The Bush administration in its final days is showing good leadership in at least one area of foreign policy. It is circulating a draft Security Council resolution proposing that the United Nations authorize hunting down Somali pirates - not just at sea, but on Somali land and in that nation’s airspace.
The resolution says all nations and regional bodies cooperating with Somalia’s U.N.-backed government “may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including its air space” in the fight against piracy. Somalia’s struggling government welcomed the U.S. initiative. In fact, its president has twice this month pleaded with the United Nations for help.
The Security Council group that monitors Somalia reported Dec. 11 that more than 15,000 soldiers and police (80 percent of Somalia’s security capability) have deserted the government and fled with their weapons and vehicles. The country has been disintegrating and plagued by corruption. This has helped spawn pirates, 1,500 strong, who have attacked more than 100 ships this year, capturing many for ransom.
Any onshore incursion in Somalia must be far better thought out than the disastrous U.S. experience of 1992-93. That mission culminated in a deadly battle in the capital, Mogadishu, which took place Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, 1993. Eighteen soldiers died in the battle, which was followed by a humiliating withdrawal of American forces.
Other nations, preferably African states, should be involved, although the record of multinational forces is less than encouraging. For example, the United Nations currently has 16 peacekeeping operations in place - half of them in Africa - involving 90,000 uniformed and 20,000 support personnel from 121 countries.
Yet, the very day the U.S. resolution was introduced it was reported that at least 150 people were summarily executed in Congo less than a mile away from approximately 100 U.N. peacekeepers. Other slaughters in Sudan and elsewhere have also occurred - some almost under the noses of feckless or hamstrung U.N. forces.
What to do with any captured pirates is also a problem.
Somalia has no effective central government or legal system. More than 40 nations attended a U.N.-organized piracy conference this month in Kenya and - naturally - failed to produce a consensual legal framework for tackling piracy. Is it any wonder that the United States sometimes ends up acting virtually alone?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present the U.S. resolution tomorrow, and Washington is counting on what is reported to be growing enthusiasm in Europe and elsewhere for more effective coordinated action. The U.S. Navy can play a valuable role at sea. But mission creep should be avoided, except as backup for ground forces from other nations - if it seems advantageous to enter the hornet’s nest at all.