The US — a key backer of South Sudan’s 2011 independence — is increasing diplomatic pressure amid an intensifying conflict, but will not consider military intervention, experts said.
Analysts do not expect Washington to launch a massive military campaign, despite US President Barack Obama’s decision to send nearly 100 troops to the country this week to help protect US citizens, personnel and property.
Obama has warned South Sudan over the week-long conflict, saying the country is on the “precipice” of civil war, and that any military coup would trigger an end to diplomatic and economic support from Washington and its allies.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also told South Sudanese President Salva Kiir over the weekend that the violence endangers the independence of the world’s youngest nation, born in July 2011 after a five-decade struggle for independence from Sudan.
Fighting has gripped South Sudan since Dec. 15, after Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Machar denied the claim and accused Kiir of carrying out a vicious purge of his rivals.
Washington has had a longstanding interest in South Sudan and supported the southern rebels in their battle for independence.
Post-independence, the US became Juba’s biggest source of political and economic aid as the country took its first steps, said Richard Downie, Africa assistant director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Now the US is looking at the situation and it is driven by this desire not to let all the hard work get away,” the analyst said, noting that Washington’s engagement in South Sudan has been “driven by humanitarian concerns.”
Downie recalled that throughout former US president George W. Bush’s 2001 to 2009 tenure, there were “ongoing efforts diplomatically to try bringing peace to Sudan” that begun as a bid to end the bloody, long-running civil war between the North and the South.
Also lobbying for sustained US involvement were South Sudanese living in the US, many devout Christians who have the support of the US evangelical movement.
The fate of South Sudan has also long interested Hollywood — with actors George Clooney and Mia Farrow taking up the cause.
However, offering a more cynical take was France’s former ambassador to Khartoum Michel Raimbaud, who said he “doubts that democracy and human rights guide the interests of the United States in South Sudan.”
“The secession, in which Washington played a very important role, was motivated by oil and strategic considerations, to break up Sudan — the biggest Arab country in Africa,” the retired diplomat who now works as an independent expert said.