from Center for Preventive Action

Ending South Sudan’s Civil War

Council Special Report
Concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contributions to current policy dilemmas.


Following its independence in 2011, three years of civil war have left South Sudan on the cusp of full-scale genocide, with its sovereignty discredited by warring elites, asserts a new Council Special Report, Ending South Sudan's Civil War. "The only remaining path to protect [South Sudan's] sovereignty and territorial integrity, restore its legitimacy, and politically empower its citizens is through an international transitional administration, established by the United Nations and the African Union (AU), to run the country for a finite period," argues Katherine Almquist Knopf, the author of the report.

Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies based at the National Defense University, makes the case that an international transitional administration is the only realistic path to end the violence and to allow South Sudan the kind of "clean break" from its leaders and power structures that can restore the country to viability. Moreover, she argues that an international transitional administration would not necessitate an investment costlier than what the United States is already spending—more than $2 billion since 2013 (and more than $11 billion since 2005).

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South Sudan

Wars and Conflict


The report recommends the United Nations and the AU lead a transitional administration with an executive mandate for ten to fifteen years to maintain the country's territorial integrity, provide basic governance and public services, rebuild the shattered economy, and establish the political and constitutional framework for the transition to full sovereignty.

The report notes that "opposition to a UN and AU transitional administration could be mitigated through a combination of politics and force—by working with important South Sudanese constituencies frustrated with [South Sudanese] President Salva Kiir, former First Vice President [and current antagonist] Riek Machar, and their cronies; and then deploying a lean and agile peace intervention force to combat and deter the remaining spoilers once they have been politically isolated."

Although such an internationally guaranteed transition seems radical, Knopf notes that it is not unprecedented; similar efforts have previously succeeded in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, Cambodia, and Liberia.

Knopf emphasizes that "brokering such a transition will require committed diplomacy by the United States in close partnership with African governments." Despite the challenges, she contends that an "international transitional administration with an executive mandate is the most realistic path to protect and restore South Sudan's sovereignty. It would empower its people to take ownership of their future and develop a new vision for their country."

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More on:

South Sudan

Wars and Conflict


Bookstores: To order bulk copies, please contact Ingram. Visit, call 800.234.6737, or email ISBN: 978-0-87609-698-7

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