The impact of stebacks in Somalia


The setback in Somalia had severe impact on the willingness of western countries and other countries within the UN to send troops into the dark continent. Thirdly, the American aspect of this UN intervention is of great significance as it showed the world how the UN is caught between its sovereignty and the will of the more powerful states.

“The UN should learn to say no,” President Clinton clamoured in 1993 after the Somali disaster.

                                                                  The Economist, 5 June 2003


The above quote mentions indirectly the major relevant aspects to the setback of the UN intervention in Somalia that lasted from 1991 to 1995. First of all, the intervention in Somalia was a disaster that also cost western lives among the thousands of Somali lives, which is what the west tends to take into account most.


The Somalia Disaster


After the Cold War ended, the country on the Horn of Africa lost its strategic value to the superpowers. Consequently, it was unable to acquire the sufficient attention needed to avert the coming catastrophe and the country entered first into clan warfare and then into civil war, followed by the collapse of the state. Factional fighting and violent disputes over farmland caused for less food to be grown and what food there was to be hoarded by those who feared famine or by local strongmen or armed gangs that wanted to charge high prices. Thus the food that did reach the market was too expensive for the locals to acquire. Together with severe drought in the early ninetees, famine threatened four million Somalis with starvation.

            During this time Somalia received little international attention as former Yugoslavia took up much time in the west. In 1992 finally, the UN began a small observer mission of 750 personnel, UNOSOM I, to protect the provision of humanitarian assistance which had been disrupted. The mission was later strengthened to render it efficient, but in vain. Cramped by insufficient forces and correct peacekeeping methods to cope with the complex situation, the UN Security Council Resolution 794 of December 1992 authorised UNITAF, a US led, stronger operation, to intervene to protect the delivery of humanitarian assistance and restore peace. "Operation Restore Hope", as the Americans under the presidency of Bush Senior called it, immediately stormed the beaches of Mogadishu under the lights of cameras and reporters.

The specific mission to protect humanitarian assistance had succeeded, but the disaster was not deterred. In response to the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by the forces of Mohammad Farah Aideed, an exclusive mission was set out to capture him, in which the new UN forces of UNOSOM II who had entered Somalia in 1993, had no choice but to follow the US troops in a mission that disrupted the international neutrality in the Somalia conflict. One dark night when the troops were on Aideed's back, US troops got caught, two helicopters were shot down (Blackhawk down!) and 18 US soldiers were killed, of which one corpse was dragged through the streets, again under the lights of cameras. In March 1994 US forces withdrew from Somalia leaving the ambitious force of UNOSOM II, 37,000 troops and worth 4 billion US$, to unsuccessfully sit in the chaos. When the last UN troops fled in March 1995 they left behind a slightly less starving population, the memory of numerous UN men, and thousands of Somalis dead. Still felt today, polio continues to be a legacy of the failure to help the people, and the fear of anarchic Somalia to take in terrorists is an increasing threat.


Assessing the intervention


            The reasons for the failure in Somalia and the disaster it brought to the international community are threefold. Firstly, UNOSOM II had become simply another armed factor in the Somalian conflict, thus was unable to protect Somali citizens as it was first to protect itself. The decision to catch Mohammad Farah Aideed unintentionally sided them with the opposite Ali Mahdi-alliance, and as the Somalis themselves saw the troops as another colonizing invader the peacekeepers turned into occupying invaders. Secondly, disaster continued as Belgian, Canadian and Italian UN troops were brought to court after the intervention for "misbehaviour". Although these incidents are blamed on a few "bad apples", many say the operation had been ill-prepared and rudderless and that troops were given contradictory rules of engagement by different "leaders" of the UN troops as the UN overloaded it self with an impossible mission while quarrels over who should lead the mission were still fought at the headquarters. Thirdly, whereas the UNITAF mission was in fact limited to freeing humanitarian aid, UNOSOM was caught by massive mission creep as UNOSOM II was ordered to disarm the aggressive factions in the Somalien civil war, to rid the country of landmines, to set up a civil administration in Mogadishu and to train a civil police force.


The UN peacekeeping missions


It is very important to understand exactly how the Somalia crisis that slurred on in order to understand the aftershocks that were felt within the UN. The Somalia intervention was the first major UN humanitarian intervention as the UN had always questioned the correctness of intervening into the sovereignty of another state. The multilateral organisation initially rejected interventionism, as prove the vague demands in the UN charter and the ineffectiveness of the UN to impose sanctions and actually carry out the threats they make.

            Overall, the setback in Somalia had an impact on the discussion of when UN troops were allowed to intervene and effective in their intervention. Arguments include that the UN cannot intervene if it is struggling with troop and finances, that there can be no intervention if the peace that ought to be restored was never there, that intervention can only happen with a clear and realistic mandate, that the confidence of the peoples concerned is ensured, and that the mission is fully supported by the international community. The discussion between peace-keeping, peace-imposing and the obligation for humanitarian interference, both as a precautionary intervention and as an intervention to end current humanitarian disasters followed.


The UN; Caught between its will and the will of the USA

Furthermore, following the setback in Somalia, the USA proved itself a major player. They would not accept casualties to be a peacekeeping hazard and until recently had delayed all calls for UN armed intervention. This reluctancy to get involved is seen as one of the major reasons for lack of quick intervention in the genocide of Rwanda. Furthermore, the USA has made good use of its VETO right since, which questions the effectiveness of the UN body as an entity. "The moral authority of the UN rests on its world-wide membership: representing virtually every country, it stands for grand things such as peace and the rule of law and the promotion of “better standards of life in larger freedom.” But this authority is easily eroded."[1] Neither can the UN shake the USA to pay the sums it still owes.                                                                                                              In order to compensate for the lack of US help amongst others, the UN furthermore reduced its peacekeeping budget to $1 billion, less than a third of its size in 1995. It has also started to train African soldiers in order to allow western countries to remain far from the African disasters. It is not until the USA decided to intervene in Iraq that questions about the future of peacekeeping missions were again brought to attention.

            As a quick conclusion it should be noted that the questions the Somali disaster brought to the international community split up with the questions it brought to Somalia. Somalia itself is doing slightly better, and even though the anarchy may be a safer place for terrorists, it is also a safer place for businesses as they do not have to bother with excessive bureaucracy. The northern Somaliland still claims independence, but it is a safer place then the south of the country as they try to distant themselves from clan-clashes. The international community is still in crisis as the effectiveness and correctness of interference even by a multinational community are still present.




The Economist:

            16 Oct. 1997; An African answer to African wars

            20 Nov. 1997; The best world club we have

            5 June 2003; Beating up the boys in blue

            26 Aug. 1999; A failed state that is succeeding in parts

            20 Dec. 2001; Who is using whom?

            3 Jul. 1997; Good intentions turned to shame

UN intervention in Somalia and Mozambique: why success is not always cast in stone, Global Dialogue Volume 5.1 May 2000

Spiegel, S. and others, World Politics in a new era, Wadsworth 2004

Bibliography of Week 12, Espace Mondial 2004-2005



[1] The Economist, Nov. 20th 1997.

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