Friday, June 15, 2012

On Dependent Independent States: South Sudan

In recent years, several new states have been created: East Timor, Kosovo, and South Sudan, to name a few. While these entities’ statehood may appear unquestionable and almost universally accepted in the global community, their existence poses difficult questions about the contours of statehood and the desirability of supporting statehood for regions which remain heavily dependent on external aid. South Sudan, the most recently created state, illustrates some of these difficult questions. South Sudan, in other words, may be an example of a dependent independent state.
South Sudan celebrated its independence a year ago, when its inhabitants voted in a popular referendum to separate from their mother state, Sudan.  Sudan was a product of decolonization and of the principle of uti possidetis, whereby colonial powers created independent states throughout the African continent pursuant to pre-existing colonial borders and with little regard of the wishes of local populations.
Sudan was doomed from the outset, as its predominantly Arab Muslim inhabitants of the north shared little in common with the predominantly black African southerners. Despite civil wars between the north and the south, Sudan remained a single state for several decades, possibly because of Cold War politics which dictated the continuation of status quo.
Post-Cold War and post-9/11, the people of South Sudan ultimately succeeded in garnering enough support in the world community in order to assert their bid for independence and statehood. In the summer of 2011, the South Sudanese held an independence referendum, at which the overwhelming majority of the population voted to separate from Sudan. Thus, the new state of South Sudan was created and subsequently recognized by most world powers.
Yet, from the outset, South Sudan has been plagued by existential problems. Border skirmishes threatening to evolve into full warfare have continued between Sudan and South Sudan. Many accuse the Khartoum regime of orchestrating deadly raids on the populations of the southern portion of Sudan, which have resulted in a massive refugee crisis and migrations toward South Sudan. Oil production has been cut off in South Sudan, resulting in hardship for its civilian population. Finally, the newly established government of South Sudan is by all accounts extremely corrupt, preventing the flow of foreign aid from reaching populations of South Sudan most in need of such help. Foreign investors have been turned off by the threat of warfare with Sudan and by the overall state of corruption, and the South Sudanese economic development has been stalled.
Under such dire circumstances, South Sudan may survive only with external help: through United Nations Security Council involvement which could prevent war with Sudan; through economic aid by world economic, financial and trade organizations; through foreign investment; through the world powers’ willingness to support the statehood of South Sudan at all costs. South Sudan is thus a dependent independent state, a phenomenon which calls into question the legitimacy of its existence.

The four criteria of statehood under international law include territory, government, population, and the capacity to enter into international relations. It is the fourth pillar of statehood which seems difficult to fulfill in the case of South Sudan, as its capacity to engage in any sort of international affairs remains dependent on external aid. Moreover, the phenomenon of dependent independent states sheds light on the (un)desirability of creating and supporting statehood for entities which cannot survive on their own.
A better model for such entities could be the creation of a transitional period of shared governance between the independence-seeking entity, its mother state, as well as the United Nations or another international organization. During this type of a transitional period, the independence-seeking entity could strive to develop its own institutions, to promote economic development and to strengthen its borders, so that when it becomes truly independent, it no longer depends on its supporters for the protection of its sovereignty. Sovereignty and statehood typically co-exist and are mutually necessary; the phenomenon of dependent independent states creates artificially sovereign states which do not qualify for statehood under international law. Hopes for a better future for South Sudan remain slim, despite its independence and achieved statehood.

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