Diplomacy At Work In Sudan

Until recently, the conventional wisdom has been that a pro-independence referendum for southern Sudan was overwhelmingly likely to end in massive bloodshed. Now it looks like things may work out fairly happily. How’d it happen? Elizabeth Dickinson explains the American diplomacy at work:

In short, all the carrots that U.S. diplomats are offering the Sudanese president seem to be working. Among the prizes for Khartoum are a U.S. promise to remove Sudan from its list of terrorism-supporting states and a possible visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to the Sudan Tribune. Earlier this month, U.S. State Department officials also signaled that they would be ready to begin normalization following Sudan’s acceptance of the vote.

That’s great news for the south; as FP contributor Maggie Fick recently explained, normalization with Washington holds great appeal for Bashir — in fact, it’s a big part of his international agenda. So he’s likely to yield to U.S. pressure if it pays off. Bashir’s speech today gets Southern Sudan over one big hurdle toward declaring independence, which it is expected to formally do this July. The next test for U.S. pressure and Sudanese diplomacy is whether an equally congenial atmosphere will accompany talks over tricky issues such as border delineation and the sharing of Sudan’s oil.

The punchline here, sadly, is that normalization is a carrot that can really only be deployed once and so if we use it on behalf of Southern Sudan, our leverage over Darfur runs very thin.

Still, I think there’s a general lesson here. People sometimes look at something like the DPRK’s nuclear proliferation and conclude that there’s little the US can do to influence the behavior of other states short of threatening war. But while North Korea certainly highlights the limits of diplomacy in terms of coercing a profoundly determined actor, the right conclusion to draw is that most national leaders—even “bad guy” ones—don’t want their country to end up like North Korea.