Somalia: the limits of multilateralism

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.