South Sudan Defense and Foreign Policy

south sudan military spending and defense budget

Foreign policy and defense

South Sudan is a nation in Eastern Africa. Its capital city is Juba. The future may show what foreign policy course South Sudan is striking. Undoubtedly, relations with Sudan will characterize the country’s politics for a long time to come and will probably determine South Sudan’s foreign policy room in most respects. The civil war in 2013–2015 severely weakened relations with the UN and the outside world at large, when both warring parties were accused of serious human rights violations.

south sudan military spending and defense budget

The border between Sudan and South Sudan is still unclear on several lines and the population situation means that the border is likely to remain vaguely defined. In the area live millions of nomads who have moved seasonally over what is now a national border for hundreds of years.

Despite tensions between northern and southern Sudan before the 2011 split, the Khartoum government was one of the first to diplomatically recognize the new state, even before it was formally proclaimed. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was also among the guests of honor at the ceremonies in Juba when the independence was proclaimed.

Oil transport via Sudan is a shock test

A serious issue of conflict between the two neighbors is the oil transport from South Sudan through Sudan to the port of export in Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Leading via Sudan is today the only way South Sudan can use to sell its oil abroad. South Sudan pays fees to Sudan to be allowed to use the management, but the government in Juba thinks the current fee is too high.

In order to avoid transporting its most important export product via Sudan, the government has plans to build pipelines to the Indian Ocean, partly through Kenya and partly through Ethiopia / Djibouti. However, such a project would take years to implement and meanwhile South Sudan would risk harsh sanctions from Sudan, which has placed stringent demands on continued oil supplies through existing pipelines.

As a result of the conflict with Sudan over transport costs, South Sudan in January 2012 stopped all oil production, despite the large loss of income. The government in Juba accused the Sudan of oil theft and announced that it would rather relinquish its income than give away oil to the neighboring country in the north. In April 2013, oil production resumed after a few months earlier, the countries’ presidents had signed an agreement on oil management (see Calendar).

South Sudan’s regional relations

In the longer term, access to Nile water may become South Sudan’s most important foreign policy profile. The distribution of river water has long been an infected substance in relations between the countries along both main streams of the Nile. Sudan and Egypt are being criticized by the countries further south for having an unreasonably large portion of the water through existing colonial agreements. South Sudan has the opportunity to control a significant portion of the water flow, which can give the country a strong position for future negotiations on a more just agreement.

At the 2011 split, South Sudan inherited a potential border conflict with Kenya over the so-called Ilemite Triangle in the southeast. The area is believed to have belonged to Sudan since the colonial era, but unclear wording in a 1914 agreement has given Kenya the opportunity to claim territory. In practice, the Ilemite Triangle has been ruled by Kenya since the colonial era, when the then administration in Sudan allowed Kenyan military presence in the area to protect the Kenyan livestock Turcan people from raids from within Ethiopia. For many decades, neither the Sudanese nor the Kenyan governments attached any great importance to the Ilemite Triangle, but assumptions in recent years that the area may be rich in oil and minerals have made the unclear border crossing a possible battle issue.

South Sudan is involved in the fight against the Ugandan rebel movement The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) moving across the country’s borders in the region. Uganda, South Sudan and several other countries have since 2010 formed brigades to jointly fight the LRA. The effort is coordinated by the African Union (AU). During the South Sudanese civil war in 2013–2015, the government side was assisted by Ugandan soldiers in the fight against rebels led by Riek Machar (see Current Policy). Ugandan troops were withdrawn as part of the 2015 peace treaty.

Other important relationships

South Sudan was quickly accepted into the UN as the World Organization’s 193rd member country and could shortly afterwards also be joined by the African Union (AU) and the regional cooperation organization Igad (The Intergovernmental Authority on Development). In April 2012, the country also gained membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In March 2016, South Sudan was admitted to the East African Community EAC.

Relations with the UN deteriorated drastically during the civil war, when the World Organization accused the government side (and the rebels) of gross human rights violations. When the government in Juba responded in June 2015 to expel a high-ranking UN envoy, South Sudan’s international isolation increased after the deportation was condemned by, for example, the EU, the US and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon. In July of that year, a unanimous Security Council imposed sanctions on three commanders on each side of the war. In July 2018, the UN Security Council introduced a weapons embargo on South Sudan, until May 2019, as well as targeted sanctions on two senior military commanders (see Calendar). The UN sanctions and arms embargo were extended in May 2019 and in May 2020 and are now valid until May 2021.

The United States has long been one of South Sudan’s most important bilateral partners, even before the country became independent. The United States is the country’s largest donor. During the Civil War, the Washington government imposed sanctions on about ten leaders on both sides of the conflict. That meant a ban on entry and frozen assets in the US for them. When the government in Juba accused the United States of intervening in this country’s internal affairs, relations between them deteriorated. The EU has also introduced similar sanctions, as well as arms embargo on South Sudan.

China was early to recognize South Sudan, despite the fact that it is a close ally of Sudan. There is a Chinese consulate in Juba and several Chinese oil companies operate in the country. In 2014, reports came that China provided military support to the government side in the civil war and in early 2015 a Chinese troop arrived to join the UN peacekeeping UN force (see below).

Israel was among the first countries to recognize South Sudan, which has been in contact with Israelis since the late 1960s. Relations have their basis in a common interest in defending themselves against Arab enemies.


In connection with the independence, the old liberation movement SPLM’s military branch SPLA was formally transformed into South Sudan’s national repository force. In 2014, the army consisted of 185,000 soldiers. An air force and a marine force are said to be under construction.

The UN force that, until 2011, monitored that the 2005 peace treaty was respected, was transformed after South Sudan’s independence into a new peacekeeping force, called Unmiss (UN Mission in South Sudan). Its task was from the beginning to support the new government, strengthen peace and prevent a return to war. During the civil war, however, the task of the force was primarily to try to protect the civilian population, which in the tens of thousands (at most around 125,000) took refuge in UN offices around the country. It was originally intended that Unmiss should consist of a maximum of 7,000 soldiers as well as 900 police officers and a “suitable number” of civilian experts. During the civil war, however, the size of the UN force nearly doubled to just over 12,500 men.


Army: 185,000 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 2.0 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 7.4 percent (2017)