December 11, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Today 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, reacts to developments in Somalia by arguing that given “the deteriorating security conditions faced by the international community as a whole as well as by the Somali and their neighbors, it is time to concentrate on Somaliland, the one part of that geopolitically sensitive space where there is still a peace to be preserved.”

According to Dr. Pham, with the draw-down and repositioning of the Ethiopian intervention force, the imminent collapse of Somalia’s perennially squabbling and otherwise irrelevant Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the advance of the Islamist insurgents spearheaded by the various factions of the al-Shabaab terrorist group, and the increasing capture of the Puntland regional administration by pirate-dominated criminal enterprises with their newfound wealth as well as the possible return to his old fiefdom of TFG “President” Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the as-yet unrecognized Republic of Somaliland desperately needs support. Dr. Pham singles out for mention Somaliland’s largely democratic constitutional politics, its potential to support counterterrorism and anti-piracy efforts, and its critical role in humanitarian efforts throughout the region—all of which have caused it to incur the enmity of both the Islamists and the TFG—and concludes:

The situation in southern Somalia is dire, perhaps irremediably so…[Consequently] the incoming Obama administration would be better advised to deploy its resources in a rough triage that privileges saving what can be saved, rather than vain attempts to preserve that which is already lost. To this end, a way must be found to engage Somaliland, supplying its under-resourced government and civil society with relief and development aid and security assistance needed to survive the wave of extremism and violence which will come to the region’s frontiers. And if it appears premature to move to de jure recognition of Somaliland’s de facto sovereignty, perhaps some sort of “interim special status” might be concocted to throw the Somalilanders a lifeline of access to international political and economic institutions. Certainly if the United States and its allies lack the foresight and imagination to support the one stable and politically legitimate authority in the Somali lands, they will only have themselves to blame for the strategic repercussions—throughout the Horn and beyond—when the last piece standing is toppled over by the other falling dominoes.

To read the full text of the article, “Last Domino Standing: On the Fate of Somaliland,” click here.