I'm continuing to follow events in Somalia as hostility between the Ethiopian army and Union of Islamic Courts exchange threats and mobilize for war. Matt Bryden of ICG has an excellent analysis on CSIS Africa Policy Forum
of how Washington's current policy is only exacerbating this conflict. Below is a draft Op/Ed piece on the topic that I was working on last week:Remove the Humanitarian Veneer of Peacekeeping in Somalia
Somalia is on the fast track to becoming the battlefield for the next proxy war of the ‘global war on terror.’ Last week, the UN Security Council voted to authorize an 8,000-strong regional peacekeeping force into Somalia to protect the weak Transitional Federal Government against the growing Union of Islamic Courts. At first glance, it would seem that emerging international momentum to prevent Somalia’s arising conflicts is a positive development. However, removing the thin humanitarian veneer, it becomes clear that U.S. insistence on deploying international peacekeepers is more about geopolitics than peace. Consequently, we should not be surprised if, just as in Iraq, the situation quickly spirals out of control.
Since 9/11, the U.S. military has become increasing engaged in the Horn of Africa, declaring it a new front line in the war on terror. The Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), a military unity of the U.S. Central Command based in Djibouti, now comprises thousands of personnel, including special operation forces. Somalia has been a main focus of CJTF-HOA, due to both its strategic proximity to the Middle East and its vulnerability to al-Qaeda and other terrorists. In May of this year, it was uncovered that the U.S. was secretly backing warlords in Mogadishu to stop certain a coalition of Islamic groups from taking control.
This summer, the U.S. fears came true as the Union of Islamic Courts defeated Mogadishu’s warlords and emerged in control of the capital city. Since then, Somalia has been a top priority of the State Department and the U.S. mission at the UN. At the Security Council, the U.S. has urged a lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in 1992 to allow for the arming of the transitional government. It further drafted Resolution 1725, which passed last week, authorizing a Chapter VII force to “stabilize” the country. The Union of Islamic Courts, growing in popularity by their resistance, have vowed to fight any peacekeepers--“foreign invaders” as they see it--that enter their territory.
The only government yet to commit troops for the peacekeeping force is Uganda, which first raises controversy because Kampala is already accused of failing its responsibility to protect its own civilians caught in the brutal 21-year war in the north. However, Uganda’s close ties with the U.S. make it a natural pick for this role. The U.S. has been training and equipping Ugandan special forces. Uganda was further accused of violating Somalia’s arms embargo in a UN report released last month.
A second country named in that report and also a strong historic ally of the U.S. is Ethiopia. Resolution 1725 bans neighboring countries from participating in the peacekeeping force, yet Ethiopia already has troops within Somalia’s borders. Last month, thousands of Ethiopian troops crossed into and have remained in the southwest part of the country to protect the transitional government. The Islamists in Mogadishu have given them a week to leave or face “major attack.”
It is not hard to imagine scenarios where this could quickly spiral the entire region into war. In that sense, the international community is right to focus its attention and resources on securing peace. However, the problem is that this peacekeeping force will likely do more to undermine peace than keep it. Perceived as a U.S. invasion, the Islamic militias will fight back and are already gaining local and international support from their anti-hegemonic resistance. Just as in Iraq, a sense of occupation will fuel radicalization. Most significantly, the “military solution” has already derailed efforts to establish a peace process toward a power-sharing government of national unity.
If the U.S. is really committed to stability in Somalia, we should learn lessons from our ongoing experience in Iraq, namely that geopolitics and peace don’t mix. John Prendergast (Boston Globe, 29 November) argues that the U.S. could best contribute to peace by employing targeted multilateral sanctions and strengthening the arms embargo. The U.S. could further rekindle diplomacy efforts to broker a political agreement between the parties. Rather than inciting resentment, such an approach could build good will and promote real stability that is essential to counter terrorism.
The worst legacy of the Bush Administration may be its articulation of a ‘humanitarian’ foreign policy, while choosing policy that undercuts established humanitarian principles. In Iraq, when the original justifications for war collapsed, the Administration repackaged its arguments on grounds of democracy promotion and humanitarianism. However, as we clearly see now, these claims were deceiving. In Somalia, the Bush Administration is going for round two, and the result will inevitably be the same. This will only further undercut our moral legitimacy in the world. Though, it’ll be easier to sell to the American people because this time there won’t be American men and women returning in body bags.