Tensions are rising in Sudan ahead of January’s scheduled vote in South Sudan over independence. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has accused members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the primary political party in the South, of violating the terms of the peace deal, and Sudan’s government is dragging its feet on referendum preparations. Moreover, al-Bashir is now explicitly warning of war over disputed border regions. This warning is particularly disturbing since the disputed regions are holding their own “popular consultations,” in which they are virtually certain to vote to join the South. The last civil war between North and South Sudan lasted 22 years and took the lives of more than 2 million people.
While I am not certain that the U.S. government has legitimate interests in this conflict, it is worth pointing out that the U.S. has limited its own options by maintaining economic sanctions against Sudan over the Darfur war crimes issue. There is little left that the U.S. can do to deter al-Bashir from all-out war, except to threaten some kind of military intervention. That’s precisely what Nicholas Kristof advocates, predicting genocide otherwise. But how credible would such a threat be, given the U.S. military’s current overstretch?