For the first time in American history, United States troops
have been committed to a military operation for a cause completely
unrelated to protecting the national interest. Many Americans,
understandably, are ambivalent about Operation Restore Hope, as the
United Nations-authorized Somalia intervention is called. Their
hearts go out to the famine-stricken people of Somalia, but they
are nonetheless worried that the U.S. is becoming the world's
policeman. They are anxious about the open-ended and unclear
military nature of the U.S. commitment; about whether it is morally
right to ask Americans to risk their lives when the nation or its
interests are not threatened; about the precedent being set for
interventions elsewhere -- in Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia-Herzogovina,
and Mozambique; and about the heavy burden Americans are being
asked to bear, while the rest of the world gives relatively little
in money and troops.
Nevertheless, now that the operation is under way, Americans
naturally want Operation Restore Hope to succeed. The credibility
of American foreign policy and the shattered lives of Somalis
Pitfalls for America
But Americans also want Restore Hope to end as quickly as
possible. For this to happen, many pitfalls must be avoided. For
example, the U.N. will be tempted to make Somalia Washington's
problem, leaving the U.S. alone with the task of providing security
for that starving and conflict-plagued nation. U.N. Secretary
General Boutros Boutros-Ghali already is calling for sending 5,500
U.N. troops to Mozambique to enforce a shaky cease-fire there. With
so many peacekeeping operations underway around the world -- in
Bosnia, Cambodia, and elsewhere -- the U.N. is already stretched to
the limit. Distracted by these commitments and its desire to
resolve other conflicts, the U.N. will be hard pressed to comply
with George Bush's demand that U.N. troops take over from the U.S.
once the food supply in Somalia is secure.
There is another pitfall to avoid. The U.S. should not assume
responsibility for brokering a political deal among Somalia's
warlords. If America gets involved in establishing political
authority in Somalia, its troops will become the targets of armed
gangs who are dissatisfied with the settlement. The U.S. also will
have to remain in Somalia until the deal is finished, which could
take years, and guarantee a political settlement afterward with
huge commitments of foreign aid.
To avoid these pitfalls, Washington should demand that the U.N.
begin planning immedi-ately to take over Operation Restore Hope. A
13,000-strong U.N. force needs to be built now, and a deadline
should be set for the U.N. force to be completely phased in, and
the U.S. force to be phased out. This deadline should be March 31,
Other nations, moreover, need to commit more money and troops to
the military operation, which will cost hundreds of millions of
dollars. The U.N. should establish immediately a formal structure
for compensating the U.S. for 70 percent of the costs of Operation
Restore Hope. Washington should not be left alone, begging for
money, as it did from the Japanese and Saudis after Operation
Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf.
Finally, the U.N. should bear the main responsibility for
Somalia's political future; it is best suited for the task of
trying to reestablish Somalia's government. In order to do so, the
U.N. may have to establish a protectorate. The U.S. should
recommend in the Security Council that a protectorate be
established in Somalia as soon as possible.
Descent into Anarchy
Somalia has been slipping toward anarchy ever since the
overthrow of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991. Siad
Barre had ruled Somalia since his successful military coup in 1969,
maintaining power through repression and by pitting one Somali clan
against the other. Siad Barre was deposed by a coalition of
opposition forces fighting under the banner of the United Somalia
Soon after the ouster of Siad Barre from Mogadishu, Somalia's
capital, however, the USC disintegrated. Two USC factions emerged,
both from the Hawiyee clan. One faction was lead by Ali Mahdi and
the other by Mohamed Farah Aideed. These two factions turned on
each other in an attempt to capture control of the central
government. Today, Mahdi has a foothold in northern Mogadishu and
parts of central Somalia, while Aideed, Somalia's most powerful
warlord, controls the rest of Mogadishu and much of southern
Somalia. Mahdi and Aideed are the prominent warlords; Somalia is
plagued by a total of sixteen warring factions. These are based on
continually shifting clan alliances. This turmoil leaves Somalia
with no central authority. U.N. efforts to broker a political
settlement to date have been unsuccessful.
Food As Weapon
Somalia's famine has come about because this clan warfare
has destroyed much of Somalia's agriculture. With Somalia's economy
now devastated, hijacked food is the sole means of power and a
weapon wielded by warlords to win the allegiances of clan and
subclan leaders. Some of this food is exchanged in neighboring
countries for weapons. In an attempt to see that food reaches the
starving, such relief agencies as the United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF) have been paying Somali gangs protection money. Some
reports suggest that despite these security efforts, up to 80
percent of internationally provided relief food is stolen. As a
result, Somalis are starving.
The lack of security hindering the international food relief
effort led George Bush to launch Operation Restore Hope. The
operation's goal is to afford the security necessary to suppress
Somalia's famine. Some 28,000 U.S. troops, along with what can be
expected to be a few thousand troops from other countries, will
open supply routes for food relief efforts and prepare the way for
a U.N. peacekeeping force to preserve the security of these routes.
In the meantime, diplomatic initiatives will be underway to restore
order and achieve a political peace in Somalia. Though no date has
been set for the completion of this U.S. military operation, Joint
Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell has suggested that it could
be completed by March. Addressing an often-heard criticism,
President Bush stated in a nationally televised address to the
American people that the U.S. military mission was not open-ended.
In the words of the President, the U.S. military would not stay in
Somalia "one day longer than is absolutely necessary." The U.S.
also will be providing clothing, medicine, and other humanitarian
aid to Somalia.
Crossing the Rubicon
It is an American tradition to offer humanitarian relief to
those in the world suffering from natural disaster. The U.S. is
sending hundreds of millions of dollars to combat drought in
southern Africa, for example. Operation Restore Hope is entirely
different because the lives of U.S. troops are being placed in
direct risk. And while the Pentagon is confident that casualties
will be limited, no one knows this for sure. It is uncertain how
the warlords and their allied clans and subclans will react once
they see their control over food, their source of power, being
taken away by U.S. troops. These warlords control a plethora of
weapons, including mortars, heavy artillery, and rocket-propelled
grenade launchers. U.S. troops also may encounter Islamic
fundamentalists armed by Sudan, Iran, and elements within Saudi
Arabia. Already, there have been charges by Islamic fundamentalists
in Somalia that U.S. troops will be the vanguard of an orchestrated
Western attack on Islam.
Moreover, with its military intervention into Somalia, the Bush
Administration has opened the door to pressures for the U.S. to
intervene into most of the world's many hot spots. The political
pressure already is mounting for international intervention into
civil conflicts in Liberia, Sudan, Mozambique, Bosnia-Herzogovina,
and elsewhere where the U.S. would be expected to provide the bulk
of U.N.-authorized military forces. From now on the U.S. will be
hard pressed to make a moral distinction between saving starving
Somalis and saving starving Bosnians.
Other precedents have been set by Operation Restore Hope.
Earlier U.N.-sanctioned military operations in such places as
Angola, Cambodia, and El Salvador have been limited to such tasks
as monitoring cease-fires and holding elections. But the task in
Somalia is different: using military force to make peace. Moreover,
the U.N. presence in other countries was agreed to by all the
warring parties. This is not the case in Somalia.
On the Horns of a Dilemma
There is little doubt that U.S. troops will successfully open up
supply lines and aid starving Somalis. However, a political
settlement must be achieved in Somalia if its famine is to end
completely. Unfortunately, the prospects for a political settlement
in Somalia are anything but reassuring. This presents Washington
with a dilemma: Does the U.S. attack the root cause of the famine
-- political chaos -- which implies a prolonged military
commitment? Or does it confine itself to the more narrow task of
securing food shipments, which is a temporary solution at best?
Bill Clinton -- not George Bush -- will face this dilemma. As
President, he will be pressed to keep the troops in Somalia so long
as the famine continues or threatens to return once U.S. troops are
withdrawn. The great temptation for Clinton, therefore, will be to
turn Operation Restore Hope into an open-ended mission, despite
Bush's promise to the contrary. In order to avoid this prospect,
the U.S. should:
Internationalize Operation Restore Hope by establishing a fixed
date for when a U.N. force should take over from U.S. troops.
Some in the Bush Administration believe that Operation Restore
Hope could be finished by January 20. U.N. Secretary General
Boutros- Ghali suggests that this date is not unreasonable. While
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell resists setting a
deadline, he says that the mission could be completed by March.
If the U.S. fails to set a deadline now, Clinton will be
pressured into guaranteeing the long-term security of Somalia,
which could require a U.S. military presence for as long as ten
years. Such a commitment goes well beyond the mission as explained
by Bush. A firm dead-line would put the international community on
notice that the U.N. must build a military force now to take over
responsibility from the U.S. Around 1,000 U.S. troops could remain
behind to support the 13,000-strong international force comprised
of Europeans, Asians, Africans, and even Russians. Once these
troops are in Somalia, then Operation Restore Hope will become a
truly international effort. Knowing that a large new force is on
the way, Somali warlords will not see a deadline as an excuse to
delay cooperation with the U.N. Rather, this deadline will be
merely the point at which the heavy U.S. involvement will be phased
There is another reason for setting a deadline. It would
disabuse the Somalis of the common notion that the U.S. presence
will be a lengthy one in which hundreds of millions of dollars will
be spent to reopen schools, pave roads, and provide job training
for Somalis. The longer these current unrealistic expectations are
held by Somalis, the more disappointed they will be when these
expectations are not fulfilled.
Immediately start building a 13,000-strong U.N. force to take
over from the U.S. troops.
Boutros-Ghali says that after the U.S. troops improve security
in Somalia, the U.N. will be able to implement a peacekeeping
operation. The Bush Administration reportedly suggests that this
U.N. peacekeeping operation will require 6,000 troops. If this is
the case, the Administration is grossly underestimating what will
be required to keep Somalia pacified after the U.S. departs. Other
U.N. peacekeeping forces are much larger -- 15,900 in Cambodia, for
example. The U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia almost certainly
will face combat conditions. It also will be plagued by all the
difficulties unique to a multinational force. This U.N. force of
13,000 troops should be large enough to maintain the peace and,
when necessary, disarm the warring factions.
If the U.S. wishes to withdraw its troops from Somalia within a
few months, it must press the Secretary General to develop a plan
now for the U.N. force. Boutros-Ghali already shows signs of
foot-dragging on this responsibility. He suggests that it is best
to wait and see before setting the course for composing the U.N.
peacekeeping force. The longer the U.N. waits, however, the less
likely it will be that other countries will provide troops for the
Having done the dirty and difficult work, the U.S. should not
carry a disproportionately large burden in the follow-on U.N.
operation. The new force, composed of armies from all around the
world, should assume the task of securing Somalia. Some of the
hundreds of thousands of idle Russian troops could help do the job.
The Administration has suggested that a Marine force would be kept
off the coast of Somalia should the U.N. force encounter trouble.
Although the U.S. has never been part of a U.N. military force,
this Marine contingent could be loosely allied with a U.N.
peacekeeping force. The number of U.S. troops left behind should
not exceed 1,000.
Demand that the costs of this mission be shared by every
The Bush Administration has estimated publicly that Operation
Restore Hope will cost several hundred million dollars. This loose
estimate, of course, is based on its hopeful expectation that the
operation will be a brief military mission. Other nations will be
contributing troops and supplies as well. For example, France has
pledged 1,700 troops, Canada 900, Belgium 550, Egypt 500, and Italy
1,500. Nonetheless, with its 28,000 troops, the U.S. still will be
bearing most of the burden for the Somalia intervention.
The U.S. should recoup some of the cost of Operation Restore
Hope from the international community. Normally the U.S. pays 30
percent of U.N. peacekeeping operations. Its overall and final
contribution to the Somalian operation should not exceed that
To collect the money, the U.N. needs to establish a formal
mechanism for compensating the U.S. Otherwise the U.S. will be left
begging the Japanese and the Saudis for money, as it did with
Operation Desert Storm. The total cost of the U.S. action, along
with the contributions of other nations, should be calculated and
divided among U.N. members.
Washington must press immediately for the establishment of this
compensation mechanism. The longer the U.S. waits to pressure other
nations into paying their fair share, the less likely it will be
that America will recoup its costs. The U.S. supposedly is acting
on behalf of the world. The world at least should help to pay for
part of an operation in which many Americans are risking their
Establish a U.N. protectorate in Somalia
President Bush has defined Operation Provide Hope as a non-
political, humanitarian mission. Nonetheless, the U.S. unavoidably
will become embroiled in Somali politics. U.S. decisions about
where to deliver food will affect the power of Somalia's warlords
dramatically. After all, denying warlords their ability to loot
food is tantamount to taking away their power.
Despite this undeniable U.S. political influence, Washington
must draw a line and avoid becoming responsible for political
reconciliation in Somalia. This responsibility belongs to the U.N.,
on whose behalf the U.S. is undertaking its Somalia
The U.S. Army forces U.N. auspices will be establishing de facto
military rule in Somalia. This role should be turned over to the
U.N. force by March 31. The U.N. Security Council should by then
have endowed this force with full sovereignty over Somalia, making
it a protectorate of the U.N. The U.S. must start now to pressure
the Security Council to take this action. An administrative branch
of the U.N. force should then convene a national conference, with
participants coming from a wide array of Somali society. This
conference must include Somalia's traditional elders, who represent
the only modicum of stability in Somalia. The goal of this
conference would be to develop a consensus on the country's future
government and the date at which Somalia would reassume its full
sovereignty. However, the U.S. must avoid the appearance of
sponsoring such a conference. Otherwise it will have to accept
responsibility for the outcome.
The U.S. has taken an unprecedented action in order to help the
Somalis. It is still too early to tell if this was a wise course.
President Bush may have opened the door for the dispatch of U.S.
troops for other humanitarian causes all over the world. However,
there also can be no doubt that the 28,000 U.S. troops will save
Somali lives. This is a risky, albeit noble thing for the U.S. to
The challenge for Somalia will be to build a new political order
so as to avoid future famines. Therefore, in the long run, Somalia
must become responsible for its own security. While a U.N.
peacekeeping force may stay in Somalia for a long time, Operation
Restore Hope should be short-term. The U.S. should not be carrying
the brunt of the Somali operation beyond the end of March.
Therefore, the U.N. -- and not the U.S. -- eventually must
assume primary political and security responsibility for Somalia.
It must begin planning for establishing a U.N. protectorate over
the country to rebuild political authority and law and order. Since
a U.N. protectorate requires widespread international involvement,
many U.N. members should help pay for it and send troops to back it
up. Otherwise, left without hope, Somalis will continue to starve
by the millions.
Thomas P. Sheehy is a former Policy Analyst at the
© 1995 Persimmon IT, Inc.