The US has made the decision to export military equipment and services to the recently independent South Sudan. U.S. President Barack Obama gave his approval for future exports to the African nation last week, which faces numerous economic and security challenges.
South Sudan stands to benefit immensely from the possession of US defence equipment, which could help bring its defence capabilities on par with its neighbour, Sudan. Tensions between both nations remain high, with border clashes continuing to be a regular occurrence.
The key reasons behind the approval are the US’s desire to retain strategic influence in Africa as well as its desire to address its continuing energy security concerns. Approving defence exports to South Sudan is a significant move, given the troubles between South Sudan and Sudan.
The willingness of the US to export its arm to such an environment shows that it sees its influence in the region as being threatened by other nations, such as China and India and, as a result, maintaining its influence is a high priority.
South Sudan has also gained considerable attention from China and India since its independence in 2011, with both countries having made major deals with South Sudan’s Government. China has invested over US$20 billion in Sudan, which has funded initiatives such as dams and refineries, as well as a 1,600-kilometre oil pipeline to the Red Sea. (Source)
As a result, China now has command of 40 per cent of Sudan’s oil sector and imports 60 per cent of Sudanese oil production. China has also pursued numerous soft-power initiatives in South Sudan following its independence in July 2011. One such initiative was a vocational training program for South Sudanese welders working in the petroleum industry, which was established in the same week South Sudan officially became independent. (Source)
China also extended a grant of $US31.5 million in October 2011 to help finance development projects in the country. This is indicative of the major interest China has in South Sudan and the immediate region. Vast oil supplies coupled with China’s continually increasing demand for energy resources mean that South Sudan is imperative to China’s global, strategic and economic interests.
India has also become a major player in South Sudan, which it sees as being beneficial to its energy security and strategic interests in Africa and the Indian Ocean region. New Delhi has invested US$2.5 billion in the development of the South Sudanese hydrocarbon sector, with the aim of helping to address India’s growing energy security requirements.
In October 2011, the Indian Government announced a plan to provide solar electricity to a number of villages throughout South Sudan, with seven women from the country to take part in an electrification course in India this year. The Consul General of India to South Sudan, Parimal Kar, also said that India had plans to fund numerous initiatives that would strengthen that infrastructure, education and health sectors in South Sudan. (Source)
India’s own rising demand for energy and desire to gain greater strategic clout in East Africa and Indian Ocean region has meant that South Sudan has also become significant in addressing its interests. Such involvement in South Sudan has increased competition for both strategic influence and oil supplies in that country and the region at large.
The US has also undertaken initiatives in countries neighbouring South Sudan in the months prior to the Presidential approval of US defence exports to the country. The United States announced plans in June 2011 to supply four drone aircraft to Uganda and Burundi to help fight Islamist militants. The supply was part of a US$45 million military aid package to both countries, which provides the bulk of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Supplying the drones was done mainly a tactic by the US to increase influence in East Africa, which, as a whole, has attracted considerable interest from rising powers of the ‘global south’, such as China and India. East Africa’s location near the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, which contain one of the world’s vital shipping lanes, has made it geostrategic asset for the major global powers.
South Sudan’s position as a newly independent and developing state in East Africa has led to it gaining increased attention from the aforementioned nations. Since countries like India and China are now able to rival the US economically, the US is using its military capabilities to increase influence in the country as it is still vastly superior in that area. South Sudan’s own defence inferiority to Sudan and its desire to effectively address those deficiencies, gives the US a strong opportunity to assert its influence in the country and the region. This makes the official approval by President Obama for US defence exports to the country a key move in the US’s strategic goals in East Africa.