Dec 14, 2007

Somaliland: US Debates on Statehood

The Bush administration is currently discussing the possible recognition of the statehood of Somaliland as it serves as an example of peace and democracy in the region.

The Bush administration is currently discussing the possible recognition of the statehood of Somaliland as it serves as an example of peace and democracy in the region.

Below is an article published by GAROWEONLINE :

For the first time, since it withdrew from the voluntary union with Somalia in 1991, Somaliland is at the centre of a debate by the Bush administration over a possible recognition of its statehood. America appears to be throwing its weight behind Somaliland and in the process it is showing that its worldview is changing. The United States defence chiefs at the Pentagon argue that Somaliland should be independent to maintain its progress on peace and democracy, and that the anarchy Somalia slipped into, since the fall of the former regime in 1991 needs to be contained.

Giving rise to this debate are the increasing insecurities in Somalia, the revival of the radical insurgents in Mogadishu and the disintegration of the shaky Transitional Federal Government. Yet, the roots of this debate can be traced elsewhere: they originate from the Bush administration’s current intellectual mindset that guides its national security strategy. 

The neo-cons in the Bush administration initially applied a worldview that preaches that the primary agents of the international politics are states, particularly major states, and that the only way to secure a national interest is to possess advanced and offensive military capabilities, and to deter unfriendly and rogue states from developing that capacity. 

In the war against terrorism, Washington used this narrow and unilateralist view.  This has led the US into conflicts with states that allegedly sponsor terrorism. The result was a staggering increase in the number of international terrorist operations.  Clearly, this vision failed to offer adequate provisions for dealing effectively with the challenges of 21 century to the American interest and world security, which in the main do not arise from states, but from non-state agents and groups within failed states.   

In response to this shortcoming, we now witness an American shift to a new worldview, which recognises that international politics is not only limited to state-agents, but also involves non-state agents such as political and social groups. This view embraces the use of multilateralism, diplomacy, international law and pragmatism alongside the military option in dealing with global political and security issues.

In Somalia, the US has already applied this vision. It has dealt directly with the former Somali warlords in Mogadishu and funded their operations against the Union of Islamic Courts. In fact, the United States financially supported these warlords more than it did the process that led to the formation of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

In Somaliland, the US engages with the government of Somaliland on a range of issues including providing technical support to its democratisation and economic development programmes. And now, the Pentagon wants to bring Somaliland on board as a partner in the fight against terrorism, and suggests that Somaliland should be politically recognised. By far, this is the clearest indication of the American change in policy and in concept in respect of the Horn problems. 

America's major aim in the Horn is to prevent the region from becoming a potential breeding ground for international terrorism. Somaliland, therefore, offers a useful means for achieving this objective. Its strategic location on the red sea, overlooking the gulf countries, as well as its peace and security provide Americans with a unique opportunity to achieve their security goals.  

Unlike the Pentagon, the American State Department is reluctant to soften its rhetoric towards Somaliland. It maintains its official position of leaving the recognition of Somaliland for the African Union to lead on, due to what it describes as being sensitivity over changes in colonial-era-borders, and opening Pandora's box in Africa.

But the State Department's view is neither historically evidenced nor represents the African Union's position.  In a fact-finding mission report in 2005, the AU said that Somaliland is "historically unique and self-justified in African political history" and that the AU "should find special method of dealing with this outstanding case". Therefore, recognising Somaliland does not open Pandora's box, but brings Somaliland and Somalia to their respective original status at the time of the colonial departure, after the union they voluntarily formed in 1960 ceased to exist.  All in all, the debate highlights that the United States is paying closer attention to the issue of Somaliland and that Somaliland's consistent efforts in state- building over the last 16 years are being acknowledged.