Originally published by Stability: International Journal of Security and Development on September 27, 2016)
Abstract: This article argues that military integration served a critical purpose in 2006, arguably preventing large-scale conflict within South Sudan and ensuring a level of stability prior to the CPA-mandated referendum on self-determination in 2011. Nonetheless, integration was poorly-conceived and implemented, and received limited support from third party actors that were more focused on rightsizing the SPLA and transforming it into a conventional, professional military. The de facto open-door nature of South Sudan’s integration process created incentives for armed rebellion, while failed rightsizing initiatives increased pressure on the military integration process as the most expedient way of mitigating the threat these groups posed to stability. Integration thus became an end in and of itself rather than a transitional measure to contain former combatants while the government worked out a more long-term solution for South Sudan’s security sector. Consequently, the SPLA was in a state of arrested development, preventing efforts to transform 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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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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