March 29, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, reports on the declining security situation in Somalia and outlines a new approach to achieve regional stability and international security around the failed state.

In the same column space two weeks ago, Dr. Pham, who has written extensively about security issues in the Horn of Africa, noted that the supporters of Somalia’s defeated Islamic Courts Union (ICU) were reconstituting themselves as the “Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations” (PRM) and beginning to undertake the same insurgency strategy and unconventional tactics which foreign jihadis and Sunni Arab insurgents have been using to great effect in Iraq. Now, citing both heavy fighting in Mogadishu and the release last Sunday by al-Qaeda’s media production company of a video meant to incite local fighters, he reports that developments over the last ten days confirm the ominous trend as foreign radical elements exploit widespread local disaffection with the Somalia’s “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) and its international backers. According to Dr. Pham:

The way forward is not to be found by mindlessly repeating mantras about dialogue aimed at shoring up a “transitional government” that has done precious little governing since it was established nearly three years ago or by cheerleading for a peacekeeping force that—the brave little Ugandan contingent aside—does not exist, even on paper, four months after the UN Security Council authorized its creation. Rather, what is needed is the clarity of vision and the political courage to squarely face the facts on the ground.

These realities include “the wholesale rejection by Somali clans of the TFG as well as any foreign forces which are viewed as shoring up that pretender government” and the fact that “there is no hope of outsiders being able to reconstitute a unitary Somali state.” Consequently, Dr. Pham argues, “given that the international community is both unlikely to use force to compel unity and unwilling to support extensive nation-building efforts, its primary strategic objective must therefore be to prevent both outside actors from exploiting the vacuum left by the de facto extinction of the entity formerly known as Somalia and those inside the onetime state from spreading their insecurity throughout a geopolitically sensitive region.”

The four-step plan that he outlines includes: “formally acknowledge[ing] de jure what is already de facto: the desuetude of ‘Somalia’ as a sovereign subject of international law”; “establish[ing] formal benchmarks for responsible governance within the former Somalia against which the regions or clans or whatever entities the Somali people themselves choose to organize for themselves will be measured”; “redefine[ing] the role of the African ‘peacekeepers’ to keeping the peace along Somalia’s borders with other countries in the subregion, rather than trying to use this force to assert the questionable claims to authority by a clearly unpopular ‘government’ like the TFG; and recognizing that “preemptive action to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold in Somalia” may occasionally be called for. This strategy, the author concludes, “Offers the most realistic hope of salvaging a modicum of regional stability and international security out of an increasingly intractable situation.”

To read Dr. Pham’s article, “Salvaging Security in Somalia,” click here.