The Somali Model?

The Somali Model?

Mini Teaser: Somalia represents interventionst's perfect storm, but our difficulties there demonstrate the military's limits in the War on Terror.

by Author(s): Jonathan Stevenson

A Viable Dispensation

A NOTIONAL "Somali model" for countering Islamist terrorism poses several fairly obvious problems. First, Somalia, as a truly failed state, did not present the usual political and legal barriers to outside intervention. Only pariah-state Sudan offered the ICU official recognition. As a result, there was at best a weak case against the U.S.-backed Ethiopian offensive on the basis of Somalia's sovereignty or right of non-intervention under the UN Charter. As an internationally recognized government, of course, the TFG would have a stronger case. But every government in Africa-including Sudan and Zimbabwe, which would be the most likely candidates for a Somalia-style intervention-has a stronger claim to political legitimacy and the rights appurtenant to it than the ICU. Second, the ICU militias had little or no professional military training and therefore constituted an easy mark for Ethiopian forces. American-backed African armies would find most counterparts in other African states tougher foes. Third, it was a unique coincidence that Ethiopia's regional perceptions of geopolitical threats from Somali Islamists and their Eritrean backers coalesced so harmoniously with the United States's global perceptions. Finally, since the Ethiopian troops cannot stay and prospects for the AU peacekeeping force are dim, the United States has no reliable way to ensure the security of the TFG's regime. In light of Somalia's distinctive features, in most other conceivable circumstances the United States would find it far more difficult to move a proxy African army to breach the sovereignty of a neighboring state, let alone leave it with a sustainable government.

ALTHOUGH THE Somali model is scarcely a viable general blueprint, there are aspects of the United States's relationship with Ethiopia and Djibouti that do provide guidance for American re-engagement with Africa. The combination of civil programs conducted by American SOF with existing train-and-equip programs will enrich America's security relationships in Africa. In February 2007, the Defense Department went a considerable distance towards institutionalizing closer security links between the United States and Africa by establishing a new regional combatant command-known as Africa Command, or AFRICOM-devoted entirely to Africa (with the exception of Egypt). In U.S. military parlance, a regional combatant command is "supported" rather than "supporting", which means that except for a headquarters staff of about 1,000, it possesses no dedicated assets of its own. For those it must look to the individual services and functional combatant commands such as U.S. Transportation Command and SOCOM, which flow the assets through as needed. AFRICOM, however, will inherit CJTF-HOA, a major asset, along with the positive civil relationships it has forged in the Horn. AFRICOM will also coordinate disparate U.S. regional security enhancement efforts, such as the East Africa Counterterrorism Initiative and the Pan-Sahel Initiative.

But perhaps the crowning lesson of the recent episode in Somalia is that coercive, strictly military enterprises will not provide durable solutions to Africa's political problems. There is some official recognition of this reality in Washington. At the press conference announcing AFRICOM's creation, a Pentagon spokesman indicated that many of the new command's missions would be "non-kinetic", such as with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and that the command would generally focus on establishing stability, as evidenced by combatant commanders' increasing diplomatic responsibilities. For example, it was not the State Department or the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but rather the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe who convened and hosted the inaugural Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security Conference in October 2004.

Given the general inadequacy of Africa's militaries and its civilian governments, the continent's need for major-power assistance is not going away, and AFRICOM could better poise the United States to fill a void. But to ensure that it will promote-rather than detract from-regional stability, the United States will have to focus on diminishing acute dangers to regional and global security with a minimum of political blowback.

On the micro level, the works of mercy undertaken by SOF can establish goodwill among the people. But unless there is competent and sustainable national and local governance, many of those people will remain vulnerable to the influences of organizations like the ICU, which-in the manner of Hizballah and Hamas-offer security and order when the state fails to do so. Thus, as AFRICOM stands up-it is scheduled to be fully operational by September 2008-the U.S. government should resolve to do more diplomatically as well as militarily to strengthen African states. This means complementing military-to-military contact and civil-affairs programs with higher-level multilateral as well as bilateral diplomatic initiatives on conflict resolution and governmental reform. It is unlikely that U.S. military resources rendered scarce by Iraq and Afghanistan will allow the United States to devote substantially more direct military attention to Africa in the near future. But such attention without more resources would not yield net gains in security and stability. AFRICOM should increase the United States's diplomatic capacity and reach in the region, facilitating the kind of U.S. engagement in Africa that could produce such gains.

Jonathan Stevenson is a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College. This article reflects only the views of the author and not the official position of the Naval War College, the U.S. Navy or the Department of Defense.

1 See Jonathan Stevenson, "‘Special' Forces", The National Interest, No. 87 (Nov./Dec. 2006).

2 See Mark Mazzetti, "Pentagon Sees Move in Somalia as Blueprint", The New York Times, January 13, 2007.

Essay Types: Essay