Realism and Idealism: Viewing Conflict in Somalia

Topics: Somalia, United Nations, United Nations Security Council Pages: 9 (3061 words) Published: December 18, 2007
The issue in question is the United Nations intervention in the Somali Republic, which aimed to alleviate the increasing humanitarian crises in the nation. The situation was characterized by severe famine and anarchy as the collapse of President Siad Barre's regime in January 1991 produced a power vacuum contested by numerous groups in Somalia, resulting in severe hostilities in the capital Mogadishu and spreading throughout the rest of the country.[1] Mass death, destruction, malnutrition and malnutrition-related diseases ensued, compelling thousands of civilians to flee their homes and seek sanctuary in neighboring states. Alarmed by the deteriorating situation, the United Nations sought to deliver humanitarian assistance while stabilizing the political situation for the restoration of peace.[2] Numerous initiatives were undertaken by the UN, namely the establishment of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) I and UNOSOM II.[3] UNOSOM I was established on 24 April 1992 by UN Security Council Resolution 751. Its main purpose was to monitor the ceasefire agreements in Somalia and protect the humanitarian convoys. Its efforts were undermined by persistent fighting and casualties, prompting the United States to initiate and establish a mission independent of, but supported by the UN called UNITAF. It was a task force composed of 24 states led by the US which organized and delivered humanitarian aid.[4] Yet, the absence of a central government encouraged continued violence throughout Somalia, and UNOSOM had insufficient resources to deploy more troops. Thus, the UN Security Council overtook and expanded UNITAF to UNOSOM II, bestowing upon it a Chapter VII mandate to enforce disarmament and reconciliation.[5] The aim of this paper is to assess how accurate the theoretical lenses of realism, liberal idealism and liberal institutionalism predict UN motives and endeavors in Somalia. Each lens will be substantiated by certain empirical information, and undermined by other pieces of evidence or lack thereof. Yet, it is believed that neither of the lenses will completely and accurately describe the Somali situation. Each one will provide certain convincing points, but the more substantial theories will be both the liberal lenses in comparison to the realist lens. Realism Realists believe that intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are mainly tools used by the hegemony to capitalize, extend and exert power in the international system predominantly through military and economic might. IGOs are mechanisms to endorse the hegemony's preferred strategies without explicitly stating the favored policies and risk earning other states' antipathy. Echoes of realist predictions are manifested in the United Nations decision to adopt Security Council Resolution 794 for the deployment of the US-led UNITAF with a wide mandate to use force to immediately secure peace and security.[6] The Resolution founded UNITAF as a parallel operation to UNOSOM I, and one that was not under UN authority, but American command. The American-led force was sanctioned to engage in peacemaking, and exercise an extensive discretion to use military force as it saw fit.[7] Under a realist view, it is expected the US would utilize the UN to secure virtually unrestrained force to command an armed body in Somalia. Indeed, there were reports of human rights abuses in Somalia with alarming frequency following the arrival of the first UNITAF contingencies, practicing extremely liberal rules of engagement than ordinary.[8] Yet, there is no substantive evidence that the United States ever strategically used UNITAF to its advantage or that it supported a certain Somali faction for American purposes. In fact, UNITAF was initially established by an increasingly concerned administration under George H. Bush regarding the inefficiency of UNOSOM I to respond to the crises in Somalia. Given that the most Somali warlords could...

Cited: Byers, Michael. War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict. New York:
Grove Press, 2005
Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2002. Lofland, Valerie J. "Somalia: U.S. Intervention and Operation Restore Hope." Available from
accessed 14 November 2007. United Nations Security Council. "Resolution 794 (1992)." Available from nt.
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