December 13, 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, makes the case for the United States taking the lead in recognizing the de facto political independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Somaliland.

Taking as his starting point a Washington Post article last week which reported that “the escalating conflict in Somalia is generating debate inside the Bush administration over whether the United States should continue to back the shaky transitional government in Mogadishu or shift support to the less volatile region of Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991”—maintenance of the current policy being the default position of the State Department, while the policy shift is being advocated by the officials in the Defense Department—as well as the subsequent publication by the State Department of a five-bullet point “fact sheet” on “United States Policy on Somaliland,” Dr. Pham argues that “among the many others which could be adduced, there are five compelling reasons for the United States to abandon the bankrupt, State Department-driven policy of preferring self-appointed ‘leaders’ of a failed construct [the so-called ‘Transitional Federal Government’ of Somalia] to an effective government of a real country,” Somaliland:

Counterterrorism. As the Pentagon has now publicly acknowledged…scarce resources would be better spent boxing in the troubled parts of Somalia, rather than vainly asserting the questionable claims by a clearly unpopular regime whose illegitimacy is actually a magnet for extremists…Formal ties with Somaliland would permit closer ties between U.S. military and intelligence personnel with their counterparts in the small country’s services. Access to Somaliland territory, including the onetime NATO installation at Berbera, would also expand the scope for counterterrorism and other operations by CJTF-HOA as well as the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) which will subsume it next year.

Regional stability. Far from being destabilizing,…U.S.-led diplomatic recognition of Somaliland would not only allow the country much-needed access to international institutions and finance for development of the country itself, but also spur regional integration and prosperity. To cite just one example, America’s close partner Ethiopia, whose cut-off from the sea is a factor in the border dispute with Eritrea…would benefit directly from access to Somaliland’s 900-kilometer coastline along the Gulf of Aden.

Natural resources and economic opportunities…Establishing formal ties with Somaliland would not only open opportunities for American firms to bid for similar concessions in that country, but also to invest in what could be a significant regional market. Conversely, ties with American commercial interests would also help anchor the strategically-placed country in the orbit of the United States as it joins the global economy…

Moral imperatives…Somaliland has already had democratic presidential, legislative, and local government elections; even the State Department has acknowledged that its upcoming presidential and municipal elections are more than credible enough to deserve U.S. funding.

Global leadership…A number of governments, both African (including those of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia) and European (including those of Great Britain, Germany, and Sweden), have either entered into de facto relations with or at least made friendly overtures to the Republic of Somaliland…However, nothing is likely to advance without American leadership or at least tacit approval—in any event, the opposite of the State Department’s passive attendance on the [African Union’s] capacity-challenged policymaking and implementation processed…

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Significant Stakes Suggest Somaliland Shift for U.S.,” click here.