Why Failed States Matter

Yesterday, forces of the Islamic Courts seized the Somali capital of Mogadishu from various warlords, uniting the city for the first time in over a decade. The Islamic Courts are believed to be associated with al-Qaeda and are harboring al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the destruction of an Israeli-owned resort and the attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. StrategyPage has further background on the situation in Somalia.

The Islamic Courts is an organization very similar in nature to the Taliban, a combination of Islamic “students” and vicious warlords promising to bring order to a society devastated by years of warfare. Just as al-Qaeda took refuge in the failed state of Afghanistan, Somalia now appears to be the next focal point for Islamist terrorism worldwide.

The idea that these failed states are not a concern of the United States or the rest of the world died on September 11, 2001. Such failed states are not only a humanitarian problem, but provide the ideal breeding grounds for terrorism. Afghanistan had no army to speak of, no military, no real air force, no ability to project force at all. Had someone on September 10, 2001 suggested that Afghanistan would be the genesis of the worst attack on American soil since the War of 1812, they would have been laughed at. Yet the asymmetric nature of terrorism means that even the most backwards state has the ability to accomplish a devastating attack.

Unfortunately, there are no good options for dealing with the situation in Somalia. The UN-backed government is weak and ineffectual. The competing warlords are often as brutal as the Islamists and just as prone to fight with themselves as they are the enemy. While it is theoretically possible for the US to provide air power and CIA support as they did in Afghanistan, the political will to reenter Somalia and risk another “Black Hawk Down” incident is just not there. The UN does not have the force to keep the peace and would likely make things worse. Failed states like Somalia or Afghanistan almost never attract significant amounts of attention unless something like 9/11 occurs.

The situation in Somalia is almost certain to lead to further problems in the already war-torn state – meaning that further involvement in the Horn of Africa will be crucial to US anti-terrorism efforts for some time now.

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