Tag Archives: Somalia

Targeting Terrorists Through Missile Strikes

The United States on Sunday night launched a strike against Ahmed Mohamed Amey, a chemical weapons export and suspected militant leader with close ties to al Shabab. Amey was hiding out in southern Somalia. The organization he belonged to, Al Shabab, came into the spotlight in last September when several of its members launched an attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya that resulted in 67 deaths. The attack has been widely covered, including by the BBC (though it has received considerably less attention inside the United States than outside it).

What do you think? Is the current US policy of using missile strikes in an effort to kill key leaders of militant and terror groups likely to be effective in disrupting the effectiveness of such groups? Or do the unintended deaths often associated with such strikes weaken the US position and generate support for its opponents, as some critics suggest?

Combating Piracy Through Development

somali-piratesThe International Maritime Bureau on Thursday reported a sharp decline in piracy on the world’s seas. While the movie Captain Phillips—telling the 2009 story of Captain Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates—receives best picture attention, the reality of global piracy is that it is at its lowest levels in more than six years.  In 2013, there were 264 attacks against merchant shipping vessels, resulting in 12 vessels being hijacked. This represents a 40 percent decline from the 2011 peaks.

The decline in piracy has been driven by several factors. Increased naval patrols by the United States, the European Union, and others in Gulf of Aden and other key waterways combined with a greater investment in security and countermeasures by global shipping companies has deterred some attacks. But increasing political stability and economic development in Somalia has also been critical. In 2010, 49 of the 53 ships hijacked around the world were taken off the coasts of Somalia. The country lacked any central government and was ruled—to the extent that it was ruled—by competing warlords. Fishing communities lacked any options for eking out a living, and thus turned to piracy. Today, the country has a fragile but existing government and is working with other countries in the region to establish itself. Things, in short, are moving in the right direction. And as a result, many who formerly viewed piracy as a means of survival are finding other options available to them. In other words, two of the key factors in combating Somali piracy were political stability and economic development.

Peacekeeping vs. Peacemaking in the DR Congo

UN Peacekeeping Forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UN Peacekeeping Forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United Nations Security Council last week took the unusual step of authorizing UN Peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to “carry out targeted offensive operations” to “neutralize” armed rebel groups.  The new force, dubbed the Intervention Brigade, will be deployed by July and includes soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi.

Adoption of the new mandate was unanimous, meaning that the Rwandan government, which currently holds a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council, supported the measure. This is surprising because the government of the DR Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting rebel groups operating in that region. Much of the ongoing fighting and instability in that region is the direct result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in Hutu extremists fleeing across the DR Congo-Rwandan border to escape prosecution in Rwanda.

The move was also surprising in that it represents a considerable expansion of the UN mission in the Congo. Traditionally, United Nations peacekeepers have been authorized to use force only in self-defense. They generally observe and monitor existing agreements and provide a stabilizing force in the conflict. They have generally not been authorized to use force to end conflict or establish a peace. Indeed, there is considerable debate in the literature as to whether or not the United Nations either should be involved or can be effective in such a role. And since the dramatic failure of the UN mission in Somalia in the early 1990s, the United Nations has been incredibly hesitant to expand its peacekeeping role.

The expanded mission in the DR Congo thus represents in interesting development for the United Nations. It the mission proves successful, and the United Nations forces are able to establish stability in the region, successfully disarm rebel groups, and ensure the security of civilians in the area, then we might see greater use of the tool in the future. If the mission fails—as happened so dramatically in Mogadishu in 1993—then UN peacekeeping operations might be derailed for another decade.

What do you think? Should the United Nations be engaged in peacemaking operations? Or should UN forces keep within their narrow peacekeeping mandate? Will the mission in the DR Congo be a success? And what will be the effects of a successful (or unsuccessful?) operation there? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Politics of States and Nations

Members of the Somali Parliament Meet at the Mogadishu Airport.

Members of the Somali Parliament Meet at the Mogadishu Airport.

Monday marked the first official meeting of the Somali Parliament in more than two decades. The new parliament replaces the internationally-backed transition government, which had been forced to meet in neighboring Kenya due to political unrest in Somalia. The new parliament is not necessary a democratic institution. Its members were selected by clan chiefs and tribal leaders under rules laid out by international observers. It is hoped that the new institution will be more stable and less vulnerable to corruption than previous governments.

The status of the Somali government does raise some interesting questions, illustrating the challenges of understanding states, nations, governments, and sovereignty in global politics. Recall that in international relations, a state is normally defined as a territorial entity with both a population and a government. Ideally, that government should possess sovereign control (supreme decision making authority) and a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within that physical territory. Canada, the United States, and China are all examples. Each has a government capable of making legitimate and binding decisions for a population in a given territory.

However, in many cases, the ability of the state to make such decisions becomes less clear. In the case of Somalia, for example, the internationally-recognized government was not even able to operate within the boundaries of the country. Its authority was contested by warlords and pirates, who claimed supremacy over specific regions of the country. Even today, the reach of the Somali government is largely confined to the capital, Mogadishu, and the ability of the government to enforce its decisions is contingent on the African Union peacekeeping forces in the country.

This illustrates the contested nature of sovereignty in global politics. While the formal defining of sovereignty is easy to state in theory, its application in practice becomes much less clear.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Somali government is able to meet in Somalia at all is a clear indication of progress. For too long, the country has effectively been lawless, leading to domestic conflict between warlords and international tensions as pirates attack international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

Famine in Somalia and the “CNN Effect”

A displaced Somali woman and her malnourished child. The current famine in Somalia has received much less media attention than the 1992 crisis.

On July 20, the UN officially declared a famine in two southern regions of Somalia, and “warned that without action, famine-level conditions could soon spread to the rest of the south.” As Robert Paarlberg writes in The Atlantic, the situation in Somalia is perhaps more dire than it was 19 years ago, when 300,000 Somalis starved to death. Not only is this famine worse, but the militant Islamist group Al Shabab is keeping needed food aid from the people, “distrusting food-aid workers as spies,” and spreading propaganda that “it is better to starve than to accept help from the West.”

But this creeping humanitarian disaster has, as yet, attracted much less media attention than the 1992 famine or more sudden recent disasters such as the tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti.  This media “blackout” has hampered fundraising by aid groups, notes a recent New York Times piece entitled “Off Media Radar, Famine Garners Few Donations”:

“Relief organizations say the discrepancies underscore the pivotal role the media plays in spurring fund raising after disasters. The famine in Africa has had to compete with the wrangling over the debt ceiling, the mobile phone hacking scandals in Britain, the killings in Norway and, in Africa itself, the birth of a new country, the Republic of South Sudan.  `I’m asking myself where is everybody and how loud do I have to yell and from what mountaintop,’ said Caryl Stern, chief executive of the United States Fund for Unicef, a fund raising arm for the organization. ‘The overwhelming problem is that the American public is not seeing and feeling the urgency of this crisis.’”

Beyond stimulating greater private donations (the focus of this article) can the media actually drive governments to intervene in humanitarian crises?  This question surrounds research on the CNN effect–the alleged ability of the media (particularly television news) to arouse public attention and compel government action.  Alleged examples of the CNN effect include the 1992-94 U.S. intervention in (and withdrawal from) Somalia and U.S./British intervention in Northern Iraq (1991).  But political scientists disagree about whether such an effect exists and how strong it is; for a good review of this research, see this article by Eytan Gilboa in International Studies Perspectives. As Gilboa notes, despite ongoing debates among policymakers, journalists, and scholars, the empirical evidence supporting the CNN effect is “mixed and confusing.”  There does appear to be a correlation between heightened media coverage and intervention, but whether this is a causal relationship (and the direction of causation) remains unclear.

Will large-scale intervention to deal with this humanitarian crisis only occur when the media places it on the agenda of policymakers?  Even if media coverage dramatically increases, would the United States and other great powers necessarily get involved?  What are the limits of the CNN effect?

Peacekeeping or Peacemaking in the Ivory Coast

The conflict in the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) appears to be reaching its zenith this week, as supporters of president-elect Alassane Ouattara are moving on Abidjan, the center of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo’s support. The current fighting is the recent developing in a longstanding conflict in the Ivory Coast, which divides the country, in part, along sectarian lines between northern Muslims and southern Christians.

Abidjan, the Ivory Coast's largest city.

Abidjan, the Ivory Coast's largest city.

The decline of the Ivory Coast marks the tragic end of what was once a promising African success story. After independence, the Ivory Coast was able to martial its cocoa exports—accounting for approximately 40 percent of the world’s total production—into dramatic economic development in the 1960s and 70s. However, beginning in the 1980s, the Ivory Coast’s economy entered a sharp decline, prompted in part by sharp declines in markets for its major export commodities—coffee and cocoa. A military coup in 1999 was followed by an outbreak of civil war in 2002. French peacekeeping forces, authorized to operate on behalf of the United Nations and referred to as UNOCI, or the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, entered the country in 2003 in order to keep parties separated and to help oversee national elections. Those elections, which had been postponed by the Gbagbo government several times, were finally held in October, 2010. The results were sharply disputed, as the government of the Ivory Coast declaring Gbagbo the winner while international elections monitors declared Ouattara the winner. The standoff soon devolved into direct military conflict, sparking widespread concerns about a humanitarian disaster and raising the specter of genocide. (The BBC offers a good overview of the history of the conflict).

UN forces in the Ivory Coast.

UN forces in the Ivory Coast.

On Monday, French forces participating in the UN mission launched a series of attacks intended to destabilize Gbagbo’s regime. This move marks a dramatic shift in the role of the international community in the Ivory Coast as well as a dramatic departure from the traditional role of United Nations peacekeeping forces more generally. The first point is relatively straightforward. While the international community has been actively involved in promoting regime change in some countries (read: Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan), it has maintained a wait-and-see approach in others (read: Egypt, Bahrain, and Ivory Coast). The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and John Oliver combined to offer an incredibly insightful analysis of the differences last week.

But more broadly, the decision of French peacekeeping forces to directly engage Gbagbo’s military marks a dramatic shift in the nature of UN intervention more generally. Historically, UN peacekeeping forces were precisely that—forces intended to monitor a peace already established by combatants. After the fiasco of United Nations Operation in Somalia II in 1993, when the United States intervened to support aid distribution in Mogadishu only to be rebuffed by militias loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Since that time, the United States has resisted efforts by the United Nations to cross the fuzzy line that separates peacekeeping and peacemaking. Does the Ivory Coast mark a change in that position? Probably not. It’s a risky strategy, as Peter Gowan, blogging at the Global Dashboard notes. But it is worthwhile noting that the French policy appears to have been at least partially successful. Since those engagements, several high-ranking officials previously loyal to Gbagbo have stepped down, and Gbagbo himself seems to be willing to negotiate a cease-fire.

Solving the Somali Pirate Problem

(Courtesy French Defense Ministry)

Danuel Sekulich’s Modern Day Pirates blog had an interesting proposal for dealing with the piracy challenge in Somalia. It’s pretty simple, actually. Sekulich proposes establishing a moratorium on foreign fishing within Somalia’s exclusive economic zone. According to Sekulich, this “would allow Somali fishermen who claim to have turned to piracy because of the foreign fishers to be allowed to work in safety. And it would undermine any of the claims being put forth that Somali pirate gangs are somehow ‘defending’ their own people.”

Sekulich’s proposal is useful because it addresses the underlying reasons for piracy. Many Somalis turn to piracy out of poverty. They are former fisher people who, as a result of the dumpling of waste and overfishing off the Somali coast, have turned to piracy as a way to earn a living. United Nations backed naval patrols may increase the cost of piracy, but it will not end the practice. Only providing an alternative to piracy will. It’s a parallel situation to the challenge of the opium trade in Afghanistan. And it’s a great example of the interaction of environmental degradation and national security.