Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stripping Away the Humanitarian Veneer of the UN "Peacekeeping" Force to Somalia

Those who forget history are bound to repeat it. Yesterday, urged and led by the US, the UN Security Council voted to authorize a 8,000-strong IGAD peacekeeping force into Somalia to protect the weak Transitional Federal Government led by President Yusuf. While it is indisputable that Somalia is a divided country, many are concerned that this peacekeeping force will spark a vicious backlash that could truly engulf the region in conflict. The Union of Islamic Courts, which controls Mogadishu, has warned that it will fight any peacekeepers, perceived as invading forces, that enter its territory.

The only government yet to commit troops for the peacekeeping force is Uganda, which raises controversy because the Government is already accused of failing its responsibility to protect its civilians caught in the brutal 20-year war in its northen region. How can it justify sending peacekeepers to Somalia when peacekeepers are needed for its own people? Interestingly for that question, another government that may possibly commit troops is Sudan. Ethiopia would be a likely candidate, but neighboring countries are banned from participating in the force. However, there are reports that Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia one month ago to contain the Union of Islamic Courts.

While the discourse is one of "peacekeeping," one does have not to be cynical to think that this action may be more about geo-strategic politics than peace. In fact, the US Government has been concerned for some time that Islamic forces could take control of the country. It was revealed in May of this year that the US has been secretly backing warlords in Mogadishu. Since the Islamic Courts took Mogadishu, Somalia has been the top Africa priority of the State Department and the US mission at the Security Council. The US has urged a lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in 1992. A report last month by the UN showed that major violations of the arms embargo had been committed by Uganda, Ethiopia and others. It is worth noting that dating back to the early 1990s, Uganda and Ethiopia have been strategic allies of the US in the region. As this new peacekeeping force is put together, some worry that the force will be committed more to securing US interests than promoting a political solution to the conflict.

And that brings us to the lessons of history. John Prendergasts writes that the US and UN are missing the lessons of the past, and should focus on promoting a political solution and a government of national unity.

As this unfolds, we see another example where the language of humanitarianism is being manipulated by nations pursuing their geo-strategic interests. Conflict and turmoil in Somalia, just like Iraq, will be used by commentators to justify stances of isolationism or strict non-interventionism. One of the hopes of 'responsibility to protect' was that it could shift the paradigm to make space for responsible and just collective action that prioritizes civilian protection. The case for R2P may now have to begin by deconstructing the humanitarian veneer of interventions in Iraq and now Somalia.

3 Comments:

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Anonymous DeMark Schulze said...

Pete and Adrian:
Seems you have some issues with spam in your comments section.

I appreciate your dedication to exposing a very fundamental flaw in our foreign policy. Keep up the good writing- I've been pointing my contacts to your blog as well. I'll hope to see this comment section grow.

One quick suggestion: I had someone ask me what R2P was. Obviously, "responsibility to protect" is highlighted on the right side of the blog, but you may want to make it more prominent as apparently some are missing it.

Thanks guys. Keep up the good work!

5:28 PM  

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