Somalia: the limits of multilateralism

posted at 3:17 pm on January 30, 2007 by Bryan

The member states of the African Union can’t find enough troops to send as a peacekeeping force to Somalia.

As African leaders met for the second and last day of the African Union (AU) Summit Tuesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there were many questions about unfinished business and what they have actually accomplished.

Chief among them is the shaky AU peacekeeping force planned for war-ravaged Somalia. While a few African countries – Uganda, Nigeria, and Malawi – have pledged 2,500 of the 8,000 requested troops, most remain silent.

South Africa, a regional power normally willing and able to send peacekeepers, gave a definite “no” this week, citing its own overstretched military, the lack of Western donor support, and the lack of a workable peace plan.

I’m not posting this to rebuke any of the AU’s member states. The fact is, they don’t have the resources on hand to pacify Somalia. They’re mostly poor countries, and many of them have their own internal security problems to deal with. And even if they could muster the 8,000 troops the AU wants, it’s unlikely that that would be enough. The US sent in 25,000 troops in 1993 along with additional troops from the UN, and that wasn’t enough to pacify Somalia. The humanitarian mission there soon morphed into a combat mission, and then once that turned violent America decided enough was enough and pulled out. Somalia was a basket case when we went in and a Bin Laden rallying cry when we left. The 8,000 troops that the AU seeks probably aren’t even enough to keep a lid on Mogadishu, population about 525,000.

I titled this post “The limits of multilateralism,” but a better title might be “The limits of order against chaos.” The AU doesn’t have the troops to commit to Somalia. We’re not going to do it. Ethiopia, wisely, won’t stay there. The UN’s major member states also won’t send troops, either because they don’t want to or more likely because they can’t. And they’re all thinking of Somalia as a “peacekeeping” operation, when inserting troops would actually be more like a “peacemaking” operation. You can’t keep a peace that isn’t there yet. You have to carve that peace out of the violence first, and the only way to do that is to put combat troops on the ground with orders and the capabilities to kill the bad guys. The world lacks the will for that.

And Somalia is just one of Africa’s crises. There’s also the more trendy one in Darfur that, like Somalia, bears Islamist features. Darfur is arguably less chaotic than Somalia since it’s a bit easier there to sort out the forces of genocide (Sudan’s Muslims leavened by Arab fighters) from the victims (Sudan’s Christians and animists). Somalia is just the end state of human depravity left to run for a decade or so; Darfur is a real genocidal war. Darfur is also probably more problematic: Doing anything about it would entail engaging in another fight against Islamists, which would be spun by them as another war against Islam itself. Al Qaeda’s recruiting rebounds, the hard left sides with them again, and it’s Iraq Part Deux. We don’t have the troops to fight that battle right now, not because we’re in Iraq and shouldn’t be, but because we don’t have a large enough military to fight the war we’re in at all. These core-gap connection operations take a lot of manpower. China can probably muster enough, but who wants them in charge of peacekeeping? India probably can too, but neither it nor China has the logistics capabilities to handle operations so far from home. Only the US military has that capability, which gets us right back to where we started: We’re not deploying to Somalia or Darfur. Out of oil concerns, China wouldn’t deploy to fight in Darfur anyway, except on the side of the government that’s aiding the genocide. China has the manpower for lots of things, but it usually lands on the wrong side of the issue at hand.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere in particular. Somalia is just an example of the way the world is right now. Darfur is too, in a slightly different way. Somalia is less about intentionally inflicted chaos than Darfur, but in the end the victims are just as dead in either place and those of us outside the kill zones are just as impotent to stop any of it. The forces of chaos seem to be gaining the upper hand against civilization in these faraway places. The rest of the world lacks the manpower to defend itself and does not yet understand how close the danger truly is.


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The sad truth is that people in the developed world (and I include myself in this) will not take these problems seriously until it is on our doorstep. Some in the west keep drumming into our heads that we shouldn’t be the world’s police, but if we don’t, who will?

sweetlipsbutterhoney on January 30, 2007 at 3:37 PM

Wait–they need peacekeepers to bring peace to a region that is dominated by the religion of peace?
I need someone who speaks slowly and preferably with a singsong voice to explain this to me in a simple manner so that I can understand.

JamesVersusEveryone on January 30, 2007 at 3:37 PM

So Bryan, what do you think the answer is? if we (meaning the collective developed world) don’t have the stomach to fight it, what happens? I guess we just let them destroy each other as we sit back and eat bonbons?

pullingmyhairout on January 30, 2007 at 3:42 PM

Unfortunately, pulling, we may have no other choice. The problem is is that chaos, like GOOD order, perpetuates itself. We may eat bonbons today, but sooner or later, chaos will come knocking in some form or another. At which point, we had BETTER find the stomach, or we’re going down too.

Militant Bibliophile on January 30, 2007 at 3:57 PM

The rest of the world lacks the manpower to defend itself and does not yet understand how close the danger truly is.

I’d rewrite this as:

The rest of the world lacks the willpower to defend itself and does not yet acknowledge how close the danger truly is.

I don’t think manpower (or lack of it) is the biggest problem. We (the U.S.) has the manpower by ourselves, getting manpower from some of the bigger U.N. member states would be possible, if they had the willpower. They don’t. It’s much easier and safer to hide their collective heads in the sand than to confront the problem. Do any of the people who think it isn’t our (collectively) problem REALLY believe that the chaos will be confined to one country?

dalewalt on January 30, 2007 at 3:59 PM

Wait–they need peacekeepers to bring peace to a region that is dominated by the religion of peace?

Why, indeed?

PRCalDude on January 30, 2007 at 4:00 PM

I’m not posting this to rebuke any of the AU’s member states. The fact is, they don’t have the resources on hand

Oh come on… you can’t find one AU member with resources to throw around?

Ghadafi brings in cars, gold as present for leaders

Libyan leader Muamar Ghadafi has brought in 15 cars and two bags full of gold as a gift for African heads of states who are expected to participate in the 8th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, scheduled to open tomorrow, Monday, January 29th.

… meanwhile, Kaddafi is still extorting ransom money for his Western nurse hostages.

Terp Mole on January 30, 2007 at 4:04 PM

I think Winston Churchill said it best:

“If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case; you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

We have the resources, we lack the will. Hopefully, we will all find our collective spines before it is too late.

JadeNYU on January 30, 2007 at 4:21 PM

Bryan said:

“And they’re all thinking of Somalia as a “peacekeeping” operation, when inserting troops would actually be more like a “peacemaking” operation.”

You’ve summed up the problem with the UN ideal in a single sentence.

Kevin M on January 30, 2007 at 5:20 PM

Al-Islam also demanded the release of Libyan officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi who is serving a life sentence in Britain for the 1998 bombing of a Pan Am flight over the Scottish village of Lockerbie that killed 270 people.

“We believe that al-Megrahi is innocent in the same way you believe that your nurses are innocent,” he said.

**cough, cough**

Alden Pyle on January 30, 2007 at 8:07 PM

What Somalia et al shows is the failure of modern (kinder/gentler) warfare. I’m afraid, as in I truly do fear, that the only hope is to go back to a Clausewitz type of total war where you attack and enemy’s center of gravity instead of merely hitting equipment with precision missles.

We in the West have become enamoured of precision guided bombs because they’re technologically sexy. We thought that we could just break a people’s stuff and then they’ed surrender. It doesn’t work that way. The people themselves must be broken, not just the equipment.

Think Tokyo firebombing, Dresden firebombing, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. In both Germany and Japan we defeated a broken and ruined people. They WANTED to surrender. When the GI’s arrived they were (mostly) respected and feared.

It’s time to put away the military scalpul and get out the chainsaw. No more feminine style war. If we want to win we’re going to have to get serious. Ironically, fewer people will in the long run.

Mojave Mark on January 30, 2007 at 9:32 PM

last sentence… fewer people will die in the long run. Sorry.

Mojave Mark on January 30, 2007 at 11:14 PM

I’m officially kicking off the write in campaign, Mojave Mark 2008

Alden Pyle on January 31, 2007 at 8:38 AM

They don’t. It’s much easier and safer to hide their collective heads in the sand than to confront the problem.

I wonder who they’ll call when it does hit their doorstep and they realize its too late to muster the willpower and force to repel the chaos?

taznar on January 31, 2007 at 1:00 PM