How America Settles Down Somalia (And, By Extension the Piracy Problem)

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REUTERS / James Akena

Somali government soldiers, dressed in Uganda People's Defence Forces uniforms and trained by a European Union Training Mission team, graduating from training school Thursday in Uganda.

Nice Washington Post story about how the U.S. is training Ugandan soldiers (along with some from Burundi, Sierra Leone and Djibouti) in Uganda on how to do battle with Islamic extremists in Somalia – namely the al-Shabaab group affiliated with Al-Qaida. Both the fear and the hope are encapsulated in a nifty little paragraph:

Ever since it plunged into chaos in the 1990s, Somalia has destabilized the region, serving as a hub for Islamic extremists and bands of pirates who plunder some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. American officials have long worried that al-Qaeda leaders will seek to rebuild their global operations in Somalia and nearby Yemen, across the narrow Gulf of Aden.

Yes, nation-building in sum is hugely complex and far beyond the means of the U.S. government – much less its military.

The only way to successfully build a nation is to integrate its economy to the larger regional and global economy, creating all sorts of invested stakeholders both inside and outside the country.  When enough players value the economic transactions that ensue, stability will come because people with money will pay for it.  Absent that underlying dynamic, no amount of security training or “capacity building” will matter.  Government is a demand function – not a supply function.  Create the demand and the governance will follow.

But yeah, it does start with security, so the U.S. effort here makes sense.  Surrounding governments are sick and tired of the mess that is Somalia, and they sick enough and tired enough to make some security effort to settle it down enough for that broader connectivity process to take hold.  No miracle leaps here: you need a reasonable security baseline for the initial and most risk-tolerant economic players to step in and take advantage – in both directions.

But it speaks to what Africa Command must ultimately be all about:  not just the drones and the targeted assassinations but the serious elevation of local capacity to improve the environment.

And no, this doesn’t have to be a huge and expensive affair.  This effort is being pursued with a modicum of U.S. uniformed military personnel, with the primary training force being supplied by a U.S. contractor (L3’s MPRI).

Will it be a mistake free effort?  Not in any known reality I am familiar with.

But not trying is no path for a responsible stakeholding America.  So we make the effort.

The U.S. Navy is – in this hugely trying budgetary times – evincing a lot of concern for the “global commons,” citing things like piracy as a serious threat.  In the end, the navy-to-navy cooperation that our Navy pursues to deal with Somali pirates is a very good thing.  It is necessary but completely insufficient.

How Somali piracy gets “solved” is by dealing with realities on the ground – not on the sea. Dealing with failed and rogue nations is how we improve the system of states.  Ditto for cooperation with China. Do all that correctly and the global commons are just fine.

Don’t do all that and pretend that the U.S. military is somehow directly responsible for all that and we waste money and time and opportunity.