Monday, October 22, 2012

UN Peacekeeping: Somalia 1993

I am beginning to read Kofi Annan’s new book Interventions: A Life in War and Peace. I don’t know very much about the history of the United Nation or its evolution of purpose and scope since its inception after WW2. This book provides a thorough account of major world events including human rights issues and abuses, civil wars, peacekeeping, global governance, the millennium development goals and terrorism. As I read this book, I’ll be posting little summaries of interesting information particularly, the history and facts of certain events that I believe most of us, myself included, have a limited and narrow understanding.

In my studies at DU in International Human Rights, I did not focus on human rights issues through the lens of major international conflicts or civil wars in the developing world. I also did not focus on genocide of which DU has many classes and expertise.  In my undergrad work (Contemplative Psychology and Religious Studies), I also did not have the opportunity, outside of my lack of personal initiative, to learn a lot about international affairs and various humanitarian conflict-type situations. From this vantage point, I view this book as an incredible learning tool to make up for this lack. Most of us I think, myself included, have either an idealistic, pessimistic, reductionist or naive understanding of how the UN operates in regard to peacekeeping and responses to conflicts around the world. Having the facts of what actually happened from the perspective of the former UN secretary general is invaluable.

Annan begins his book by describing the complex world of UN peacekeeping, especially in the context of civil wars. He focuses on three examples that he refers to as the United Nation’s “toughest-ever crises – and greatest of failures” (32): the 1993 Somalia crisis, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the massacre in Srebenic, Bosnia in 1995. I want to briefly go over his testimony of these events. Hopefully, they will not only provide historical knowledge but also elucidate the inherent complications of peacekeeping and global governance.

Background Context:
In between WW2 and the 1980s, there were only a handful of UN peacekeeping missions. Before 1988 there were only a dozen, but between 1988 and 1992, another ten were created. This is due in part to the Cold War. In its early years, the five permanent members of the Security Council (Russia, China, the UK, France and the US) were not able to contribute troops to peacekeeping efforts mainly due to the potential for escalating Cold War rivalry. After 1988 and the beginning of the end of the Cold War, the Security Council was able to agree more often without this kind of confrontation. There were many peacekeeping successes during this time including monitoring ceasefires between Iraq and Iran, the political transition in Nicaragua and the withdrawl of Cuban troops from Angola. Most notable however was Operation Desert Storm in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The response was a UN-authorized, US-led coalition. Almost a million men and women were deployed from 34 countries.

This new era of peacekeeping however also led to the alteration of its principles. Codified in 1973, the formal rules of peacekeeping were as follows:

· Peacekeeping troops could only be deployed only with the consent of the parties to the dispute.
· Peacekeeping had to be strictly impartial in their deployment and activities.
· Peacekeepers could use force only in self-defense.
· Peacekeepers should be mandated and supported by the Security Council in their activities.
· Peacekeeping operations had to rely on the voluntary contributions of member states for military personnel, equipment, and logistics.

The then Secretary General Boutros-Ghali was commissioned to present a document on how the UN might operate in the transforming geopolitical climate. He created a document called An Agenda for Peace. In this document he focused on the rising civil war conflicts around the world and how they demanded a new level of international intervention. He also proposed that due to the nature of these types of conflict, the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces should no longer require consent from all parties. This change presented a new level of risk for peacekeeping forces. Force was now something to be more prepared for. Troop contributing forces had to accept this new level of risk as well as higher levels of political will and commitment. However, these risks and commitments were largely unrecognized as it was hard to foresee how these conflicts and peacekeeping missions would play out.

The UN peacekeeping governing structure is highly complicated. Firstly, you have the Security Council, which has the power to form a UN field operation and is “responsible for determining its mandate, objectives, and parameters” (36). Second, the UN Secretariat, which is the administrative body of the UN, manages operation logistics and day-to-day practicalities. Thirdly, the troop contributing countries retain authority over the forces they deploy. This creates a bureaucratic nightmare. Decision-making is fragmented and the communication and coordination between governing bodies can be difficult. Reform of this system was never pushed for because none of the peacekeeping missions up to this point had displayed its flaws in a serious way. Troop contributing countries also benefited from the existing structure. For instance, the deployment of troops in peacekeeping efforts carries their foreign policy humanitarian ambitions and the deployment of troops allows one to take responsibility for responding to crises. However they are able to abdicate a certain amount of responsibility by simultaneously deploying troops without proper acknowledgement of the inherent risk.

Case One: Somalia
In 1991, Somali President Barre fell out of power and his void gave way to an intense power struggle between interim president Ali Mahdi Mohamed and the chairman of the United Somali Congress, General Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Power structures eventually gave way to multiple armed factions and competing gangs that created a series of mini-wars. The Somali civilian population suffered greatly from these conflicts and the UN presence was not capable of dealing them. A great famine was created not just due to environmental reasons but also due to the armed forces consciously obstructing aid from reaching the population. Annan said, “services and systems of trade and food distribution disappeared as the months rolled past” (39). A large portion of the population suffered from malnutrition. “1.5 million were considered at immediate risk of death.” Delivering humanitarian aid was simply not enough. At the transition from 1991 to 1992, some agreements were reached culminating in a ceasefire in March of 1992. As part of this deal the UN Operation in Somalia was created (UNOSOM). This operation was created to oversee the ceasefire and to accompany humanitarian aid around the country.

Despite the ceasefire, in August of 1992, eleven Red Cross workers were killed in Kismayo (a southern port city). 250 tons of food was stolen from the ports. Gangs and looters were blocking food trucks in Mogadishu. People, including children, were dying of malnutrition even at UN feeding centers. It was becoming clear that the political resolution was not taking hold. The capabilities of the UN mission were “inadequate.” All efforts to increase aid were met with responding efforts to disrupt their access to the population. Food warehouses were full while “an estimated 3,000 Somalis were dying every day, with perhaps 300,000 already dead” (42).

Boutros-Ghali recommended that the use of force was “the only feasible option.” The Security Council then unanimously adopted a measure (UNOSOM II) that established any means to secure an “environment for humanitarian relief operation in Somalia” (42). The US, under George H. W. Bush, sent 28,000 troops and twenty other countries collectively provided another 17,000. This force however was thought to be in Somalia for a short period of time. It was there merely to “prepare the way for a return to peacekeeping and post conflict peacebuilding. (42). Initiatlly this mission was very successful. Humanitarian supplies were being delivered to 40% of the country. The troops were being pulled out even as the fighting continued.

With a much smaller troop presence and a more fragmented command structure, a mandate was given to begin disarming the competing factions within Somalia. This force was never above 20,000 troops. This mandate presented many problems. For example, any faction targeted for disarming would find itself in a disadvantaged position against its rivals. No Somali warlord was about to let this happen. Following a series of small incidents, 25 Pakistani soldiers were killed and fifty other wounded. General Aidid was blamed. Attention quickly shifted away from the broader picture of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and disarmament to focus on capturing this one man. This focus was the straw that broke the camels back and ultimately crippled the UN mission in Somalia and sent the country into years of chaos. Boutros-Ghali sent a separate force of US troops specifically to hunt General Aidid. This chain of command was independent of the UN mission and was done so without the knowledge of existing UN troops in Somalia. The attempt to capture General Aidid failed horribly and resulted in “two helicopters being shot down, 18 US soldiers killed, and scores of others wounded” (45). Images were screened around the world of dead US soldiers stripped naked and dragged through Mogadishu streets.

This level of causalities was not anticipated and in response, there was a call for an immediate end to US involvement. This gutted the UN mission, taking its best-trained and best-equipped soldiers away from a worsening situation. The rest of the troops from other nations, being now more vulnerable, followed suit and pulled out of Somalia. As Annan said, “Thus ended the greatest experiment ever attempted to use peace enforcement in a mission motivated by humanitarian goals” (45). Somalia was abandoned and the population was punished by perpetual civil chaos and suffering. The world saw fit to ignore Somalia until it was recognized that international terrorists began to emerge there years later.

This failure brought into clear view the “dysfunctional nature of the peacekeeping system” (46). President Bill Clinton even said after this mission that the US would never again put troops in harms way in a UN peacekeeping mission. There grew an international aversion to taking risks. Nonetheless, more peacekeeping missions were deployed in more civil wars around the world. Unfortunately the very first operation to occur after this failure in Somalia and in this new UN climate was the Rwandan genocide in 1994. I will post about Rwanda and Bosnia in a separate post.

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