Somalia: A Risk Worth Taking


Sending troops to Somalia to establish public order -- and thereby permit the free flow of humanitarian aid to the victims of drought and conflict -- is imperative. The U.N. Security Council's decision will save the lives of countless innocent victims of a tragedy that has shocked the world.

The chaos that exists in Somalia severely hampers the humanitarian relief programs of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and other non-governmental and U.N. relief agencies. Authority is divided among warring factions, clans and sub-clans and even in some cases, heavily armed marauders. Security is an everyday concern not only for the well-being of relief workers but for the resources they bring and for the Somali victims themselves.

It is hard to fathom the argument, made by some, that the arrival of troops to bring order to the current chaotic situation would present a greater threat to CRS personnel and other relief workers than currently exists.

Some have questioned whether the international community has the moral or legal authority to intervene in Somalia. Clearly members of the Security Council feel it does.

The question of Somali sovereignty is moot. The country has no functioning government, no system of laws, no police and no welfare program providing relief to the victims of drought and conflict. The Somalia case is unique and should not be likened to the crises in such countries as Liberia, Cambodia, Angola or Sudan. Each involves issues of a singular nature and, as such, must be viewed on a case-by-case basis. Lawrence Pezzullo is executive director of Catholic Relief Services, a worldwide relief organization based in Baltimore.

Given the circumstances in Somalia, the U.N. Security Council would have been remiss if it had not acted forcefully.

Once public order is established and ports of entry, warehouses and distribution channels are secure from roving bands of marauders, I am confident that the emergency needs of the victims of the Somali tragedy will be served and that conditions will slowly improve. With the resources made available by the United States, other large donor countries, U.N. agencies and private relief organizations, the humanitarian emergency will be contained.

CRS and a host of non-governmental and U.N. relief agencies have mounted a massive effort to address the human tragedy in Somalia. CRS, for example, currently is providing food to some 180,000 Somalis and plans to raise that total to 350,000 in 1993. We are working in concert with a group of ecumenical partners which include Lutheran World Relief, Church World Service and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, as well as Catholic and Protestant agencies in Europe which also joined us during the massive relief effort in Ethiopia in the mid-'80s.

One can make the case that the establishment of public order by U.N. forces not only will create a favorable environment for the provision of humanitarian relief to the victims in Somalia but also for the ongoing negotiations to reach a political settlement.

Ultimately, the Somali people have to agree on a governmental structure that is viable and compatible with their culture. The U.N. Security Council has taken an important step to help Somalia move in that direction.

The end of the Cold War was certainly a welcome event. The bipolar rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union distorted the attention and resources of the world.

In ending, it unleashed a host of other conflicts and problems, some new and some only suppressed during the Cold War. Somalia, one of the victims of this bipolar competition, is a country in which practically every vestige of civilized order has disappeared.

The United Nations has been roundly criticized for failing to act sooner and more decisively in Somalia. In fairness, however, it is difficult to see what the United Nations, as presently constituted, could have done. It is an organization of governments, not a universal trouble-shooter. Without a strong and clear mandate from the Security Council and resources to back up that mandate, the United Nations has been ill-equipped to deal with conflicts of this sort. The new authority provided by the Security Council to use armed forces to establish public order is an important first step.

The Somalia crisis points up in stark relief that the institutions developed to govern international life in the post-World War II period are inadequate to the world today. They served more or less well during the Cold War period, when differences were clearly defined. But in the face of the nationalistic, ethnic and religious strife that is being seen now, appropriate international political and diplomatic structures have yet to be developed for mediation, restraint and intervention.

Clearly, the ultimate goal is a regime of international law by which the individual countries of the world agree to be bound and which has sanctions and penalties which permit enforcement. Given the legitimate concern about sovereignty and the welter of competing interests among nations, however, such a regime will only evolve slowly. In the interim, other solutions need to be found which will reflect a political will to advance peaceful solutions to disputes and protect generally-recognized human rights.

The search for such solutions ought to begin with the United Nations. Talks should be initiated in that body with a view to expanding the organization's powers to intervene effectively in conflicts.

The United Nations, however, cannot be all things to all people. Action by a global body may not be the most effective answer in every case. I think it is likely that the very localized problems and conflicts may best yield to regionally-based solutions, even ad .. hoc approaches such as the Contadora initiative during the height of the Central America conflicts.

For regional structures of mediation and compromise to operate, however, those organizations that currently exist (the Organization of American States, Organization for African Unity, Association of South-East Asia Nations and Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) need to be strengthened, not least in terms of the political will necessary to allow them to function to serve such purposes.

The role of the United States is central to any such effort. As we hear again and again, we won the Cold War and are the world's only superpower. The question that that statement raises is: What will this country do with its pre-eminent influence now?

President Bush looked to a "new world order," but offered no vision of what that would entail. Clearly a new world order will not arrive through inertia. It will have to be created laboriously.

It seems to me that this is an historic moment for the United States to pursue vigorously issues that have traditionally been expressed in our diplomatic agenda: lasting peace, the mediation of conflict, the advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy. These issues, we have said, reflect America's broad interests in the world and the interests of humanity as well. We now have an opportunity to act with almost unchallenged influence to give specificity to our long-held vision of a world free of war and oppression.

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