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Peacekeepers in Somalia Weren’t Always an Option

Piggybacking on Mark’s response to Alex Thurston’s disagreement with Ban’s report on Somalia, there are a couple of things we must keep in mind.

First, the Secretary-General’s suggestion of possibly deploying peacekeepers in Somalia (eventually, at least) was not always his idea. As Edith Lederer of the AP reminds us, Ban has previously actually resisted pressure to push for a peacekeeping force.

In December, the Security Council called on Ban to plan for the possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to replace the African Union force now in Somalia. The council was reiterating a request it initially made in August that Ban rejected.

Compare Ban’s most recent report to the one he gave in November. From Reuters:

“Under the prevailing political and security situation, I believe that the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation cannot be considered a realistic and viable option,” Ban said in a report to the Security Council.

Ban’s latest report is not simply a clarion call for another mission for over-stretched UN peacekeepers. Rather, by assessing the prevailing political, security, and humanitarian conditions, Ban is cautiously laying out the process by which blue helmets could most reasonably and effectively be deployed. This would not only result in a more effective mission, but would also alleviate the pragmatic problem of securing troops from Member States.

Second, it’s not that the additional 17,000-odd troops for Darfur haven’t been found; it’s that the Sudanese government has not accepted the pledges of non-African countries. Stronger efforts are needed to overcome Sudan’s objections and actually deploy these troops, yes, but the offers of troop-contributing countries have been welcome.

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It’s Easier to Find Peacekeepers When There is a Peace to Keep

The Agonists’ Alex Thurston is apoplectic that Ban even suggested a peacekeeping force of 27,000 for Somalia.

27,000, huh Ban? Now look, I want to see stability in Somalia too. But don’t you think you should be concentrating on finding the 17,000 peacekeepers the force in Darfur is waiting for, rather than hinting at new commitments? I have qualified support for the UN, but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the General Secretary when he says things that simply don’t make sense. In fact, I’m going to criticize the UN hardest when they fall flat on rhetoric, because rhetoric is the main tool in their arsenal at this point. So don’t even mention troop numbers you have no hope of getting.

True, the UN is having difficulty securing the right troops and equipment for the Darfur mission. The thing is, if you read the recently released report on Somalia from which the 27,000 is drawn, it’s clear that Ban is certainly not calling for a peacekeeping force anytime soon. Rather, as envisioned by the report (which the Security Council is to discuss today) before peacekeepers can even be considered, other hurdles must first be crossed. For example, the security situation would have to permit the UN to move its Somalia headquarters into Somalia. Then, at least 70% of the factions would have to sign onto a cease-fire. Following that, a broad-based political agreement would have to be forged. Only after these conditions have been met does the Secretary General contemplate a peacekeeping force for Somalia.

This is a reasonable and cautious way forward. Member states are likely to be more forthcoming with troop contributions should there be a viable political process to uphold. On the other hand, the problem with generating troops for Darfur is in part due to the fact that there is no peace to keep.

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Thursday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Iraq – A law that would pave the way for provincial elections has been allowed to proceed by Iraq’s Presidency Council, possibly opening a new door to political progress. The law was originally part of a trifecta, including the 2008 budget and an amnesty bill, passed on February 14 and originally seen as a major breakthrough by U.S. leadership. The Presidency Council had since held back its enactment amid objections from Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi’ite, that the law would allow the central government to dissolve provincial governments.

>>Kosovo – Croatia, Hungary, and Bulgaria have announced that they will officially recognize Kosovo, bringing the total to over 30. Macedonia is also posed to do the same, but a minor border dispute with Kosovo is still outstanding. Kosovo, bound by international commitments to concede the mere 8 square miles in question, has said that it wants recognition first before deciding on the boundary.

>>Osama bin Laden – Last night, Osama bin Laden released a five-minute audio message treatening the EU over the publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammad, a “crusade” in which bin Laden claims the Pope is involved. This message, coinciding with what is celebrated as the birthday of the Prophet, was bin Laden’s first since 29 November 2007. The cartoons were first published two years ago by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and then reprinted by other papers . Danish newspapers again reprinted the cartoon on 13 February 2008, after three men were arrested in a plot to kill the cartoonist.

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An Opportunity for Somalia?

Releasing a long-awaited report on Somalia today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced some degree of optimism in the prospect of achieving peace in the war-torn country.

Assessments and missions carried out by the United Nations have shown that “despite the difficult security situation characterized by indiscriminate killing, kidnapping and hijacking, there is an opportunity to end the prolonged conflict in Somalia and the suffering of its people,” Mr. Ban wrote in his latest report.

The report outlines four possible scenarios that could lead to the deployment of 27,000 UN peacekeepers in Somalia, whose instability is currently guarded over by only 2,600 African Union troops (the AP’s Edith Lederer provides a particularly accurate run-down of these scenarios).

Before celebrating the impending deployment of blue helmets in Somalia, however, one should take a good look at the steps that Ban prescribes as prerequisites for such a force. Particularly key is a significant level of progress that Somalia must make on the political front — progress that has been unfortunately absent in the country’s decade and a half of virtual lawlessness.

Ban advises that, in order to avoid the mistakes of 1993 — when, according to critics, a UN military operation detracted from the UN’s political and humanitarian goals — a peace accord must precede UN deployment. He specifies that at least 70% of the Somali opposition would have to reach an agreement on power-sharing, disarmament, and the renunciation of violence, and would have to accede to the UN’s presence. This, too, at the moment at least, seems unfortunately unlikely.

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Day One for Iraq


March 20, 2008, is Day One of the sixth year of the War in Iraq. Regardless of your views on how sound the reasoning was for going to war, it’s hard to deny that we have a long way to go toward a stable Iraq and restoration of America’s image in the world.

January 20, 2009, is the first day of the next presidency, the first chance for the next president to chart a new course for America in Iraq and right our standing in the world. Reason suggests that neither “stay the course” nor “immediate withdrawal” is best for America and the rest of the world.

Our sister site, is asking you what that agenda should be. For the next 10 days, we will be compiling the most recent suggestions (tagged with “Iraq”) in our Delegates’ Lounge (top of the right column). Please submit your ideas at

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The UN (Back) in Iraq

NPR’s All Things Considered, in a report entitled “U.N. Returns to Baghdad in Force,” provides a welcome look into the hard work undertaken by the hundreds of personnel — both foreign and domestic — serving the United Nations in Iraq. The “return” of the report’s title refers to the aftermath of the August 2003 suicide bombing — one of the first of the insurgency — that destroyed the UN mission’s base and killed 22 of its staff, including the mission’s head, veteran diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello (about whom Samantha Power has just published an insightful book). NPR correspondent Anne Garrels interviews the Secretary-General’s current Special Representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, and highlights some of the UN’s unheralded successes in Iraq.

These successes include: delaying the referendum on the city of Kirkuk, which, if conducted too early, would likely have only exacerbated volatile ethnic tensions; helping the Iraqi government design the structure with which to use its oil money (a luxury not enjoyed by most countries in which the UN operates); and preparing for the upcoming regional elections, which local Iraqis, largely dissatisfied with their regional governments, are eagerly awaiting.In discussions of Iraq, the UN’s triumphs often fall to the wayside during the protracted skirmishes of American politics: endless debates over troop withdrawal, the effects of “the surge,” or the cost of the U.S. occupation. With the UN mandate set to expire at the end of the year, though, its role in Iraq — operating with relatively few personnel, on a budget dwarfed by that of U.S. forces, and enduring persistently dangerous security conditions — deserves considered appreciation.

The NPR report affirms one of the central benefits of the UN’s presence in Iraq: its neutrality. de Mistura is confident that many Iraqis welcome the UN because they “feel that [it is] neutral and impartial” and “can provide them with advice in areas they are not familiar with or competent [in].” At the same time, he recognizes that this sentiment is not universal among Iraqis, and acknowledges the sobering effect of the 2003 bombing, after which, he says, UN personnel arrived at the stark conclusion that their blue flag of impartiality would not necessarily protect them from the determinedly violent segments of the population.

Nonetheless, the UN has achieved many tangible successes in Iraq. Its neutrality is perhaps even more important, though, as UN staff, even if still constrained by appalling levels of violence, are unhindered by bias or partisan rancor back home, and can work alongside Iraqis to help rebuild their war-shattered country.

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