chapter  4
22 Pages

Somalia: From peace enforcement to disengagement

In late 1992, a civil war-induced famine endangered the lives of 330,000 people in Somalia. The United Nations responded to the humanitarian concerns that spread over the crisis by authorizing, first, the Unified Task Force (UNITAF ), a US-commanded, 32,000-strong multinational force; and, second, the Second UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II), a 28,000-strong multidimensional peacekeeping mission authorized to take actions, including enforcement measures, necessary to implement its mandate of nation-building. The optimism that UNOSOM II would mark a new generation of active UN peace operations soon vanished, however, when the operation was withdrawn after two years without completing its mission. Inevitably, the failure of UNOSOM II discredited the idea of humanitarian intervention. This chapter seeks to explain the radical transformation of an intervention that started with peace enforcement to alleviate humanitarian suffering but ended in withdrawal. The predominant bases of UNITAF and UNOSOM II intervention were ethical-humanitarian concerns and multilateral security interests-but no overarching strategic interest sustained the venture. Despite the previous cardinal norm of non-interference in the domestic affairs of states, the serious humanitarian crisis in Somalia initially attracted support from UN member states and made possible an unprecedented authorization to use force to alleviate the situation. Another critical basis of the intervention was the US perception that the mission could be organized and completed at relatively low cost, and that the burdens of longer term peacekeeping activities and disarmament would be performed by the UN after the UNITAF mission had ended. UNOSOM II’s poor performance in implementing its mandate was exemplified by its bungled attempt to arrest local militia leader Mohamed Farrah Aideed. Excessive use of force in this and other incidents damaged the effectiveness of the political reconciliation, nation-building, and other work the mission had sought to implement. Thereafter, the perception of failure and rising costs, seen as unjustifiable in a humanitarian mission, led to loss of support for the intervention, undermining the conditions of its legitimacy and leading eventually to the US/UN disengagement.