February 28, 2008

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, lays out a “road map” for United States relations with the as-yet unrecognized Republic of Somaliland.

While noting recent developments—including the eight-day visit to Washington in January of Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin and several members of his cabinet and the visit to the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa earlier this month by a delegation led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer—the article nonetheless cautions that these do not “mean that the United States will extend formal diplomatic recognition to Somaliland any time soon” since “while the commonality of ideals provides a basis for moving forward, Realpolitik dictates that not just ideals, but concrete national interests must be carefully considered if a great power like the United States is going to break new ground and recognize an aspiring state like Somaliland.” Dr. Pham goes on to suggest “some steps which President Kahin and his government might take to build upon the recent progress in ties with the United States with a view to eventually securing formal recognition of what their citizens have accomplished in building a nation out of the wreckage of the former Somalia,”:

First, one cannot understate the importance of the presidential election scheduled for August 2008: it must be a model of free, fair, and transparent balloting…

Second, beyond the voting, Somaliland must continue making progress on democratic governance…

Third, while President Kahin expressed the willingness of Somaliland to work with U.S. regional counterterrorism efforts during his meetings with Defense Department officials in Washington last month—and legal avenues for such cooperation need to be found on the American side—Hargeisa must redouble its efforts on the anti-extremism front. And while government agencies on the American side may have unresolved issues with certain types of engagements with their Somaliland counterparts, nothing prevents the latter from more increasing the quantity and quality of intelligence which they share. This would be particularly helpful since American military and intelligence officials have very limited access to reliable information from southern Somalia, an area where Somalilanders not only are better positioned to operate, but in fact already do so extensively…

Fourth, it is no secret that the former Somalia has significant potential natural resources…While every state (and aspiring state) has the right to make such commercial arrangements as it deems most advantageous…authorities in Hargeisa would do well to consider the long-term strategic implications of their decisions as well as the economic benefits…Not only should the government in Hargeisa be open to approaches by American firms, but it ought to actively court them, realizing that without significant commercial ties to the United States, any political relations—if they come about at all—will be very tenuous. Conversely, the presence of American business interests, especially in strategic sectors, reinforces the geopolitical case for diplomatic ties between Washington and Hargeisa.

The essay concludes with the hope that “Somaliland will take the steps necessary to take advantage of the momentum in favor of advancing ties with its natural strategic partner, the United States, to the next level.”

To read the full text of the article, “The U.S. and Somaliland: A Road Map,” click here.