“It comes down to this question: can we intervene without doing harm?” says Brownwyn E. Bruton, an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “If you want to deal with it properly, you’re looking at an Iraq-style investment, where 20,000 peacekeepers isn’t going to do it—maybe 40,000, maybe 60,000. You’re talking about building a government and security forces from the ground up. It’s going to be a 10-year effort. And there’s going to be a lot of violence in the short term, as there was in Iraq.” [emphasis mine]
And that, in case the bolded parts don’t make it clear enough, just ain’t gonna happen. The article also makes the very valid point that such a force, wherever it came from, would require a substantial contribution from the United States. And even though the U.S. did recently contribute 168 million very important dollars to the African Union mission in Somalia, a 10-year investment in 60,000 troops would cost, um, a little bit more.
So where to look? The UN?
Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, a former resident of Ottawa and deputy prime minister of Somalia until Sheik Sharif Ahmed’s government was sworn in this year, hopes that the international community will shoulder this burden. In an interview with Maclean’s, he drew comparisons between Somalia and Afghanistan and argued that the international response should be similar. He wants the United Nations to send troops. While some Somalis would reject any international presence, Adan believes most would accept it as necessary. “Somalis are killing each other every day here on the streets, so why wouldn’t they accept anyone who is coming to save them?”
We’ve previously argued why a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia would not be a good idea, and the situation remains such that UN deployment would be much more likely to inflame tensions and exacerbate conditions on the ground than to achieve any sort of forced pacification. Adan’s logic is misguided (there are in fact no UN peacekeepers, only a small political team, in Afghanistan, his proposed parallel case), but his language is revealing: any UN blue helmets that might deploy in Somalia could not be there to “save” Somalis. Peacekeeping missions, even the ones with mandates to protect civilians, are not rescue missions. That requires a whole different (and more substantial) investment, one that, given Somalia’s history, is not likely to be forthcoming.
Does this mean there is no way for the international community to help improve the situation in Somalia? No, but it does mean that we should be candid about what full-scale protection of Somali civilians will entail. We can keep supporting the country’s government, conducting anti-terrorism operations, promoting peace processes, and providing vital humanitarian aid, but if we want to talk about making sure that everyday Somali civilians are safe, we’d need to be honest about what that’s going to take.