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Britain opposed U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia

One of the last U.N. resolutions put forward by George W. Bush’s administration was an ambitious plan to get blue-helmeted peacekeepers in Somalia. The bid came in January 2009, just when Ethiopian troops were withdrawing from the country, having invaded two years earlier with U.S. support. African Union (AU) peacekeepers were already working to prop ...

One of the last U.N. resolutions put forward by George W. Bush’s administration was an ambitious plan to get blue-helmeted peacekeepers in Somalia. The bid came in January 2009, just when Ethiopian troops were withdrawing from the country, having invaded two years earlier with U.S. support. African Union (AU) peacekeepers were already working to prop up Somalia’s transitional government, but the Bush administration wanted to go further, first boosting support for the AU and then sending in the U.N. forces as backup.

But the United States met opposition to the measure from an unlikely foe: Britain. In a cable written just a month earlier, U.S. diplomats in London summarized Her Majesty’s Government’s opposition to the peacekeeping mission: 

"senior British government officials assess that "there is not enough peace to keep in Somalia" and that "there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the Djibouti process [which installed the transitional Somali government] will fail."… HMG is not convinced by arguments that a potential security vacuum following a possible Ethiopian and AMISOM withdrawal would necessarily allow al-Shabaab to take control of southern Somalia, as there are many actors who will be competing for primacy in various areas, in the British view. A more likely outcome, HMG assesses, is a situation similar to medieval Italy, where different actors control and secure small pockets around the country.

Then, there’s the technical objections:

HMG thinks that force generation will be almost impossible and that troops identified will likely be inadequately trained for such a difficult security environment and reconstruction task. It would be "irresponsible" to put ill-trained and poorly equipped troops in such a complicated peacekeeping operation. Additionally, HMG is seriously concerned about the UN’s peacekeeping reputation, if such a mission were to fail, especially in the wake of UNAMID’s [the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan] lack-luster deployment. The UN’s peacekeeping reputation is extremely important to HMG. Moreover, HMG’s peacekeeping budget is over-stretched and likely to be decreasing. HMG does not want to commit the UN to a long-term mission without re-assurance that the effort will be funded.

Some of that British realism must have made an impact in Washington — or at least at the U.N. Security Council in New York. Despite repeated resolutions to back the African Union peacekeeping mission, no U.N. peacekeepers have yet been deployed, now two years later. (Not that Britain was the only one offering these critiques — many analysts, myself included, said the same.)

Interestingly, however, in recent years Britain has stepped in to boost one of the areas of concern: troop preparation for AU peacekeepers in Somalia. A January 2010 cable describes Britain’s push for n European Union program to train 1,000 soldiers in Uganda over 12 months. "If approved," the cable claims, "the UK’s new resources for Somalia will represent a significant shift in the UK’s Somalia policy, especially in a resource-scarce environment, where funding for many of the UK’s programs around the world is being reduced."

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