tank consignment off Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia have no direct interest in stoking a new civil war between Khartoum and the SPLA. Chad and Eritrea may continue to provide limited political or material support to rebel groups in Sudan, but this will not be sufficient to determine outcomes in the country.

CONCLUSION: The national and southern governments are likely to maintain high levels of military spending and to avoid major demobilisation commitments. However, in the short to medium term, their political and economic interests make a reversion to open civil war unlikely.


Oxford Analytica
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