Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Somalia Status

The UN is calling for a halt to combat in Somalia.

That's the UN's job, and I don't begrudge them for it.

But I have to wonder (and I feel like a jerk for asking): Is this a case where we might want to Just Give War a Chance?

Stemming from Edward Luttwak's 1999 Foreign Affairs article, the "give war a chance" argument is one of those claims you feel like a really terrible person making, but probably has some substance behind it. Fundamentally, the piece argues that prematurely stopping conflicts (through cease-fires and the like) artificially "freezes" combatants at a point where both sides feel like there is something left "on the table." So both sides use the time out to re-arm and re-group, and then start fighting afresh, creating an endless cycle of violence-ceasefire-violence. Luttwak argues that we should instead let conflicts burn themselves out naturally. This, he argues, creates stability by removing the incentive for further conflict, because both sides will have come to the conclusion that they have gotten all the can via armed fighting.

Somalia hasn't had a unified government since 1991 and has been locked in a low-grade anarchic civil war ever since. Stopping the conflict now likely will prevent any side from gaining a clear victory (Ethiopia's support for the provisional government has been crucial, but given enough time Eritrea will probably jump in to support the Islamist fighters). This is a rare opportunity for one side to score a major victory, possibly paving the way for permanent stabilization.

The problem, of course, is that this is highly speculative, and the collateral we'd place on that bet is a rather nasty war in a country that has endured far too much of it already.

So I don't know. But I thought it was worth throwing out there.

UPDATE: More on the situation from FPWatch and Security Dilemmas.


Anonymous said...

We should clearly be on the side of those fighting the islamists, not simply hoping that ONE side wins as you say.

Anonymous said...

This situation will not stay the same for long, the Somali’s don’t want the Ethiopians there so they will end up in the same “bass ackwards” situation that we are in Afghanistan right now. I am Christian and a former Marine and I believe a proponent of democracy. However, the choice here is either to support the warlords who I can’t even begin to list the atrocities they committed against the general population of Somalia or the Islamic Courts Union, who have provided at least a degree of stability to this nation.

The people of Somalia are predominately Muslim, so it really is their choice. The people of Somalia do not want the Ethiopians in their country and will fight, the more we push on the Ethiopian / Warlord side, the more the people will push back and the more innocent children, women and men who will die needlessly.

Fact is, if we support the ICU and the people of Somalia, show good will, help rebuild infrastructure, build schools, roads and hospitals with the words “A GIFT FROM THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES”, we have a better chance of having influence with that government and better chance of ever bringing true democracy to that country. We have to look long term, and in the long term, it would be best to support the ICU.

The media is hyping the “Taliban” stuff in order to mask our support of the warlords coalition and the US and UN’s overall failure in that part of the world.

Anonymous said...

This article sounds like a pretty thin rationalization for a "hands-off" approach to human rights. War conditions are, empirically, when human rights violations are at their worst (civilians are killed, refugee crises insue, etc). Since you have argued for the use of human rights as a guiding foreign policy principle before (specifically with regards to genocide), it's a little unsettling to see you so enthusiastic about this concept. This kind of passive approach is indistinguishable from what the US has done in Darfur, which is certainly in a state of civil war at this point. I don't know why the rights of civilians targeted for genocide are more important than the rights of civilians caught between fueding warlords.

Also, the "Give War a Chance" hypothesis assumes that the peace process stalls out after a ceasfire (which cetainly happens enough of the time). But it sounds like a more compelling alternative than "let the brown people kill each other" is to actually take a pro-active diplomatic role in negotiating the long-term structural conditions needed to maintain peace.