The massive Twitter and Facebook outages yesterday seem to be linked in some way to the Georgian conflict. As CNET reported, the rolling blackout of Twitter began with a DDOS attack on a Georgian blogger’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. A Facebook spokesperson says, “The people who are coordinating this attack, the criminals, are definitely determined and using a lot of resources.”
To be sure, there is a big difference in the victimhood of the women in this video and those of us slightly inconvenienced yesterday. Still, it’s fightening to see how instability and an unresolved conflict halfway around the world can impact my daily life in a pretty direct way. To the extent that DDOS attacks become a common feature of global conflict, those of us who think we have nothing to do with a conflict one way or the other may increasingly find ourselves smack in the middle of it.
In his Financial Times column today, Gideon Rachman makes the argument for a “United Nations army.” His test case, interestingly, is Somalia, where offshore piracy has galvanized international cooperation, but 18 years of onshore violence and instability has rumbled on unchecked. Would it be easier, or any more advisable, to send UN peackeepers to Somalia if there were, as Rachman proposes, “a proper UN force on permanent stand-by?”
Maybe, but many of the same problems with deploying UN personnel in Somalia would still apply: militants would be all too eager to turn their violence onto UN blue helmets, the presence of foreigners could inspire radical nationalist sentiment, and the ensuing deaths and difficulty would only make countries more skeptical of contributing their troops to UN peacekeeping.
And herein lies a problem that Rachman does not consider. In his view, the chief obstacle to creating a “UN army” is a general wariness, primarily on the part of conservatives, to cede such power to an internationalist institution. He cites the proverbial UN “black helicopters” synonymous with world government and counters conservative skepticism by quoting the Gipper himself:
Even perfectly sane American conservatives regard the idea of a permanent UN force with horror. They might be surprised and enlightened to learn that the hero of the conservative movement, Ronald Reagan, once spoke approvingly of the idea of “a standing UN force – an army of conscience – that is fully equipped and prepared to carve out human sanctuaries through force”. And, of course, to take on the Martians, whenever they finally invade.
But a problem possibly even greater to overcome than (conservative) discomfort with the idea is the reluctance of UN member states to contribute troops. The mission in Darfur has been short on personnel for over a year and a half, and its counterpart in DR Congo can’t even muster a requested addition of 3,000 troops. However one conceives of this “UN army,” the soldiers would have to come from somewhere, and countries that don’t contribute troops now (ahem, the United States) wouldn’t be likely to sign on to a permanent deal.
Rachman’s Martian example — that fighting an alien invasion is a perfect example of when a global UN force would be appreciated — is also revealing. For as I’ve argued before, UN peacekeepers are not invasion-repellers. They are peacekeepers. So I’d hope that the powers that be on Earth would be smart enough to only deploy them after a peace has been reached with these hypothetical invading Martians.
In other pirate-related news, the end of the monsoon season could result in an increase in size and scope of attacks in the Gulf of Aden.
And while the UN’s head in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, takes to the Washington Post op-ed page to plea for international support for the embattled Somali government, its opposition, the radical al-Shabab militant group, plays the opposite message, “expelling” three UN agencies from Somalia. I’m all for greater international engagement, but this is exactly why we cannot have the UN caught in the middle.
From a good article in Macleans, the Canadian weekly:
“It comes down to this question: can we intervene without doing harm?” says Brownwyn E. Bruton, an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “If you want to deal with it properly, you’re looking at an Iraq-style investment, where 20,000 peacekeepers isn’t going to do it—maybe 40,000, maybe 60,000. You’re talking about building a government and security forces from the ground up. It’s going to be a 10-year effort. And there’s going to be a lot of violence in the short term, as there was in Iraq.” [emphasis mine]
And that, in case the bolded parts don’t make it clear enough, just ain’t gonna happen. The article also makes the very valid point that such a force, wherever it came from, would require a substantial contribution from the United States. And even though the U.S. did recently contribute 168 million very important dollars to the African Union mission in Somalia, a 10-year investment in 60,000 troops would cost, um, a little bit more.
So where to look? The UN?
Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, a former resident of Ottawa and deputy prime minister of Somalia until Sheik Sharif Ahmed’s government was sworn in this year, hopes that the international community will shoulder this burden. In an interview with Maclean’s, he drew comparisons between Somalia and Afghanistan and argued that the international response should be similar. He wants the United Nations to send troops. While some Somalis would reject any international presence, Adan believes most would accept it as necessary. “Somalis are killing each other every day here on the streets, so why wouldn’t they accept anyone who is coming to save them?”
We’ve previously argued why a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia would not be a good idea, and the situation remains such that UN deployment would be much more likely to inflame tensions and exacerbate conditions on the ground than to achieve any sort of forced pacification. Adan’s logic is misguided (there are in fact no UN peacekeepers, only a small political team, in Afghanistan, his proposed parallel case), but his language is revealing: any UN blue helmets that might deploy in Somalia could not be there to “save” Somalis. Peacekeeping missions, even the ones with mandates to protect civilians, are not rescue missions. That requires a whole different (and more substantial) investment, one that, given Somalia’s history, is not likely to be forthcoming.
Does this mean there is no way for the international community to help improve the situation in Somalia? No, but it does mean that we should be candid about what full-scale protection of Somali civilians will entail. We can keep supporting the country’s government, conducting anti-terrorism operations, promoting peace processes, and providing vital humanitarian aid, but if we want to talk about making sure that everyday Somali civilians are safe, we’d need to be honest about what that’s going to take.
Danger Room’s David Axe has the skinny on the kind of weaponry that (U.S.-backed) African Union peacekeepers are using to keep a few blocks of Mogadishu out of the control of insurgents:
The A.U. troops are low-tech, by American standards. But compared to Al Shabab, they’re freakin’ Stormtroopers. “We have the arsenal,” Capt. Paddy Ankunda told me during my visit to Somalia, two years ago. He gestured to the A.U.’s machine-gun nests, its mine-protected trucks, and the handful of T-55 tanks stationed at the palace and the seaport. I asked him if the tanks were truly useful, considering the A.U.’s already overwhelming firepower. “We have them so that people know we could use them,” Ankunda explained. But it wasn’t until this week, that the A.U. needed to use them. “Our troops were in an imminent danger, so we had to take some limited action,” A.U. spokesman Bahoku Barigye said. “That does not mean we are fully involved in the combat.”
Axe makes a good point that using the tanks shows that the Obama Administration is serious about protecting Somalia’s vulnerable government — and that it is doing so in a smarter way than prodding an ill-advised Ethiopian offensive to occupy the country. Still, even outfitting AU peacekeepers with tanks is relying on a military solution, and I don’t expect anyone to be able to explode Somalia’s enduring culture of violence away.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.