THE United Nations will leave Somalia in defeat this March, having failed in its mission just as the United States did one year earlier.
Somalia was an important test case for the new world order, where the US and the UN would wage peace and shape the political and economic character of the post-cold-war world. The UN will withdraw without reestablishing political stability, and the country will undoubtedly return to the violence, anarchy, and human suffering that prompted US and UN intervention two years ago. This time the world will not come to the rescue.
Both the US and the UN lost Somalia. They focused on the Somalian warlord Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aideed and Mogadishu. In the process they lost the country.
The UN did succeed in quelling the violence that had killed 350,000 Somalis. It saved an estimated 1 million Somalis by protecting food deliveries. Peace was reestablished in much of the countryside within months after US troops landed in December 1992. Farmers went back to the land and produced good crops. Village and area councils formed, and legitimate authority reemerged in rural areas.
Inconsistencies in US foreign policy and the UN mission quickly negated those gains. Instead of disarming the warlords, the UN and US wasted precious time and the Somalis' good will by negotiating with them. Unlike the Persian Gulf war, where most combat took place from a safe distance, the US had to face Aideed on his own turf. The US capitulated and ran home.
Without the US military muscle and superior organization, the UN has likewise been defeated in Somalia. Since the US departure, the UN position has been one of systematic retreat. The UN and the Western community have cowered almost siege-like in the semiprotective confines of the US Embassy compound in Mogadishu. In all, 42 Americans and more than 100 other peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia since December 1992.
Even so, there are political and moral reasons why we should not abandon the concept of the new world order in Somalia. Both the US and the former Soviet Union bestowed armaments upon Somalia in the 1970s and 1980s in return for air and sea bases. Both superpowers got the military springboards they wanted from Somalia but quickly turned their backs on Somalia at the end of the cold war, leaving behind the armaments for the clans.
The intense clan fighting that led to the famine will return shortly after UN peacekeepers withdraw. Scores of Somalis already have been killed or wounded in fighting. Aideed is still a major player in Somalia's future, and opposing warlord factions are reemerging to counter him. The air and sea ports will become objectives when UN peacekeepers withdraw because planes, ships, and cargo can be taxed - an easy source of wealth. Progress realized during the US-UN presence will be lost and the majority of Somalis will be resigned to a fate comparable to, or worse than, what they experienced a year ago.
The global ramifications for the US and UN are also serious. Somalia is still of strategic importance because of its proximity to the Persian Gulf states and the Red Sea, a major supply route of oil to the West. The US need only wait until the next conflict in the gulf to remember the importance of a springboard to that region. The UN's dismal showing in Somalia makes its promises of help or intervention in the world's trouble spots ring hollow. The UN's poor performance in Somalia has no doubt encouraged Serbian aggression in Bosnia. If a penny-ante tyrant like Aideed is free to hold an entire country hostage, what can an additional handful of more-able self-styled strongmen do elsewhere? The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.