Peacekeepers for Somalia?

When I asked Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper what one would need to eliminate piracy off the Somali coast, he answered with a question: Are you fighting them on land or at sea? Over the weekend, it seems the Bush administration answered: both. In addition to the international vessels patrolling offshore, a U.S. resolution is ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
591082_081215_somalia5.jpg
591082_081215_somalia5.jpg

When I asked Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper what one would need to eliminate piracy off the Somali coast, he answered with a question: Are you fighting them on land or at sea?

Over the weekend, it seems the Bush administration answered: both.

In addition to the international vessels patrolling offshore, a U.S. resolution is already circulating in the U.N. Security Council calling for a limited U.N. peacekeeping force to bring stability to the East African nation. The United States also wants Ethiopian troops to stay through the U.S. presidential transition. And they'd like to add Eritrea, Ethopia's breakaway neighbor and favorite adversary, to its state sponsors of terrorism list.

When I asked Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper what one would need to eliminate piracy off the Somali coast, he answered with a question: Are you fighting them on land or at sea?

Over the weekend, it seems the Bush administration answered: both.

In addition to the international vessels patrolling offshore, a U.S. resolution is already circulating in the U.N. Security Council calling for a limited U.N. peacekeeping force to bring stability to the East African nation. The United States also wants Ethiopian troops to stay through the U.S. presidential transition. And they’d like to add Eritrea, Ethopia’s breakaway neighbor and favorite adversary, to its state sponsors of terrorism list.

Talk about a hard sell.

First, the administration is calling for a light U.N. mission, in a country where even heavy force has been ineffective.

Second, no one — not the Ethiopians, not the African Union, not the United Nations — wants to go to Somalia. For the two-year lifetime of the tiny African Union mission, the international community has struggled to find troops for the operation.

Finally, you can expect this to ratchet up tensions in the region. Eritrea is indeed rumored to supply the Somali Islamists with weapons. But Ethiopia and Eritrea have an ongoing border dispute that has left both sides exceedingly militarized. Acceding to Ethiopian wishes by putting Eritrea on the terror list is like playing Russia roulette. With all live rounds.

After a weekend in which the Somali president fired his prime minister (only to have him effectively re-instated by parliament) there is little reason to believe that the weak government will not fall instantly once foreign troops are gone.

Light a match, and the whole place might just blow.

Photo: JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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