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The Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia Case Study


Introduction

Faced with a serious humanitarian crisis, civil strife, and political disorder, the United Nations (UN) introduced the United Nations Operation in Somalia to offer humanitarian relief to the Somali people.1

However, the breakdown of civil order in the horn of Africa nation made it impossible for this mission to realize its full potential. Furthermore, the continued rivalries among different warlords in Somalia made it more difficult for aid workers to undertake their duties.

This situation worsened towards the end of 1992. Consequently, the American government constituted a Unified Taskforce that aimed to enforce a United Nations (UN) resolution to protect humanitarian efforts in Somalia.2

The US constituted this task force in late 1992 and early 1993. The mission experienced several challenges, including the death of many peacekeepers.

Later, the mission changed its mandate to pursue all necessary measures to maintain the right environment for humanitarian efforts to thrive. The task however failed and foreign peacekeepers left the country.

Once the American-led humanitarian effort failed, many people asked questions regarding the legitimacy of the US-led humanitarian intervention in Somalia.

This paper proposes that the humanitarian intervention in Somalia lacked legitimacy because the media depoliticized the intervention and dehumanized the conflict that ensued after that.

Finally, this paper proposes that America abused the right to protect aid workers and therefore, it lost its credibility for sustaining its mission. These issues suffice as the main reasons for the loss of legitimacy in the Somalia humanitarian intervention.

De-politicization of Violence

Fassin finds fault in the way journalists and other reporters narrate stories of violence and war.3 He says journalists fail to report the true political undercurrents that inform a conflict.4

Instead, they present the moral arguments surrounding a conflict, where groups of perpetrators meet groups of victims, or when perpetrators become victims.

By failing to give the true mental picture of the perpetrators and their primary motivations for committing atrocities, the public gives political power for other interested groups to pursue perpetrators.

Indeed, in the Somali case, Americans and other foreign missions received immense political power to enter Somalia. This political power stemmed from the assumption that the Somali warlords, who operated in the country, fought without any regard for the well-being of their people.

In some respects, the media painted proponents of the war as enemies of humanity.5 In this depiction, the media used famine, war, and disease to affirm the perception that the Somali people needed liberation from the hands of their leaders.

The American-led invasion, therefore, found immense legitimacy to intervene in the conflict, in the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

Here, it is crucial to highlight that the media rarely explained the political issues surrounding the conflict because they reported it as a “black and white” conflict where the Somalia citizens were victims of their internal political disorder.

The media therefore characterized the warlords as the perpetrators and the citizens as the victims.6 In Mahmood’s understanding, this de-politicization of violence bears immense perverse consequences.7

Another researcher, Fassin, who says that humanitarian intervention is a politics of life, also supports Mahmood’s narration. In this analogy, Fassin says that humanitarian intervention thrives on the premise for third parties to save individuals.8

Here, it is crucial to mention that humanitarian intervention presupposes that foreign parties need to save the lives of some people by risking the lives of others. More specifically, this philosophy also brings a new argument that thrives on the determination of which lives to save and which ones to ignore.

The argument that humanitarian intervention is a “politics of life” also stems from the argument that it conceals the real causes of the conflict.

In this analysis, Fassin says that humanitarian intervention sets aside the real causes of conflict and makes public presentations of victims as people that need saving.9 Mamdani explains this same situation.10

Inhumanity of Contemporary War

The actions of soldiers who normally intervene in foreign countries (in the pretext of humanitarian intervention) often come into sharp focus when evaluating the legitimacy of humanitarian interventions.

Notably, Mahmood demonstrates that the discourse surrounding governments and their operations usually presents an undesirable scenario where the soldiers tend to paint the enemy (often aggressors) and non-human entities that need to die.11

The inhumanity of contemporary war has often introduced several war arguments that surround the actions of intervening forces in foreign countries.

For example, Mahmood demonstrates that war reporting and public perception in western spheres of influence dehumanize victims in the host countries, but treat their soldiers with a lot of dignity, and honor for their service.12

In my view, there is nothing wrong with western governments offering support to victims of western forces who die in the line of duty, but there are many double standards regarding the perception of sanctity of life in such wars.

In other words, some humanitarian interventions imply that it is acceptable to expend the lives of enemy troops.

This situation replicated in the Somalia case study where the death of a few American soldiers received more public attention than the thousands of enemy troops and Somali civilians who died in the American-led intervention.13

The legitimacy of the American-led invasion also suffered immense damage in the widespread human death toll that resulted from the change of its mission. Initially, the Somali intervention was a humanitarian mission that achieved significant progress in securing food aid to thousands of Somalis.

In fact, the UN estimates that the intervention saved the lives of about 100,000 people.14

However, because of the continued instability that characterized Somalia and its potential threat to the security of foreign aid workers, America changed its mission in Somalia from the humanitarian mission to a political purpose of pursuing Aidid (the rebel commander in Somalia).15

This change of mission resulted in several wars in Mogadishu (Somali’s capital) including the death of hundreds of enemy troops and Somali civilians.

Moreover, this change of mission marked the end of Somali support to the foreign troops in Somalia because the Somalis understood that the foreign troops wanted to “invade” their country (instead of their earlier mission of aiding humanitarian assistance).

The change of mission resulted in the unsuccessful attempt by foreign forces to restore peace and stability in Somalia. Nonetheless, the above example shows the consequences of the failure to address the real causes of a conflict and instead focusing on characterizing war antagonists as either “evil” or “good” people.

Indeed, the above example re-affirms earlier evidences provided by Fassin, which question the action of soldiers in their missions.16 Moreover, the above example shows the dehumanization of enemy troops in Somalia (as people that need to die without compassion).

In Fassin’s understanding, such depictions are wrong and questionable in the quest to find the legitimacy of humanitarian interventions, and here, the legitimacy of the human intervention in Somalia.

Right to Protect

Evans introduces the right to protect as an important addition to the understanding of humanitarian interventions.17

Certainly, even in the Somalia case, where the US reinforced a UN resolution to support humanitarian activities in the horn of Africa state, America used the right to protect as enough justification for its humanitarian intervention in Somalia because America was required to protect humanitarian aid workers in Somalia.

However, when the allied forces changed their mission to pursue Somali warlords, the right to protect changed its purpose to a political/military conflict. Through this example, Evans demonstrates that many powerful states, including America, have abused the “right to protect.”

Certainly, a mission that started on humanitarian grounds quickly degenerated into a political conflict with devastating consequences.

Evans believes that powerful western nations only use the “right to protect” over weak nations.18 Indeed, the thought of the US invading China or Russia is unimaginable in today’s modern world because these states wield immense military, economic, and political power.

Also, if a country invades America (for instance), it will be difficult to imagine the UN as an arbiter in such a conflict because the US has veto power in the UN.

Nonetheless, military intervention has always formed part of the right to protect and Evans takes a particular interest in this provision because he believes military intervention is only justified in cases where reasonable peace may occur through the intervention.19 In other words, if the military intervention can stop or limit the atrocities that are committed within a country, military intervention may be justified.

Comparatively, Evans believes it is difficult to justify military interventions if such an action may not stop atrocities. Similarly, he acknowledges the difficulty of justifying military intervention if such an action would lead to a more significant conflict.20

In this regard, Evans says it is difficult to legitimize humanitarian interventions if they cause larger conflicts.21

The US-led humanitarian intervention in Somalia, therefore, fails to meet the threshold of legitimacy because it caused a larger conflict that questioned the existence of western forces in Somalia.

Indeed, the militarization of the humanitarian intervention and the consequent change of mission compromised the legitimacy of the US-led intervention because it changed from a humanitarian intervention to a political intervention.

This triggered the larger conflict. To this extent, if the arguments made by Evans suffice, the Somalia humanitarian intervention lacked legitimacy.

Conclusion

After weighing the findings of this paper, it is crucial to highlight the illegitimacy of the US-led humanitarian intervention in Somalia.

This paper centers its arguments of the de-politicization of war, the inhumanity of the intervention, and the abuse of the right to protect as the main reasons that undermined the illegitimacy of the Somalia humanitarian intervention.

Comprehensively, these issues show that albeit the intervention started in an acceptable ground of humanitarian intervention, it quickly degenerated into a political fight by the US forces, which ended with disastrous outcomes.

When these outcomes couple with the de-politicization of war, the inhumanity of the intervention, and the abuse of the right to protect, it is easy to see how the humanitarian intervention in Somalia lacked legitimacy.

References

Fassin, Fassin. “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life.” Public Culture 19, no. 3 (2007): 499-519.

Gareth, Evans. The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2009.

Gibbs, David. “Realpolitik and Humanitarian Intervention: The Case of Somalia.” International Politics 37, no. 6 (2000): 41-55.

Mamdani, Mahmood. “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.” LRB 29, no. 5 (2007): 5-8.

Rutherford, Ken. Humanitarianism under Fire: The US and Un Intervention in Somalia. New York: Kumarian Press, 2008.

Footnotes

1 David Gibbs, “Realpolitik and Humanitarian Intervention: The Case of Somalia,” International Politics 37, no. 6 (2000): 41-55.

2 Ken Rutherford, Humanitarianism under Fire: The US and UN Intervention in Somalia (New York: Kumarian Press, 2008), 3.

3 Fassin Didier, “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life,” Public Culture 19, no. 3 (2007): 499-519.

4 Fassin Didier, “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life,” Public Culture 19, no. 3 (2007): 499-519.

5 Mahmood, Mamdani, “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency,” LRB 29, no. 5 (2007): 5-8.

6 David Gibbs, “Realpolitik and Humanitarian Intervention: The Case of Somalia,” International Politics 37, no. 6 (2000): 41-55.

7 Mahmood, Mamdani, “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency,” LRB 29, no. 5 (2007): 5-8.

8 Fassin Didier, “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life,” Public Culture 19, no. 3 (2007): 499-519.

9 Fassin Didier, “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life,” Public Culture 19, no. 3 (2007): 499-519.

10 Mahmood, Mamdani, “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency,” LRB 29, no. 5 (2007): 5-8.

11 Mahmood, Mamdani, “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency,” LRB 29, no. 5 (2007): 5-8.

12 Mahmood, Mamdani, “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency,” LRB 29, no. 5 (2007): 5-8.

13 Ken Rutherford, Humanitarianism under Fire: The US and UN Intervention in Somalia (New York: Kumarian Press, 2008), 3.

14 David Gibbs, “Realpolitik and Humanitarian Intervention: The Case of Somalia,” International Politics 37, no. 6 (2000): 41-55.

15 Ken Rutherford, Humanitarianism under Fire: The US and UN Intervention in Somalia (New York: Kumarian Press, 2008), 3.

16 Fassin Didier, “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life,” Public Culture 19, no. 3 (2007): 499-519.

17 Evans Gareth, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 4.

18 Evans Gareth, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 4.

19 Evans Gareth, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 4.

20 Evans Gareth, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 4.

21 Evans Gareth, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 4.

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"The Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia." IvyPanda, 5 Oct. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-intervention-3/.

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IvyPanda. "The Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia." October 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-intervention-3/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia." October 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarian-intervention-3/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia'. 5 October.

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