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Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan

The weakness of cease-fire agreements and the return of climate conditions favorable for warfare means the South Sudanese face the threat of mass violence, reprisals, and possibly even genocide.


Rival South Sudanese factions have fought a civil war since the end of 2013, causing mass displacements, tens of thousands of deaths, and widespread hunger. Negotiations between the leaders of these factions are stalled, and South Sudan’s dry season approaches, signaling intensified fighting and a humanitarian crisis of potentially historic proportions. The president of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has called a meeting to discuss options on how to bolster existing peacekeeping efforts and whether to authorize member states to launch humanitarian interventions in or around South Sudan.

Lead Image
UN peacekeeper in South Sudan.

The Situation

Rival South Sudanese factions have fought a civil war since the end of 2013, causing mass displacements, tens of thousands of deaths, and widespread hunger. Negotiations between the leaders of these factions—President Salva Kiir and rebel commander and former Vice President Riek Machar—are stalled, and South Sudan’s dry season approaches, signaling intensified fighting and a humanitarian crisis of potentially historic proportions. Already, about two million South Sudanese have been driven from their homes, and food shortages and health needs have grown acute. Observers fear an eventual famine. Although a United Nations peacekeeping mission is present in South Sudan, the response to the crisis has been criticized as being ineffective. Meanwhile, South Sudanese civilians are suffering. Accordingly, the president of the UN Security Council has called a meeting to address the ongoing situation: to consider how to bolster existing peacekeeping operations, what additional steps to take to establish peace, and whether to authorize unilateral or multilateral humanitarian interventions by UN member states.



  • Humanitarian intervention
  • Responsibility to protect
  • Weak states
  • Peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and peacemaking
  • Civil war
  • Multilateralism
  • Peace negotiations



  • Costs, benefits, and risks of humanitarian interventions
  • Debates surrounding R2P
  • Underdevelopment and its effects
  • Impact of the resource curse
  • U.S. role in South Sudanese independence and corresponding U.S. interests
Guide Sections
UN logo
The UN Security Council

“I believe the people of the world rely on the United Nations to help them achieve two great purposes. They look to it to help them improve the conditions under which they live. And they rely on it to fulfill their profound longing for peace.”

— Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, October 24, 1946

1.1 Overview

The United Nations is the largest and most prominent international organization, its membership including nearly all the world’s countries. It was established in 1945, after the end of World War II, by the United States and some four dozen other countries in an effort to build a more peaceful and cooperative postwar world. The United Nations has four main priorities: to keep peace throughout the world, promote fundamental human rights, strengthen international law, and pursue “social progress” and higher standards of living.

One of the most important functions of the United Nations is the maintenance of international peace and security. This is primarily the task of the UN Security Council, a decision-making body that comprises fifteen countries—five hold permanent seats and ten are elected on a rotating basis. The five permanent members (known as the P5) are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The council’s main responsibilities are to evaluate threats to international peace and security and to promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. When a peaceful settlement cannot be reached, the Security Council can impose diplomatic or economic sanctions and even authorize the use of force to resolve conflicts and prevent new ones. Since its founding, the Security Council has addressed a variety of issues, such as civil wars, terrorism, arms control, and natural disasters.

Despite its prominent position, however, the Security Council’s influence is limited. Any action requires the unanimous agreement of the P5, meaning that no resolution can be adapted if even one permanent member votes no—or vetoes—the measure. This kind of agreement is often difficult to reach, especially when a permanent member thinks its interests will be jeopardized if the measure passes. Moreover, the United Nations lacks its own military forces and thus cannot compel countries to follow its directives. In other words, it has no enforcement power. In short, the Security Council can do only what its member states agree that it should do and are prepared to implement. These factors mean that countries, especially major powers, can bypass the Security Council or ignore its decisions. Nonetheless, the United Nations is the only organization with essentially universal membership, making it—despite its weaknesses—an important feature of international affairs.

The UN Security Council
UN headquarters in New York.

“We have never had a true system of global governance, much less a fully democratic one. Still, across many decades, we established solid foundations for international cooperation. We came together as united nations to build institutions, norms and rules to advance our shared interests.”

— António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, September 25, 2018

The UN System

Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has grown to include 193 member states, several subsidiary bodies, and a network of offices and programs around the world. The nature of the issues on the UN agenda has evolved over time. The Cold War and its associated conflicts dominated for much of the twentieth century. Hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union held up much UN activity, and the Security Council was often deadlocked, given the veto each country held as a permanent member. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this dynamic began to change. In the past twenty years, issues including climate change, terrorism, and international migration have shifted the UN focus away from interstate conflict to problems that transcend national borders.


The United Nations is divided into six principal organs or parts: the General Assembly, the Secretariat, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the Security Council.

The General Assembly deliberates on the widest range of issues, spanning all areas of the United Nations’ work, and is the only body in which all 193 UN member states are represented, each having one vote. General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding—in other words, they are recommendations.

The Secretariat carries out the institution’s day-to-day work. Led by the secretary-general and comprising tens of thousands of staff members from various countries, the Secretariat administers peacekeeping missions; staffs UN offices around the world; and operates communications, financial, and many other functions. As the organization’s chief administrative officer, the secretary-general attends sessions of UN bodies, consults with world leaders and other interested parties, issues reports on the work of the United Nations, and acts as a spokesperson for the organization.

The United Nations also includes the Economic and Social Council, tasked with coordinating and discussing economic, social, and environmental issues; the Trusteeship Council, created to provide international supervision for decolonization and now largely inactive; and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), responsible for settling legal disputes between states.

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The UN Security Council
Un peackeepers.

“UN Security Council Resolutions are only as effective as their enforcement.”

— Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, December 17, 2015

1.3 The UN Security Council

The Security Council is tasked with identifying and addressing threats to international security. In addition, it makes recommendations to the General Assembly for the appointment of the secretary-general and the admission of new members to the United Nations. Security Council decisions are communicated through resolutions, which are formal texts that outline steps to be taken and the reasoning behind those steps. In the absence of agreement, the body may also issue presidential statements, which are similar in content and form to a formal resolution but do not legally bind member states.



Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States make up the permanent members of the council. The remaining ten members are elected by the General Assembly to serve two-year terms. In electing nonpermanent council members, the General Assembly considers two factors. It must consider the “contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization.” In practice, this stipulation means that aggressive, norm-defying countries tend not to be elected to the council and that countries that contribute significantly to the United Nations (financially or in the form of personnel and equipment) appear more frequently. Second, nonpermanent members must reflect an equitable geographic distribution, meaning members must be elected from each of the major regions of the world.


The Security Council presidency is held on a rotating basis by both permanent and nonpermanent member states. The position rotates in English alphabetical order by country name, each country holding office for one month. The president presides over meetings and serves as the Security Council’s representative before all other UN organizations. However, it is the UN secretary-general, and not the Security Council president, who sets the agenda for council meetings. The president simply approves this agenda.

Subsidiary Organs

Various subsidiary organs exist to support the Security Council’s mission and implement its resolutions. These range from committees on sanctions, counterterrorism, and nonproliferation to international criminal tribunals that prosecute those responsible for genocide and war crimes. The council also maintains partnerships or close relationships with a variety of other elements in the UN system, such as the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which manages peacekeeping field operations, and the International Court of Justice, to which it often refers cases.


Meetings of the Security Council are typically called when a state—even a nonmember (one of the two observer states at the United Nations or other states whose sovereignty is disputed)—brings a dispute to the Security Council’s attention, when the General Assembly refers a question to the council, or when the secretary-general raises a concern about international peace and security. Once the president decides that a meeting is necessary, he or she calls for a session to address the issue.

Both UN members and nonmembers, the latter if they are parties to a dispute being considered by the Security Council, are invited to participate, though nonmembers do not have a vote in the council’s discussions. If a Security Council member is party to the dispute being discussed, it must abstain (in other words, formally decline) from voting.

Both Security Council members and invited participants may introduce a draft of a resolution—a ruling or recommendation made by a UN body—expressing a Security Council decision. After debating proposals, any member may call for a vote. A resolution needs nine votes to pass. However, a dissenting vote from any of the five permanent Security Council members can defeat a resolution, no matter how many affirmative votes it receives. This powerful dissenting vote is known as the veto. Permanent members may use their veto for any reason; typically, they do so to stop resolutions that threaten their national interests. Security Council members may also abstain from voting; in such a case, a resolution passes as long as no other member exercises a veto. Permanent members sometimes abstain from a vote if they disagree with a resolution but are not sufficiently opposed to veto it.

Powers, Functions, and Tools

If a resolution passes, the Security Council has several powers that it can use to ensure that resolution’s implementation. Certain Security Council resolutions are considered legally binding on all UN member states, meaning that the countries are obligated to comply with the terms of the resolution. This sets the Security Council apart from other UN organs, which are empowered only to issue recommendations.

The United Nations’ founding document, the UN Charter, lays out the tools the Security Council can use to execute its work. These are established in Chapter VI and Chapter VII of the charter. Under Chapter VI, the council can only make recommendations of how parties should resolve a dispute. Under Chapter VII, however, the council may use more forceful methods. Generally, resolutions under Chapter VII are considered binding.

Chapter VI: Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

Chapter VI allows the Security Council to seek solutions to disputes by “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means.”

Actions taken under Chapter VI include

  • referring legal disputes to the International Court of Justice,
  • recommending terms for the settlement of conflicts,
  • facilitating dispute resolution through a formal arbitration, and
  • launching peacekeeping missions.

The recommendations made under Chapter VI are just that—recommendations. They cannot be imposed on the parties concerned without their consent.

Peacekeeping missions may fall under Chapter VI or Chapter VII. In the case of Chapter VI missions, forces are deployed to help maintain a peace agreement, cease-fire, or other such arrangement that has already taken hold between warring parties. Peacekeeping missions under Chapter VI may include unarmed observers, lightly armed troops, or both. Their goal is to prevent new outbreaks of conflict and peacefully resolve disputes that arise. UN personnel tend to be stationed along a boundary line, such as a national border, and their role is usually to report infractions of peace agreements rather than to intervene. Critically, Chapter VI peacekeeping missions require the consent (or agreement) of the parties involved in the conflict, are considered impartial, and do not use force except in self-defense.

Chapter VII: Maintaining or Enforcing Peace

Chapter VII addresses “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.”

Actions taken under Chapter VII include

  • severing diplomatic relations;
  • imposing economic sanctions, ranging from comprehensive economic and trade sanctions to more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and financial or diplomatic restrictions;
  • creating international tribunals, such as those for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia;
  • establishing or modifying peace enforcement or peace-building missions; and
  • calling for military intervention, either by multinational forces (organized, e.g., by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]) or by regional organizations (such as the African Union).

Unlike Security Council resolutions issued under Chapter VI, those adopted under Chapter VII are binding. Two examples of Chapter VII resolutions are Resolution 1695, which in 2006 imposed sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear program, and Resolution 1973, which in 2011 established the legal basis for military intervention in the Libyan civil war.

One of the most frequently used tools under Chapter VII is the imposition of sanctions. Sanctions are restrictions on a country, organization, or individual, typically limiting the target’s ability to travel, trade, or access financial resources. They can be used to discourage certain future actions, such as building nuclear weapons, to pressure a party to act, or to punish it for violating international rules. Sanctions can target entire sectors of a country’s economy, but more commonly the Security Council pursues targeted—or smart—sanctions against certain industries, businesses, or individuals. These can include arms embargoes, travel restrictions, or financial asset freezes.

Sanctions have become a popular tool because they offer a way to intervene in an issue without the risks and costs associated with the use of military force. However, sanctions have raised some concerns as well. Critics have argued that even highly targeted sanctions can have unintended consequences, especially on already vulnerable populations. Furthermore, the Security Council lacks a concrete method of enforcing its sanctions, instead relying on individual countries to enforce them; if sanctions are weakly enforced, the target may be able to work around them, avoiding their effects and potentially discrediting the value of sanctions in the future.

If nonmilitary options, such as sanctions, fail to resolve a dispute, the Security Council may authorize a peace enforcement mission. Unlike Chapter VI peacekeeping missions, Chapter VII enforcement missions do not require the consent of the parties involved and are authorized to “take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” The personnel involved may include heavily armed troops and may use force in situations other than self-defense. Chapter VII peace enforcement missions can take different forms. Sometimes they are undertaken by UN peacekeeping forces and operate under UN command, but in other instances they can be led by a coalition of member states authorized to do so by a Security Council resolution.

In practice, the line between Chapter VI and Chapter VII missions is not always clear. A Security Council resolution does not need to explicitly refer to the chapter it is invoking. Moreover, a mission’s mandate—or description of its mission—may change over time to adjust to changing circumstances; a mission established under Chapter VI may be expanded to also fall under Chapter VII if the situation evolves and requires a more robust intervention.

The UN Security Council
Migrants and UNHCR soldiers.

The world has changed and the UN should change and adapt. If we don’t change the council, we risk a situation where the primacy of the council may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries”

— Kofi Anan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations, September 23, 2015

1.4 Current Issues

The Security Council was able to expand its activities considerably at the end of the Cold War. Because the United States and the Soviet Union were no longer in direct opposition, the number of vetoes declined significantly and the council was able to take action on a greater range of issues, including civil conflicts, climate change, and humanitarian crises. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, international terrorism came to the forefront of the council’s agenda.

Despite this increased activity, the Security Council continues to face significant challenges. The United Nations greatly expanded its peacekeeping efforts after the Cold War. But peacekeeping missions have faced criticism for being underfunded, for being limited in scope, and for abuses committed by peacekeepers themselves. In some cases, such as in Rwanda in 1994, peacekeepers have been accused of failing to prevent genocide.

In recent years, renewed tension between Russia and the United States has emerged as an obstacle to Security Council action. Most notably, observers and Security Council members themselves have sharply criticized the council’s inability to take action on the Syrian civil war, despite multiple reports of war crimes and an estimated death toll of at least five hundred thousand people. Russia, an ally of Syria’s government, has vetoed several resolutions aimed at stabilizing the conflict and alleviating the growing humanitarian crisis, arguing that any such resolution would be a violation of Syria’s sovereignty (in other words, the Syrian government’s authority over its territory). Use of vetoes has increased in the last decade, Russia and the United States casting the majority of them.

These challenges have led many UN members, including the United States, to call for changes to the Security Council. Many observers argue that the council’s composition, which allots the five permanent seats to the winners of World War II (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), does not reflect the power structure of today’s world. They argue instead for extending permanent membership to more members. Another source of criticism has been the P5’s veto, which, critics assert, undermines the council’s ability to take action.

Reform, however, is controversial and complicated. Any reform of the Security Council would require an amendment to the UN Charter that is approved and ratified by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly and then a vote in the Security Council, where the permanent members would enjoy their usual right to veto. Given this, any reform of the UN Security Council that is not supported, or at least tolerated, by the P5 is unachievable, and garnering such support or tolerance will almost certainly prove impossible.

Guide Glossary


arbitration:a method of dispute resolution in which the parties submit their claims to an agreed-upon and impartial third party, who renders a decision that the parties agree to obey.


cease-fire:an agreement by one or more parties to a conflict to end military activities at a specified time, often for the purpose of allowing the pursuit of peace negotiations or the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Cold War:the contest between the United States and the Soviet Union—and, by extension, capitalist democracy and communist dictatorship—that characterized international politics between the post–World War II years and the early 1990s. Deemed a “cold” war because the rivalry never resulted in direct warfare between the two, the contest nevertheless sparked proxy wars in other countries and many close calls, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.


embargo:a ban on trade with a certain country or entity. Embargoes can restrict the trade of all goods, or target certain commodities, such as weapons.


genocide:the intentional mass destruction of a group of people based on religion, ethnicity, or another identity or characteristic. The United Nations (UN) recognized the act of genocide as a crime under international law in 1948.


international law:a body of formal rules and norms considered binding among states. It is one of the organized bases upon which states interact with each other in the international system. Sources of international law include treaties, such as formal bilateral defense pacts or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and international customs, such as general prohibitions against slavery and genocide, many of which are also formally codified.


norm:a broadly accepted principle of behavior that may not be formally written but is generally agreed on and followed by members of a group, such as countries in the international system.


Resolution:a formal document articulating an opinion or decision by a UN body.


sanction:a tool of statecraft, frequently involving economic measures such as asset freezes and trade restrictions, used to exact a certain behavior or outcome from another party. The U.S. and EU sanctions against Russian companies and individuals that aim to encourage Russia to end its interference in Ukraine are an example.
sovereignty:supreme or absolute authority over a territory.
Soviet Union:officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the political entity in existence from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the early 1990s that encompassed modern-day Russia and fifteen neighboring countries. With a communist economy and totalitarian system of government, the Soviet Union grew to be the other major superpower in the post–World War II era. As such, it was the principal antagonist of the United States during the Cold War.


terrorism:the use of violence to incite fear and achieve an objective, usually a political one.
trusteeship:the supervisory administration of a territory by another country. The intention is generally to help the territory prepare for independence. One of the core functions of the United Nations, upon its founding in 1945, was to supervise various territories governed under trusteeship. Over time, all became autonomous or independent.


United Nations:an international organization composed of 193 independent member states that aims to promote international peace and stability, human rights, and economic development. The United Nations was established in 1945 and remains the only organization with practically universal membership among the world’s countries. It includes the Security Council, General Assembly, and a range of other bodies; a secretary-general, currently Ban Ki-moon, serves as its leader. The United Nations also has an array of affiliated programs and agencies, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
United Nations Security Council:the principal UN body charged with maintaining international peace and security. The UN Security Council is the only UN body with the authority to pass resolutions that are binding on the 193 UN member states. It includes five permanent member states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and ten rotating members elected to two-year terms. The five permanent members have veto power over resolutions, making their agreement necessary for a resolution’s approval. This structure provides strong international legitimacy to Security Council resolutions but also stymies action when the major powers disagree.


Veto:the right to reject a decision and block it from taking effect. The UN Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) each have the ability to veto Security Council resolutions.


Yugoslavia:a former country in Southeastern Europe. Between 1992 and 2008, Yugoslavia broke into seven independent countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Case Notes Sections
UN peacekeeper in South Sudan.

“The war started between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. The war could end there.”

— Nyakhor, Nuer woman, June 3, 2015

2.1 The Issue

South Sudan is in crisis. Since winning independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of bloodshed, the country has faced a troubled existence. Despite having large oil reserves that could fuel a strong economy, South Sudan remains one of the world’s least developed countries. Government institutions are dysfunctional. Political and ethnic rivalries between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar caused the government to effectively collapse in late 2013, plunging the country into a civil war marked by ethnically targeted attacks.

This conflict has led to a severe humanitarian crisis. More than four million South Sudanese, in a population of thirteen million, have been driven from their homes. As a result, agricultural production and local markets have been disrupted, and food shortages and health needs have grown severe. As many as 383,000 people have died since the beginning of the conflict.

A UN peacekeeping mission of more than nineteen thousand peacekeepers from more than sixty countries has been present in South Sudan since 2011, seeking to establish peace and ensure access to humanitarian aid. However, this mission so far has been unable to curtail hostilities and has been criticized for failing to protect civilians. The ongoing crisis has also led other countries, including members of the UN Security Council, to consider launching their own humanitarian interventions. Such interventions would be guided by the responsibility to protect (R2P) prevent a number of genocides. According to this doctrine, countries have a responsibility to intervene in other countries when crimes against humanity or genocides are being perpetrated. This norm is not legally binding, however, and its application in past cases has been controversial.

UN peacekeeper in South Sudan.
South Sudanese woman carrying water.

“Stop killing. We need peace… Only WFP gives us food. We can’t find it anywhere else. There’s not enough in the market. And there’s too much water in the land to cultivate crops.”

— Elizabeth, South Sudanese teenager, March 2015

2.2 Background

Historically, the region in and around South Sudan has struggled with harsh geography, an unforgiving climate, an underdeveloped economy, and dysfunctional, often feuding, governments. South Sudan’s huge oil deposits have fallen under mismanagement and the threat of violence. The oil wealth has not benefited most of the South Sudanese people. Even in peacetime, the population of South Sudan lives on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

The current crisis traces its roots to a decades-long civil war between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), among other, smaller rebel groups. The war ended in 2005, and in 2011 South Sudan seceded from Sudan in a referendum supported by 98.8 percent of the electorate. Salva Kiir, the head of the SPLM/A, became South Sudan’s first president. He appointed a rival militia leader, Riek Machar, as his vice president. Machar represented the Nuer ethnic group (16 percent of the population), Kiir represented the Dinka (36 percent). These are South Sudan’s largest ethnic groups and are closely related. They do not have a long history of tensions; indeed, their members have often intermarried. However, their relationship has deteriorated over decades of fighting among rival South Sudanese militias that claim different sectarian affiliations. Kiir believed that Machar’s appointment would help unify the new country.

The two leaders disagreed over the allocation of oil profits, however. Kiir wanted the profits to flow to the central government, but Machar said they should go to South Sudan’s individual states. (Machar’s home state of Unity has some of the nation’s richest oil fields.) Additionally, Kiir took steps to bolster his executive powers, whereas Machar argued for power to be less centralized.

In mid-2013, Kiir launched a series of investigations and suspensions that he portrayed as anticorruption measures but that were widely denounced as an attempt to consolidate his power. Claiming his rivals were plotting a coup, Kiir fired his entire cabinet, including Machar, who had declared that he would challenge Kiir in the next presidential election.

In December 2013, violence erupted in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, between Dinka and Nuer soldiers in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which had become South Sudan’s national army. The resulting firefight killed at least five hundred people, including civilians. As Dinka soldiers moved to massacre Nuers, Nuer militias retaliated. Thousands of executions followed. Nuer soldiers mutinied and deserted across the country. Machar fled Juba, rallying a rebel Nuer army. Since then, violence has continued across South Sudan, primarily between the SPLA, loyal to Kiir, and Machar’s rebel forces, known as the SPLM/A in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). Other militias have also conducted attacks. Civilians are caught in the crossfire.

This conflict has disrupted the livelihood of millions of South Sudanese by severely threatening agriculture, on which many rely to support themselves and their families. Many farmers, already struggling under drought conditions, have left their fields. Those who stay are at the mercy of the warring parties as well as many loosely affiliated gangs and militias roaming the countryside. Severe disruptions to South Sudan’s agricultural production have sparked a food crisis, and 2.5 million people now face starvation.

The 2016–2017 dry season was marked by severe food shortages. In February 2017, the United Nations declared famine in parts of the country. The humanitarian crisis, coupled with ethnic violence, continued to batter the South Sudanese, many of whom were left homeless. According to a May 2017 announcement from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1.8 million South Sudanese had fled their country, 62 percent of them children.

International attempts to resolve the crisis have so far been unsuccessful. Groups such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have attempted to facilitate negotiations between the warring parties several times, but each cease-fire between Kiir’s and Machar’s forces has collapsed shortly after being announced. In 2016, it seemed that a fragile peace had been achieved, but it too collapsed after only six months. The United Nations established a peacekeeping mission, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), soon after South Sudan gained independence in 2011. So far, however, UNMISS has been unable to manage the tensions. Meanwhile, violence and food scarcity have continued, and international aid groups cannot access parts of the country to distribute humanitarian aid.

In June 2018, Kiir and Machar met for the first time since 2016 and a signed an IGAD-brokered peace deal. They later agreed to a power-sharing deal, according to which Machar would return as vice president. Analysts are skeptic about whether the deal would last and stress that, despite this apparent progress toward peace, the ongoing humanitarian crisis has yet to end. Cease-fire violations and human rights abuses, including rape and mass killings, have continued even during the negotiations.

The violence in South Sudan has drawn widespread outrage from many governments. Several of them, including the United States, have condemned the fighting and imposed sanctions on individuals on both sides of the conflict. The United Nations has frequently condemned actions by both Kiir’s and Machar’s forces, publishing reports of mass atrocities and recruitment of child soldiers by both sides. In July 2018, the UN Security Council voted to enact an arms embargo on South Sudan to stop the flow of weapons to participants of the conflict. Critics argue that the embargo comes too late to have a serious effect and risks jeopardizing the peace process.

UN peacekeeper in South Sudan.
UNMISS soldiers

“While the people of South Sudan suffer, the Security Council and the region stand divided. This has merely allowed time to mobilize resources to continue the slaughter.”

— UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, December 16, 2016

2.3 Role of the UN Security Council

The United Nations has maintained a significant presence in Sudan and South Sudan throughout the twenty-first century. Shortly after the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the UN Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission to support the implementation of the agreement and provide humanitarian assistance. After South Sudan gained independence in 2011, the United Nations established the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to support the new country in establishing peace and security. When civil war broke out in 2013, UNMISS shifted its focus to prioritizing the protection of civilians.

The UNMISS mandate has been extended through March 2020 and will include a troop ceiling of seventeen thousand and a police ceiling of 2,101 personnel. In a resolution issued in March 2019, the UN Security Council stated that the mandate of UNMISS was

  • protecting civilians under threat of physical violence,
  • creating conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance,
  • monitoring and investigating human rights, and
  • supporting the implementation of the peace process.

Since its establishment, the mission has faced harsh criticism for failing to implement its mandate; one report detailed several instances of peacekeepers abandoning their posts and failing to protect civilians from danger. In response to some of these criticisms, the UNMISS commander was fired in November 2016.

The top priority for the UN Security Council in this situation is preventing atrocities and reducing the violence and loss of life in South Sudan. Many observers have criticized the United Nations for its responses to past humanitarian crises, such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide or the 1995 genocide in Bosnia, arguing that the peacekeeping forces in those areas were mismanaged and should have done more to prevent atrocities. In response, the United Nations adopted the responsibility to protect doctrine (R2P), which established a norm for robust international intervention in cases of crimes against humanity or genocides that a national government cannot or will not stop. The norm is nonbinding—meaning that member states are not legally required to abide by it—and its application to specific situations is often disputed.

Policy Options

As the Security Council deliberates how to respond to the recent resurgence of violence in South Sudan, member states will need to balance the desire for a timely response to a crisis with the need to secure support from as many council members as possible, especially permanent members. The Security Council has three main options to consider as it formulates a response to the crisis.

Call for Negotiations

The Security Council could call on the South Sudanese government and rebel leaders to restart peace negotiations. They could restart with the help of UN mediators or through the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which has facilitated past negotiations. A call for negotiations offers a way to respond quickly to the situation at hand, perhaps while the United Nations continues to debate other measures. However, there is no guarantee that the warring parties will respond to such a call, and if they do, Security Council members will need to consider what, if any, measures they can take to prevent the negotiations from breaking down as previous ones have. This is the least ambitious option—essentially a continuation of the status quo. It is also the most likely to garner consensus among member states. Should calling for negotiations be ineffective, however, the United Nations could be criticized for inaction and negligence.

Strengthen the Existing Peacekeeping Mission

Member states could decide to bolster the effectiveness of existing peacekeeping operations by requesting that member states provide additional troops and resources—heavy military materiel such as helicopters and armored tanks—to UNMISS. This option would entail adopting a resolution raising the UNMISS force levels beyond the existing ceiling, possibly improving the capability of forces to protect civilians and establish reliable access to humanitarian aid.

The Security Council could also seek to expand the mandate of UNMISS beyond the protection of civilians, perhaps by authorizing peacekeepers to use force to ensure access to humanitarian aid entering the country or to facilitate the voluntary return of displaced persons. Expanding the mandate would allow UNMISS to address the conflict while helping to relieve human suffering. Moreover, this option falls under the umbrella of existing operations and is therefore more likely to pass if voted on by Security Council member states.

Deploying additional peacekeepers or expanding the mission mandate could increase UNMISS’s abilities to improve conditions in South Sudan, but the option comes with significant costs and risks. UN member states could be reluctant to put their military personnel at risk by contributing additional forces to the mission. Moreover, greater numbers do not guarantee that UNMISS will be better able to achieve its goals. Finally, the government of South Sudan may not agree to an expanded UNMISS mandate; many South Sudanese leaders are adamantly opposed to it.

Call for Military Intervention

In the most extreme option, the Security Council could issue a resolution declaring an immediate cease-fire and calling for military intervention, either by multinational forces such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or by regional organizations such as the African Union. Such an intervention would be considered legitimate under the Security Council resolution. The resolution would be issued under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and presumably under the auspices of the R2P doctrine.

Similar to Resolution 1973, which established the legal basis for intervention in Libya in 2011, this option would authorize UN member states to use all means necessary short of foreign occupation to establish a no-fly zone and protect civilians. The resolution could also impose additional stipulations, such as an arms embargo, travel bans on South Sudanese nationals, and a freezing of assets owned by South Sudanese authorities. Such an intervention would avoid the risks and costs of strengthening UNMISS forces while promising better-trained and better-supplied forces that can establish peace and ensure access to humanitarian aid more effectively. If Security Council members choose this option, they will also have to consider the end goals of any military action: will the intervention be considered a success if it leads to the cessation of hostilities, or is the intent to establish a new government or an international trusteeship?

This option could be the most effective at changing conditions on the ground in South Sudan but would also be the most difficult to implement. First, for such an operation to be successful, several countries would need to express willingness to intervene in South Sudan. Even if countries were willing, such a measure would need to go through the Security Council, each of whose veto-wielding permanent members has blocked similar resolutions in the past. Finally, there is no guarantee that a military intervention will be successful or popular. The 2011 intervention by NATO-led forces in Libya was widely considered a failure and drew significant criticisms from UN member states, including assertions that the UN mandate was vague, the military planning incoherent, and the underlying motivations sinister. As of 2019—eight years after the intervention—Libya is ruled by competing governments, overrun with armed groups, and home to more than seven hundred thousand internally displaced people.

Case Notes Glossary


African Union (AU):a regional organization with fifty-four members representing every African country except Morocco. Established in 2002 as an outgrowth of the Organization of African Unity, the AU aims to promote democratic governance, economic development, and intergovernmental cooperation among African countries while protecting national sovereignty and peacefully resolving disputes. In recent years, the AU has participated in crisis mediation and peacekeeping missions, such as the one in Sudan’s Darfur region.


cease-fire:an agreement by one or more parties to a conflict to end military activities at a specified time, often for the purpose of allowing the pursuit of peace negotiations or the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA):a 2005 accord ending the Sudanese civil war that began in 1983. Among other provisions, the agreement, signed by Sudan’s government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), created a semiautonomous Southern Sudan region and called for the region’s people to vote in a 2011 referendum on independence.
coup d’état:a government takeover, often led by the military, that does not use the country’s codified mechanisms for changing power (such as elections).


genocide:the intentional mass destruction of a group of people based on religion, ethnicity, or another identity or characteristic. The United Nations (UN) recognized the act of genocide as a crime under international law in 1948.


Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD):an eight-member East African regional organization established in 1996 and the primary convening authority for negotiations in the South Sudanese conflict. IGAD’s mission includes regional cooperation and support to members on issues such as economic development, food security, and the environment.
internally displaced person (IDP):an individual forced to leave home due to conflict or natural disaster who, unlike a refugee, remains in his or her country of origin and does not cross a recognized international border.


multilateral:undertaken among three or more entities, usually countries. The term frequently describes organizations such as the United Nations (UN).


no-fly zone:an area where aircraft are prohibited from flying, sometimes imposed in conflict zones and enforced with the threat of armed retaliation. A recent international example is the no-fly zone over Libya approved by the UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2011.
norm:a broadly accepted principle of behavior that may not be formally written but is generally agreed on and followed by members of a group, such as countries in the international system.


referendum:a vote, typically organized by a government, in which participants approve or reject a certain policy proposal. This is a form of direct democracy, in which citizens themselves (as opposed to elected representatives) make a policy decision.
responsibility to protect (R2P):a nonbinding norm holding that outside powers have a responsibility to intervene in response to a government’s failure to protect its population from mass atrocities such as genocide, even though this violates the government’s sovereignty. The world’s governments adopted the R2P doctrine in 2005, but it remains controversial and unevenly applied.
Riek Machar:the head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). An ethnic Nuer and a longtime member of the mainstream SPLM/A, Machar formed his own splinter rebel group in the 1990s and then served in the Sudanese government before reconciling with the SPLM/A in 2002. Machar served as vice president of Southern and then South Sudan from 2005 to 2013, when Kiir fired him.


Salva Kiir:the president of South Sudan. An ethnic Dinka and longtime southern rebel, Kiir became vice president of Sudan, president of Southern Sudan, and head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) after John Garang’s 2005 death. Kiir was elected president of the new South Sudan at the country’s independence in 2011.
sanction:a tool of statecraft, frequently involving economic measures such as asset freezes and trade restrictions, used to exact a certain behavior or outcome from another party. The U.S. and EU sanctions against Russian companies and individuals that aim to encourage Russia to end its interference in Ukraine are an example.
secession:the act of breaking away from a territory or leaving an organization, usually for the purposes of establishing a new one. The secession of eleven southern, slaveholding states from the United States and their subsequent establishment of the Confederate States of America led to the American Civil War.
sectarian:characterized by differences among religious or political subgroups or sects, such as Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A):South Sudan’s ruling political party and armed forces, led by President Salva Kiir. The SPLM/A began under John Garang’s leadership as a rebel group against the Sudanese government and has long represented a broad constituency with sometimes divergent goals.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO):the South Sudanese rebel group led by former Vice President Riek Machar. Mostly Nuer and often supported by smaller militias, the SPLM/A-IO is a splinter group from South Sudan’s ruling party and armed forces. It has not expressed a consistent agenda.
Sudanese civil war:an armed conflict between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), sparked by the 1983 creation of the SPLM/A. The war, which also involved various smaller militias, is considered to be a continuation of earlier hostilities between Khartoum and southern rebels that occurred from 1955 to 1972. It ended with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).


unilateral:undertaken by only one entity, generally a country.
Role Play Sections
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.1 Role 

Welcome to your role as a participant in the UN Security Council (UNSC)! You should have received an email with your role assignment, but if you did not, you can view your assignment by clicking on the “My Simulations” tab on your account page. At this point, you should have reviewed essential background information about the UN Security Council, read the case, watched the accompanying videos, and perused some of the additional reading. Whether you have been assigned a specific role as an individual or part of a group, we suggest you read the case once again to identify material that is particularly relevant to your role or that requires further investigation. After that, you will conduct independent research as you write your draft resolution clauses and prepare for the role-play.

There are four subsections that follow. Research and Preparation (3.2) will aid your research for the draft resolution clauses and provide additional reading to guide your research; the Guide to the Draft Resolutions (3.3) provides information about position memos and an example; and the Guide to the Role-Play (3.4) provides more information on the in-class role-play.

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.2 Research and Preparation

Your role sheet contains three parts: a description of your role, issues for consideration, and research leads. The role description details the position you will portray in the role-play. The issues for consideration will guide your thinking and assist you in approaching the case from the perspective of your assigned role. Most relevant, however, are the research leads. Going beyond the reports and articles linked to throughout the case and in the reading list, these research leads provide suggested materials and topics for further research specifically relevant to your assigned role. Below are some tips to review as you prepare for the role-play exercise.

Research and Preparation

  • Draw on the case notes, additional case materials, and your own research to familiarize yourself with

    • the goals of the UN Security Council in general and of this Council meeting in particular;
    • the national interests at stake in the case for the country you’re representing and their importance to national security;
    • the aspects of the case most relevant to your country;
    • the elements that a comprehensive UN Security Council resolution on the case should contain; and
    • the major debates or conflicts likely to occur during the role-play. You need not resolve these yourself, of course, but you will want to anticipate them in order to articulate and defend your position in the UNSC deliberation.
  • Set goals for your research. Know which questions you seek to answer and refer back to the case notes, additional readings, and research leads as needed.
  • Make a list of questions that you feel are not fully answered by the given materials. What do you need to research in greater depth? Can your classmates help you understand these subjects?
  • Using the case materials, additional readings, and discussions with your classmates, weigh the relative importance of the interests at stake in the case. Determine where trade-offs might be required and think through the potential consequences of several different policy options.
  • Conduct your research from the perspective of your assigned role, but be sure to consider the full range of country positions and foreign interests, whether diplomatic, military, economic, environmental, moral, or otherwise. This will help you strengthen your policy position and anticipate and prepare for debates in the role-play.
  • Consider what questions or challenges the secretary-general or other UN Security Council members might raise regarding the options you propose and have responses ready.



  • Consult a wide range of sources to gain a full perspective on the issues raised in the case and on policy options. Seek out sources that you may not normally use, such as publications from the region(s) under discussion, unclassified and declassified government documents, and specialized policy reports and journals.
  • Remember: Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but it can be a reasonable starting point. The citations at the bottom of each entry often contain useful resources. 
  • Just as policymakers tackle issues that are controversial and subject to multiple interpretations, so will you in your preparation for the writing assignments and role-play. For this reason, evaluate your sources carefully. Always ask yourself:
    • When was the information produced? Is it still relevant and accurate?
    • Who is writing or speaking and why? Does the author or speaker have a particular motivation or affiliation that you should take into account?
    • Where is the information published? Determine the political leanings of journals, magazines, and newspapers by reading several articles published by each one.
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Does the author provide sufficient evidence for his or her analysis or opinion? Does the author cite reliable and impartial sources?
    • Does the information appear one-sided? Does it consider multiple points of view?
    • Is the language measured or inflammatory? Do any of the points appear exaggerated?
  • Take note of and cite your sources correctly. This is important not just for reasons of academic integrity, but so that you can revisit them as needed.
  • Ask your teacher which style he or she prefers you use when citing sources, such as Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style, or Associated Press (AP).

Reading List 


2.1 The Issue

Jennifer Williams, “The Conflict in South Sudan, Explained,” Vox, January 9, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/8/13817072/south-sudan-crisis-explained-ethnic-cleansing-genocide

Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, “The Responsibility to Protect” Foreign Affairs, 2002, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2002-11-01/responsibility-protect

Alex de Waal and Abdul Mohammed, “Breakdown in South Sudan: What Went Wrong—and How to Fix It,” Foreign Affairs, January 1, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/sudan/2014-01-01/breakdown-south-sudan.


2.2 Background

Katherine Noel and Alex de Waal, “Understanding the Roots of Conflict in South Sudan,” CFR.org, September 14, 2016, https://www.cfr.org/interview/understanding-roots-conflict-south-sudan?cid=rss-analysisbriefaskcfrexpertsb-understanding_the_roots_of_con-091416

Carol Berger, “Old Enmities in the Newest Nation: Behind the Fighting in South Sudan,” New Yorker, January 23, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/old-enmities-in-the-newest-nation-behind-the-fighting-in-south-sudan

Lesley Warner, “South Sudan Post-Independence: Things Fall Apart,” War on the Rocks, July 17, 2014, http://warontherocks.com/2014/07/south-sudan-post-independence-things-fall-apart/


2.3 Role of the United Nations Security Council

The Fault Lines Digital Team, “Sudan Expert: International Community Enabled South Sudanese Corruption,” Al Jazeera America, April 12, 2015, http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/fault-lines/articles/2015/4/12/sudan-expert-international-community-enabled-south-sudanese-corruption.html.

Fred Aja Agwu, “The Challenge of Humanitarian Intervention Since Rwanda,” Council of Councils, August 6, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/councilofcouncils/global_memos/p33324.

Séverine Autesserre, “The Crisis of Peacekeeping: Why the UN Can’t End Wars,” Foreign Affairs, December 11, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-12-11/crisis-peacekeeping.


Further Reading

Charlotte Alfred, “How South Sudan’s Conflict is Killing Women Far From the Battlefield,” WorldPost, July 10, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/10/women-in-south-sudan_n_7707560.html.

———, “Meet the South Sudanese Farmers Who Want to Feed Their War-Torn Nation,” WorldPost, June 1, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/south-sudan-farmers_n_7488264.html.

Jon Lee Anderson, “A History of Violence,” New Yorker, July 23, 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/07/23/a-history-of-violence-4.

Jeremy Astill-Brown, “South Sudan’s Slide into Conflict: Revisiting the Past and Reassessing Partnerships,” Chatham House, December 2014, http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/field/field_document/20141203SouthSudanConflictAstillBrown.pdf.

Cheri Baker, “Brutal Violence in South Sudan: How Peacekeepers Can Do More to Protect Civilians,” War on the Rocks, November 27, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/11/brutal-violence-in-south-sudan-how-peacekeepers-can-do-more-to-protect-civilians/

James Copnall, “Bullets Banish Books in South Sudan as Education Becomes a Casualty of War,” Guardian, July 7, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/07/bullets-banish-books-south-sudan-education-casualty-war.

———, “South Sudan: Fighting Against History,” African Arguments, May 26, 2015, http://africanarguments.org/2015/05/26/south-sudan-fighting-against-history-by-james-copnall/.

Alex de Waal, “Sizzling South Sudan: Why Oil Is Not the Whole Story,” Foreign Affairs, February 7, 2013, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/sudan/2013-02-07/sizzling-south-sudan.

Pamela Dockins, “What Triggered the Kiir-Machar Rift in South Sudan?” Voice of America, January 9, 2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/what-triggered-the-kir-machar-rift-in-south-sudan/1826903.html.

Charlton Doki and Adam Mohamed Ahmad, “‘Africa’s Arms Dump’: Following the Trail of Bullets in the Sudans,” Guardian, October 2, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/02/-sp-africa-arms-dump-south-sudan.  

Peter Dörrie, “China Is Stealthily Arming Troops in South Sudan,” The Week/War Is Boring, March 11, 2015, http://theweek.com/articles/543301/china-stealthily-arming-troops-south-sudan.

Peter Dörrie, “No One Is Winning South Sudan’s Civil War,” War Is Boring, April 28, 2015, https://medium.com/war-is-boring/no-one-is-winning-south-sudan-s-civil-war-3d95e9f12af0.

Janice Elmore, “Kittens in the Oven: Dashed Hopes in South Sudan,” War on the Rocks, January 14, 2014, http://warontherocks.com/2014/01/kittens-in-the-oven-dashed-hopes-in-south-sudan/?singlepage=1.

Lee Feinstein and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “A Duty to Prevent,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2004-01-01/duty-prevent.

Simona Foltyn, “Independent South Sudan’s Economic Woes,” Al Jazeera, July 8, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/07/independent-south-sudans-economic-woes-150705112843046.html.

Emily Fornof, “South Sudan Activists Call for Civil Society Role in Peace Process,” United States Institute of Peace, May 27, 2014, http://www.usip.org/publications/south-sudan-activists-call-civil-society-role-in-peace-process.

Leymah Gbowee, “The Voice of South Sudan’s Women Must Be Heard to Give Peace a Chance,” Guardian, February 23, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/feb/23/south-sudan-women-peace-talks-leymah-gbowee.  

Rick Gladstone, “South Sudan Leaders Amass Great Wealth as Nation Suffers, Report Says,” New York Times, September 12, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/world/africa/south-sudan-salva-kiir-riek-machar-corruption.html?ref=world

Andrew Green, “Kenya’s Troop Withdrawal Could Seal the Fate of South Sudan’s Peace Process,” World Politics Review, November 15, 2016, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/20452/kenya-s-troop-withdrawal-could-seal-the-fate-of-south-sudan-s-peace-process

Peter Greste, “Thinking Outside the Ethnic Box in S Sudan,” Al Jazeera, December 28, 2013, http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/africa/thinking-outside-ethnic-box-s-sudan.

Rebecca Hamilton, “Seize This Crisis to Push South Sudan Reform,” Reuters, January 9, 2014, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/01/09/seize-this-crisis-to-push-south-sudan-reform/.

Zlatica Hoke, “South Sudan Conflict Fuels Humanitarian Crisis,” Voice of America, March 7, 2015, http://www.voanews.com/content/south-sudan-conflict-fuels-humanitarian-crisis/2671353.html

Nathaniel Ross Kelly, “The Bloodiest Conflict No One Is Talking About,” War Is Boring, June 1, 2015, https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-bloodiest-conflict-no-one-is-talking-about-39e0d4d48912.  

Princeton Lyman and Kate Almquist Knopf, “To Save South Sudan, Put it on Life Support,” Financial Times, July 20, 2016, http://next.ft.com/content/c4f24d75-b2d7-3667-bcb2-6d25be5f3f75.

Colum Lynch, “South Sudan’s Attacks on U.N. Could Imperil Future Peacekeeping,” Foreign Policy, October 10, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/10/south-sudans-attacks-on-u-n-could-imperil-future-peacekeeping/

Justin Lynch, “Is There Any Hope Left for South Sudan?” New Yorker, July 14, 2016, http://newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-there-any-hope-left-for-south-sudan?intcid=mod-latest?reload.

Tristan McConnell, “A Year of War in South Sudan,” Medium, December 17, 2014, https://medium.com/@t_mcconnell/a-year-of-war-in-south-sudan-ea4170f05a03.

Ty McCormick and Siobhán O’Grady, “The New York Times South Sudan Op-Ed That Wasn’t,” Foreign Policy, June 9, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/06/09/the-new-york-times-south-sudan-op-ed-that-wasnt.

Andrew S. Natsios, “Lords of the Tribes,” Foreign Affairs, July 9, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/sudan/2015-07-09/lords-tribes.

Siobhan O’Grady, “The African Rebel Leader Who’s Stoked About Trump,” The Atlantic, November 26, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/11/south-sudan-machar-kiir-trump-clinton/508499/?utm_source=atltw

Jason Patinkin, “No Country for Civilians,” Foreign Policy, August 31, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/31/no-country-for-civilians-south-sudan/

Jason Patinkin, “Four Years on, a Harrowing Sense of Déjà Vu in South Sudan,” Christian Science Monitor, July 8, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2015/0708/Four-years-on-a-harrowing-sense-of-deja-vu-in-South-Sudan.

Sudarsan Raghavan, “With Oil at Stake, South Sudan’s Crisis Matters to Its Customers,” Washington Post, January 20, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/with-oil-at-stake-the-war-in-south-sudan-matters-to-its-customers/2014/01/20/dcca9432-7d25-11e3-97d3-b9925ce2c57b_story.html

Philip Roessler, “Why South Sudan Has Exploded in Violence,” Washington Post, December 24, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2013/12/24/why-south-sudan-has-exploded-in-violence/.

Marc Santora, “As South Sudan Crisis Worsens, ‘There Is No More Country,” New York Times, June 22, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/world/africa/as-south-sudan-crisis-worsens-there-is-no-more-country.html.

———, “A Search for Survival and Family Amid the Violence in South Sudan,” New York Times, June 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/world/africa/a-search-for-survival-and-family-amid-the-violence-in-south-sudan.html.

Somini Sengupta, “Beleaguered Blue Helmets: What Is the Role of U.N. Peacekeepers?” New York Times, July 12, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/sunday-review/what-is-the-role-of-un-peacekeepers.html.

“Soaked in Oil: The Cost of War in South Sudan,” Al Jazeera, March 4, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/03/soaked-oil-cost-war-south-sudan-150302102747401.html.

“South Sudan’s New War: Abuses by Government and Opposition Forces,” Human Rights Watch, August 2014, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/southsudan0814_ForUpload.pdf.

The Sudd Institute, “South Sudan’s Crisis: Its Drivers, Key Players, and Post-Conflict Prospects,” August 3, 2014, http://suddinstitute.org/assets/Publications/572b7eb3cea73_SouthSudansCrisisItsDriversKeyPlayers_Full.pdf.

Jérôme Tubiana, “An Elusive Peace in South Sudan,” Foreign Affairs, February 3, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/africa/2015-02-03/elusive-peace-south-sudan?cid=nlc-foreign_affairs_today-020415-an_elusive_peace_in_south_suda_5-020415&sp_mid=47954946&sp_rid=c21hbGNvbXNvbkBnbWFpbC5jb20S1.

———, “Lasting Solutions Elusive for South Sudan’s Militia Problem,” World Politics Review, March 12, 2012, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/11716/lasting-solutions-elusive-for-south-sudans-militia-problem.  


Quotation Sources

Nathaniel Ross Kelly, “South Sudan’s Butchers Are Exempt from Punishment,” War is Boring, June 3, 2015, https://medium.com/war-is-boring/south-sudan-s-butchers-are-exempt-from-punishment-21fcc1eb25a0.

Antony Loewenstein, “South Sudan’s Elite Power Struggle Deepens Crisis,” Al Jazeera America, April 3, 2015, http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/4/south-sudans-elite-power-struggle-deepens-crisis.html.

Ban Ki Moon, “The World has Betrayed South Sudan,” United Nations, December 16, 2016, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/articles/2016-12-16/ban-ki-moon-world-has-betrayed-south-sudan

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.3 Guide to the Memoranda 

A major goal of the Model Diplomacy program is to strengthen your ability to write concise, articulate, and persuasive documents that busy colleagues can absorb quickly. You will complete two assignments: a set of draft clauses for a UN Security Council resolution and a policy review memo. These assignments will improve your writing skills and give you a taste of how global foreign policy is conceived, coordinated, and executed.


UN Security Council Documents


What is a UN resolution?

A UN resolution is a formal expression of the opinion or will of a UN body. Resolutions follow a common, relatively strict format and are published online once approved. They are written and approved (or rejected) in a complex process. They typically go through several drafts, and multiple countries are typically involved, though a single country may write a draft resolution on its own and seek a direct vote. You will navigate an abbreviated version of this collaborative process in your role-play.

A Security Council resolution has three sections:

  • header
  • preambular clauses
  • operative clauses

The entire resolution is one long sentence; individual items are separated by semicolons and commas. The header gives the date, an alphabetical list of countries that have contributed to the document (sponsors), and the name of the issuing body (in this case, the Security Council). This body serves as the subject of the sentence.

Preambular clauses provide a framework through which to view the issue by outlining past action on the subject (usually in treaties, conventions, and previous resolutions) and explaining the purpose of or need for a resolution. Preambular clauses are unnumbered, begin with adjectives or verbs, and end with commas. Common preambular words include

  • alarmed by
  • considering
  • convinced
  • emphasizing
  • guided by
  • having adopted
  • keeping in mind
  • mindful of
  • (re)affirming
  • recognizing
  • taking note/noting
  • underscoring

An example of an existing preambular clause is

  • Underlining that the NPT remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Operative clauses state the opinion of the organ and the actions to be taken. Unlike preambular clauses, operative clauses are sequentially numbered and follow a logical progression, each clause calling for a specific action. Operative clauses begin with italicized verbs, sometimes modified by adverbs, and end with semicolons (with the exception of the last clause). Common operative words include

  • authorizes
  • calls for
  • condemns
  • decides
  • emphasizes
  • (re)affirms
  • recommends
  • reiterates
  • requests
  • stresses
  • supports
  • urges

The last operative clause in a Security Council resolution is almost always “Decides to remain seized of the matter.” In line with Article 12 of the UN Charter, this language keeps the issue under the Security Council’s authority and prevents the General Assembly from taking its own action. An example existing operative clause is

  • Urges all States that have either not signed or not ratified the Treaty, particularly the eight remaining Annex 2 States, to do so without further delay.

Click here to see a full example of a UN Security Council resolution.

What is a presidential statement?

A presidential statement is made by the president of the Security Council on behalf of the council. It is adopted at a formal council meeting, issued as an official document, and published. No formal vote is taken on a presidential statement; instead, it is adopted by consensus (the agreement of all members, though some may abstain). Member states have the option of voicing opposition to the statement, which is then recorded in the document. Often released when the council cannot reach consensus on a resolution or is prevented from passing one by a permanent member’s veto, presidential statements are similar in content and tone to resolutions but tend to be less specific. They are not legally binding.

All presidential statements generally follow the same loose structure, which is more flexible and relaxed than that of a UN resolution:

  1. Overview: an overview of the meeting or informal session that gave rise to the statement in question.
  2. Body: five to fifteen paragraphs, each beginning with “The Security Council,” reflecting the consensus opinion of council members and sometimes providing an overview of past actions on the subject. A presidential statement is often used to reaffirm the council’s support for ongoing UN missions and initiatives or to provide progress reports on these initiatives. 
  3. Signature: the signature of the president of the Security Council.

Click here to see a full example of a UN Security Council presidential statement.

Guidelines for UN Security Council Clauses


Your assignment prior to the role-play is to prepare a set of prepared clauses for a potential Security Council resolution. These clauses, along with those of other students, will form the basis of the discussion in the role-play.

You should bring

  • two to three preambular clauses that describe the issue at hand, consider the international context, and outline previous agreements and existing organizations; and
  • three to four operative clauses that present responses to the situation.

Each operative clause should present a complete proposal. Make sure that your proposed solutions are within the powers of the Security Council and are practical. Your operative clauses might be designed to work in concert (perhaps economic sanctions, mediation, and a peacekeeping force) or might be a set of alternatives from which you hope one will be adopted (perhaps three peacekeeping proposals that differ in their details).

In writing each of your operative clauses, consider the following points:

  • Who: Who is acting, and for whose benefit?
  • What: What is the response specifically?
  • When: When will it be implemented? Is there a deadline, a time frame, or recurrence?
  • Where: Where will it be implemented specifically?
  • Why: Why is this solution effective?
  • How: How will this solution be implemented? If countries must support the response, how will they be persuaded to do so?
  • Funding: How will the response be funded?

If your operative clauses start to get long and messy, use subsidiary clauses!

The goal should be to create clauses that include all the information necessary for putting the plan into action. It can be helpful to imagine an official tasked with carrying out the resolution and asking whether they have all the information they need to implement it.

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.4 Guide to the Role-play 

Your role-play will feature three types of UN Security Council meetings:

  1. Public Meeting (Debate)

Public meetings are the most common type of formal Security Council meeting. They are open to the press and verbatim records are published. In addition to Security Council members, non–council members directly affected by the matter at hand may be invited to participate.

  1. Public Meeting (Adoption)

Adoption meetings are public meetings in which the Security Council votes on resolutions and presidential statements. In addition to Security Council members, non–council members can request to be invited and make statements but cannot vote.

  1. Informal Meeting

Informal meetings are held outside the Security Council chamber, have no rigid procedure or official record, and allow for private discussions and negotiations. They are usually used to develop and discuss draft resolutions and presidential statements.

Role-play Guidelines

  1. Stay in your role at all times.
  2. Follow the general protocol for speaking.
    1. Signaling to Speak

      1. The president of the UN Security Council will administer the meeting and should decide on a speaking order. Wait to be called on by the president.
      2. If you would like to speak out of turn, signal to the president, perhaps by raising a hand or a placard, and wait until the president calls on you.
    2. Form of Speech
      1. Address country representatives as Mr. or Madam Ambassador.
      2. Do not exceed predetermined time limits. If you exceed these limits, the president will cut you off.
      3. Frame your comments with a purpose and stay on topic.
    3. Listening
      1. Take notes while others are speaking.
      2. Refrain from whispering or conducting side conversations.
      3. Applause and booing are not appropriate. Your words will be the most effective tool to indicate agreement or disagreement.


Role-play Tips

  • There is no right or wrong way to participate in a role-play, but the better prepared you are, the more likely you will be able to advance a position effectively, and the more you and your classmates will get out of the experience.
  • Be patient during the role-play. Do not hold back from sharing your perspective, but be sure to give others a chance to do the same.
  • Where there are competing interests, make the judgment calls that you would make if you were a country representative, as informed by your earlier consideration of potential trade-offs. Ensure that the consequences of various decisions are carefully weighed.
  • Where appropriate, find common ground with other members of the UN Security Council during the role-play. With whom might you work in advocating your proposed policies? You may find that combining several policy ideas into a new proposal with broader support is an effective strategy if the debate is at an impasse
  • Decide whether you would like to develop a potential resolution collaboratively in a large group, in a smaller group of like-minded countries, or by yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
  • Think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of your approach as the discussion continues. It is important to subject your own arguments to the same scrutiny that you apply to those of your fellow students. Rethink your arguments as appropriate to take into account the feedback and counterarguments that other members present.
  • You cannot win or lose the role-play. Instead, you should aim to offer a well-reasoned articulation of your position while making concessions and adjustments where you believe they are warranted.
Line Item
1. Public Meeting
2 minutes per participant
  1. Receive a five-minute briefing from the secretary-general on the issue to be discussed.
  2. Present opening statements.
  3. Crystalize the central questions of debate.
Procedural Notes

During opening statements, the president of the UN Security Council will recognize country representatives in the order in which they request to speak, and no representative may speak again if others have not yet spoken. Following opening statements, country representatives are free to openly debate the statements made, evaluating the various positions on their merits.

2. Informal Meeting
30 to 60 seconds per participant
  1. Debate each participant’s proposed clauses.
  2. Edit, add, or drop proposed clauses and combine them into one or more draft resolutions.
  3. Draft a presidential statement using proposed clauses and/or new material if no draft resolution appears acceptable to the group.
Procedural Notes

The president will recognize country representatives in the order in which they request to speak. Representatives should limit their statements to one minute each, but if time allows the president may permit them to speak longer. The president may also invite any participant to speak as he or she deems it appropriate. Any participant may motion for a ten- to fifteen-minute break, during which representatives can move freely and work on their draft resolutions individually or in small groups.  

3. Public Meeting
1 to 2 minutes per participant
  1. Debate each participant’s proposed clauses.
  2. Edit, add, or drop proposed clauses and combine them into one or more draft resolutions.
  3. Draft a presidential statement using proposed clauses and/or new material if no draft resolution appears acceptable to the group.
Procedural Notes

The president will recognize country representatives in the order in which they request to speak. Representatives should limit their statements to one minute each, but if time allows the president may permit them to speak longer. The president may also invite any participant to speak as he or she deems it appropriate. Any participant may motion for a ten- to fifteen-minute break, during which representatives can move freely and work on their draft resolutions individually or in small groups.  

Wrap Up Sections
Obama, Xi Jinping, and Ban Ki Moon.
The UN Security Council

4.1 The Debrief

If time permits, you will participate in a debrief following the UN Security Council’s final vote.  

Be active in this debrief. The role-play might seem to be the most challenging part of the experience, but the debrief is equally important. It will reinforce what you learned during the role-play exercise and refine your analytical skills. It will also force you to step out of your role and to view the case from a personal perspective. You will have the opportunity to discuss any challenges you encountered and how you felt about the UN Security Council vote. The debrief will close with a reflection on the complexities and challenges of multilateral negotiations. This should help clarify your understanding of what you learned and answer any lingering questions. This exercise will also assist you in completing your final assignment, the policy review memo.  

Obama, Xi Jinping, and Ban Ki Moon.
The UN Security Council

4.2 Reflecting on the Experience

The following questions are proposed to guide the discussion in the in-class debrief. This is not an exhaustive list and may vary depending on how your role-play exercise unfolded.  If your class does not hold a debrief, these questions will nonetheless help you reflect on the role-play and write your policy review memo: 

  • Which issues received adequate attention during the role-play? Which, if any, received excessive attention or were left unresolved?
  • Did the group consider long-term strategic concerns, or was it able to focus only on the immediate issue and the short-term implications of policy options?
  • Did time constraints affect the discussion and influence the drafting process?
  • What techniques did you use to convince others that your policy position was the best option? What were successful strategies employed by others?
  • What were the most significant challenges to your position? Did any make you rethink or adjust your position?
  • Did your points cause anyone else to change his or her arguments or position?
  • What political, economic, and other issues arose that you had not previously considered?
  • How did the simulation change your perspective on multilateral negotiations?
  • If you could go back, what would you have done differently in presenting and advocating your point of view?
Obama, Xi Jinping, and Ban Ki Moon.
The UN Security Council

4.3 Policy Review Memo

The policy review memo is your final assignment in the Model Diplomacy simulation. In the debrief discussion after the role-play, you and your classmates went beyond the role you played and thought about the issue from a variety of perspectives. Now that the UN Security Council meeting and debrief are behind you, you can consider whether you personally support your recommended policy given the subsequent discussion. Shedding your institutional role and writing from a personal point of view, you will craft a policy review memo that outlines and reflects on the policy options discussed, incorporating and critiquing the UN Security Council’s decision where appropriate.

No matter which role you played originally, take into account all that you have learned. Your instructor will want to see if and how your understanding of the issue and of the policymaking process has evolved from that expressed in your position memo.

As for the position memo, a sample policy review memo is provided for your reference.

Policy Review Memo Guidelines

  • Subject (one short paragraph): Offer a brief statement about the significance of the issue as it relates to global politics and international organizations. Provide just enough information about the crisis so the reader can understand the purpose and importance of your memo. Be sure to include an initial statement of whether you agree or disagree with the UN Security Council’s decision.
  • Options and analysis (one paragraph per option): Present and analyze the options that were discussed during the debate, deliberation, and/or debrief. Discuss their drawbacks, benefits, and resource needs. Be sure to acknowledge any weaknesses or disadvantages of the proposed options.
  • Recommendation and justification (several paragraphs): Identify and explain your preferred policy option or options in more detail. Here, you can explain why you personally favor one or more of the recommendations that you initially presented or the UN Security Council voted on, or different options entirely. If you choose to support the options you presented in your position memo, make sure to justify why you feel yours is still the best position.
  • Reflection (one to two paragraphs): Discuss how your position and the final UN Security Council decision are similar; if they are not, discuss how they are different. Use this section to give your thoughts on what the UN Security Council should have included in its resolution or presidential statement and what you would have done differently. Remember, this is from your point of view; you are no longer advocating on behalf of a country or a UN agency.