Policy WATCH:Analysis
UN Security Council Takes On Somalia
Security Council’s Debate Offers Much Talk, Little Action
By TARA HELFMAN 03/14/2011
Early this month, Ambassador Li Baodong of China addressed a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations on the occasion of the commencement of China’s presidency over the Security Council. “The international community has been striving to resolve the Somali issue for almost two decades,” he wrote. “A comprehensive strategy is urgently needed, owing to the complexity and interconnections of continued instability, terrorism, the deteriorating humanitarian situation and growing instances of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.” With this in mind, Ambassador Li called for a day of open debate on the development of a “Comprehensive Strategy for the Realization of Peace and Security in Somalia.” While well-intentioned, this measure is, by now, long overdue. With the scheduled end of the transition period only five months away, the international community speaks no more coherently on Somalia now than it has in the past. Notwithstanding recent advances by AMISOM in Mogadishu, civil war continues to rage, and the very notion that August 20th will see the fulfillment of Somalia’s “peace process” seems fantastical at best.

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon opened the Security Council debate on Thursday, March 10th, noting that “The situation in Somalia requires urgent attention. The military gains by the Transitional Federal Government and AMISOM are fragile. The humanitarian situation is dire. Violence continues to rage.” He called upon the Security Council to help the TFG and AMISOM strengthen their fragile victories: “The international community must keep its end of the bargain,” he continued. “There are critical gaps in the UN support package to AMISOM, and significant shortfalls of military assets and equipment. I appeal to Member States to increase their contributions to the Trust Fund for AMISOM and to reimburse contingent-owned equipment and troop-contributing countries.”

The Security Council as a whole endorsed the Secretary General’s exhortation, calling upon Somalia’s “stakeholders” to contribute generously, promptly, and unconditionally, to the U.N. Trust Fund for AMISOM or directly to the U.N. Mission to Somalia. However, only Great Britain pledged to increase financial support to Somalia, promising an “uncaveated” $3 million to the AMISOM Trust Fund The Security Council went on to issue a litany of condemnations: a condemnation of the targeting and obstruction of humanitarian aid by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups; a condemnation of piracy and its increasingly violent character; and a condemnation of all attacks on the TFG, AMISOM, and the civilian population by armed opposition groups and foreign fighters, particularly Al-Shabaab.

The rest of the day of debate, it appears, was all paradox and contradiction, a fitting continuation of the international community’s approach to Somalia. Representatives of the fifteen member states of the Security Council urged the reinforcement of the TFG, yet deplored its chronic infighting; declared a military solution in Somalia impossible, yet called for the strengthening of AMISOM forces; called for increased international engagement in Somalia, yet stated that the nation’s problems could be best resolved domestically; urged that the problem of piracy be dealt with on land, but offered no meaningful suggestions as to how this should be done, and; urged international contributions to humanitarian relief in Somalia without undertaking any material steps in that direction. All this while Ambassador Kio Amieyeofori of Nigeria called for the current AMISOM deployment to be increased to a force of 20,000.

Notable among the day’s speeches was Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s address to the Security Council. He went arguably further than any previous Somali official in underscoring the urgent need for the international community to take seriously the international import of the Somali crisis. “We are in the first line of defence against two evils – the scourge of piracy and the plague of terrorism,” he explained. "Not only are these two ills working in tandem, but they are learning from each other... It will not surprise us if al Qaeda's agents in Somalia start hijacking tankers in the high seas and use them as deadly weapons... Why bother with a small plane when you can capture a tanker?" He thus managed to communicate to the Security Council the possibility that Somalia might become a base from which al-Qaeda can project terror globally. He was careful, though, to distance the majority of Somalis from extremism, noting that a recent study demonstrated that approximately 75% of the people of Mogadishu are strongly displeased with Al-Shabaab, and that the TFG is successfully winning the hearts and minds of Somalis. With sufficient support from the international community, he argued, the TFG can address the “lawlessness coupled with poverty and unemployment, soaked with fanaticism and religious indoctrination” that feed Somalia’s twin scourges of piracy and terrorism. “We will regain our land, our identity and our dignity from the extremists,” he assured the Security Council. “We will do what it takes to regain our status as a State that protects it borders from enemies, foreign and domestic, ends all forms of international piracy, protects its citizens, and produces a nation at peace with itself, and its neighbours.”

After a full day of debate on a “Comprehensive Strategy for the Realization of Peace and Security in Somalia,” the Security Council came merely to the conclusion that it needs a comprehensive strategy for the realization of peace and security in Somalia. It stopped short, however, of actually formulating one. Even assuming there were enough time to implement such a policy before Somalia’s Transition period ends, the Security Council must ensure that its strategy be not only comprehensive, but coherent, free from the self-defeating contradictions and half-measures that have so far doomed international efforts in Somalia to failure or worse – to actually harming the very population those efforts aim to assist. The clock is running on the United Nations. The time for debate has long passed. It is time for decisive action and consistent implementation.