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There's no excuse to let Somalia's starving die.

Finally, after early warnings were ignored while an entire African nation starved and plummeted into anarchy, events are moving swiftly in Somalia. Military intervention, made up largely of U.S. troops, may well be under way by the time this issue reaches NCR readers.

Some gnawing questions persist, however, especially for those of us who charge our hope for humankind with the possibility that all conflicts may one day be resolved nonviolently. Is, for example, military intervention in Somalia justified, and, if so, what shape should it take?

Maybe it would be helpful to begin by outlining what the horrendous situation in Somalia is not. Many of the military planners may be the same, but Somalia is not Grenada; it is not Panama; it is not Iraq. We are not talking about a war to stabilize the world's flow of oil; we are talking about what one publication called a "fight-to-feed" policy.

The United Nations has peacekeeping forces deployed around the globe, from Cambodia to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sometimes it seems that a new trouble spot flares on the front burner every week. But in all that global turmoil, Somalia is unique.

As a nation, Somalia has ceased to exist. There is no government. The country's infrastructure has been devastated, much of it carted off and sold to the highest bidder. Armed gangs, many of them under no one's control, ravage relief supplies meant for the millions of Somalis staring at the death's head of extinction.

Negotiations with vying warlords have gone nowhere. Nor has a 500-man U.N. force of Pakistani troops who took two months to deploy and who are reluctant to risk death in such a godforsaken tangle. In this instance, a military presence, as a last recourse, would seem to be the only way to get food to a starving population. That is the reality.

But it would be a dangerous and unwarranted precedent for the United States to intervene unilaterally. Any military force should include as many countries as possible and should be under overall U.N. command. That, except for the U.S. high command, is what the world wants.

A compromise must be reached and U.N. control established to the highest possible degree. It will be left to the United Nations to rebuild Somalia after the relief pipelines have been secured. Neocolonial temptations must be avoided. Having the imperial North American giant deployed there on its own would court yet another disaster in the long run.

The size of any military force should be meticulously examined. Some exiled Somalis say that no more than 5,000 troops would be sufficient, not the 20,000-30,000 the United States has in mind. And periodic Security Council reviews should make sure the troops do not stay in the country longer than their immediate mission requires.

These are some of the nuts-and-bolts considerations were are forced to in the wake of decades of failed policies. The United States armed Somali dictator Siad Barre for nearly a generation. Now some of those same weapons will be aimed at U.S. soldiers.

Violence leads to violence, to be sure. Nonviolence is the ideal. And some NGO workers on the ground in Somalia oppose any intervention for fear it will lead to deadly retaliation against them.

But what, at this late hour, given the killing field Somalia has become, is the alternative?

The world writhes in a web of violence. Many accept that as essential to the human condition. But others dream of and devote their lives to breaking free from that web, transforming it into nonviolent alternatives that would allow people to settle conflicts with dignity and without bloodshed. We view this as our goal and as the path to that goal.

That said, in this instance we feel that a U.N. peacekeeping, or in this case a stability-building, force is necessary to stop the tragic and wholly unnecessary starvation. We must act. The food must get through to the needy.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 11, 1992
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