Thursday, December 9, 2010

When WikiLeaks Informs

It turns out that the ship of big weapons that Somali pirates grabbed a couple of years ago was not intended for Kenya but for the Southern Sudanese secessionists.  Since arming secessionists is one of my favorite topics (studying, not actually arming them myself), this leak is one that I kind of like.  Oh well, so much for purity in information protection!

The questions for me are unlikely to be answered by the leak, though:
  • How does this jibe with things I have heard about the referendum in January being a non-event?  That is, a friend of mine who has been doing time as an observer in Sudan has told me that violence is not so likely because there is mutual vulnerability/leverage: the oil in the south needs the pipelines in the north to get to market, and the north needs to have some stuff flowing through those pipelines to make money.  Both sides arming to the teeth and the beyond does not necessarily contradict that, as we learned that mutual assured destruction and arms races can kind of co-exist.  Yet, the arms race here suggests not too much confidence in the mutual leverage concept.
  • Who is sponsoring the Southern Sudanese?  Who paid the Ukrainians?  The agreement that facilitates the referendum also allows the Southern Sudanese to develop a defense force, although it is not clear if Soviet/Russian T-72 tanks were imagined as part of this.
  • Is the American policy here a product of lessons learned in Bosnia?  "In a cable from Oct. 19, 2008, Alberto M. Fernandez, who served as the chargĂ© d’affaires in Khartoum, reports that he told officials from southern Sudan that while that United States would prefer not to see an arms buildup in the region, it understood that the government there “feels compelled to do the same” as the north. He also cautioned the officials to take care, if there were future shipments, to avoid a repeat hijacking by pirates and “the attention it has drawn."  Arms embargoes only hurt the rebels in most situations, so that Bob Dole and others called for lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia so that we could arm it and make it more competitive against the Serbs.  Or is this an effort to build a new ally since the Sudanese government has never been very reliable as a partner in the region?  Could be balance of power politics or it could be ethnic ties (especially for the Bush Administration since the Southern Sudanese are Christian and animists while the northern folks are Muslim)?  Or is it a less naive humanitarianism?
    • That the Obama Administration tried to be tougher on the Southern Sudanese is suggestive--that arming non-Muslims may not be the highest priority.  On the other hand, it may be that the Obama folks had a more nuanced or differently nuanced view. "But the cable argued that southern Sudan did not need the tanks, they would be difficult to maintain and they would “increase the chance of an arms race with Khartoum.”
 So, the leaks tell us something, but not everything.  I guess we can only get so much from cables.  We have exactly a month until the referendum.  Then we will see if the tanks will be useful, wasteful, or worse.

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