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Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan

UN peacekeeper in South Sudan.

Case Overview

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.

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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, other countries, including the United States, have begun to consider additional action to protect civilians. The president has asked the National Security Council for options on whether and how the United States could pursue a humanitarian intervention in or around South Sudan. NSC officials will need to take into account the pressure on the United States to act, including the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), as well as the significant costs, benefits, and risks of unilateral or multilateral intervention.



  • 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

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