Originally published by Security Sector Reform Resource Centre on August 18, 2015)
In December 2013, South Sudan’s military integration process faced its most serious challenge, as a political crisis that had been developing throughout the year within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) suddenly escalated, dragging the country into civil war. Within days, Nuer elements of Division 8 in Jonglei state, Division 4 in Unity state, and Division 7 in southern Upper Nile state had defected from the military and formed an armed opposition. These units had been comprised of armed groups that had fought the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), but had since been integrated into the South Sudanese military. By February 2014, South Sudan’s parliament estimated that up to 70% of the SPLA had defected to the opposition.
The fragmentation of the SPLA certainly escalated the rate at which the political dispute metastasized into the civil war it is at present. However, the fighting that erupted between Dinka and Nuer members of the Presidential Guard and quickly spread to SPLA Headquarters at Bilpam in mid-December 2013 was a reaction to a political trigger. Consequently, beyond simple correlation, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the government’s decision to integrate armed groups into the SPLA and the political crisis that led to the outbreak of conflict. Rather, a poorly managed, open-ended integration process and the failure of rightsizing initiatives left the SPLA in a state of arrested development, forestalling efforts to professionalize the military from gaining traction, and making the force more likely to fragment along factional lines during periods of heightened political competition.
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