The U.S. State Department announced the decision to ban the export of weapons and defense services to South Sudan on February 2. Although the U.S. does not conduct arms sales with the country, this decision prohibits any U.S. company or civilian from supplying arms to any of the conflicting groups. These factions have been embroiled in a bloody, prolonged civil war for the past four years. In July 2009, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, and by December 2013 civil war had broken out between military forces and rebel groups. As a result, over two million people fled to neighboring countries, and nearly two million people are internally displaced, which amounts to roughly one-third of the total population.
Although largely received as a symbolic action, Paul Sutphin, the State Department’s senior adviser on Sudan and South Sudan, announced that the objective of this embargo is to “impose consequences on those who use violence to advance a political agenda” and will “restrict the flow of lethal material into South Sudan for all parties.” Still, the U.S. isn’t the country supplying these weapons–– both Kenya and Uganda have been accused of prolonging the conflict by distributing weaponry and ammunition inside of South Sudan.
The Obama administration failed to galvanize the United Nations to act in 2016. The Trump administration has taken over this initiative by pressuring nearby countries, specifically those in the eight-member Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to sanction South Sudanese officials who undermine the peace process.
Henrietta H. Fore, executive director for UNICEF, informed Observer that “more than a quarter of a million children are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death. Over 19,000 children have been recruited into the conflict. At least one in three schools has been damaged, destroyed, occupied or closed. And we have documented more than 1,200 cases of sexual violence against children.” Consequently, the weapons ban is intended to upend this human suffering.
The ban comes at a favorable time, as peace talks through the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) initiative are set to begin from February 5 to February 16 in Ethiopia. These talks are expected to confront security issues and governance frameworks. It is unclear whether the results of any expected agreement will alter the U.S. arms restrictions at this time.