Somalia Affair - Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Intervention in The Wake of The Somalia Affair

Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Intervention in The Wake of The Somalia Affair

The notion of peacekeeping seems to be deeply embedded in Canadian culture and a distinguishing feature that Canadian’s feel sets their foreign policy apart from the likes of the United States. The Somalia commission wrote in 1997 that “Canada’s foreign policy with respect to peacekeeping has been consistent since Canadians embraced peacekeeping in the late 1950s”. Since the Suez Crisis, Canadian foreign policy has fit a peacekeeping rubric. Americans however were seen to fight wars, but Canadians pictured themselves as working for peace. Canada never had a reputation for starting wars but instead was seen to come to the aid of war torn countries.

The Somalia Affair came as such as surprise to the Canadian public as no one would have thought Canada’s golden reputation for international peacekeeping could be tarnished. The Somalia Affair and the ensuing commission of inquiry has become the subject of intense criticism and has given rise to a great deal of comparative theoretical work on humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping. In her book Sherene Razack asks if it was just a case of ‘a few bad apples’ in the Canadian forces, or if the Somalia Affair speaks to a larger issue on the complex nature of peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention. Thomas Weiss comments that the failures in Somalia have led to this concept of ‘Somalia Syndrome’: “multilateral interventions to thwart starvation, genocide, the forced movement of peoples, and massive violations of fundamental rights are no longer politically or operationally feasible”. Peacekeepers are more likely to be involved in peace enforcement in more warlike conditions as unlike traditional peacekeeping; there is not always consent from all the conflicting parties. Such was the case in Somalia as the men were hypervigilent with a sense of fear and frustration as they were trained for combat yet charged with providing humanitarian aid. Faced with this strong Somali opposition and resentment and yet being responsible for providing aid meant that Canadian peacekeepers “increasingly could not find meaning in their activities” There would be a ‘Somalia syndrome’ sentiment that would linger in the international community after the failures in the war torn country. Weiss however reminds us not to take Somalia out of context or draw upon the wrong lessons leading to isolationism or eschewing necessary humanitarian intervention. The debacle in Somalia would be so paralyzing that it would lead to an unwillingness from the international community to respond to future problems, like the Rwandan Genocide. The United States under the Clinton Administration would need to rethink its foreign policies and the rest of the world just did not want another Somalia Affair

The Somalia Affair thus had a direct impact on how the international community would make foreign policy with a crippling ‘Somalia syndrome’ that would lead to the sense of caution in intervening in the Rwanda Genocide and in the Balkans.

Read more about this topic:  Somalia Affair

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