Somalia and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention

LEARNING THE RIGHT LESSONS

The American-led operation in Somalia that began when U.S. Marines hit the Mogadishu beaches in December 1992 continues to profoundly affect the debate over humanitarian intervention. The Clinton administration's refusal to respond to the genocide in Rwanda that began in April 1994 was due in part to its retreat from Somalia, announced after the deaths of 18 U.S. Army Rangers on October 3-4, 1993. In Bosnia, U.N. peacekeepers under fire from or taken prisoner by Serb forces over the last two years were expected to turn the other cheek for fear of "crossing the Mogadishu line." This expression, reportedly coined by Lieutenant General Sir Michael Rose, former commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia (UNPROFOR), describes the need to maintain neutrality in the face of all provocation for fear of becoming an unwilling participant in a civil war. In recent months, the design of the U.N. Implementation Force in Bosnia has been shaped by what was purportedly learned in Somalia.

The doctrines of both the United States and the United Nations were also clearly affected. President Clinton issued a policy directive in April 1994, shortly after U.S. forces left Somalia, that implied a sharp curtailment of American involvement in future armed humanitarian interventions and that marked a retreat from his administration's earlier rhetoric of assertive multilateralism. Similarly, in the 1995 (second) edition of An Agenda for Peace, the fundamental policy document on U.N. peacekeeping, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali expressed less optimism about the possibilities for intervention than he did in the 1992 (first) edition, largely because of the United Nations' searing experience in Somalia. Continuing efforts by congressmen to cut or restrict U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping are also a direct response to the perceived failures in Somalia.

While Somalia should be an important precedent for international intervention in the post--Cold War world, it is not clear the right lessons have been learned. Much of the received wisdom on the intervention is based on patent falsehoods hurriedly transmitted during the press of events. Moreover, some individuals and governments have reinterpreted the Somalia intervention to protect their reputations and interests.

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