Starvation in Somalia

August 03, 1992

Finding ways to feed Somalia deserves the support of all United Nations members. The United States has properly signed on to this newly approved U.N. mission. Anarchy, feuding and robbery have replaced tyranny in Somalia. This has impeded private relief agencies from feeding the starving. Walking skeletons trek by the hundreds of thousands to Kenya, which cannot feed them. Or they become unwanted boat people in desolate Yemen. The world has looked the other way.

That said, the U.N. Security Council resolution marked an intriguing precedent. It represents the agenda of no government so much as of their servant, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He berated the members for putting all their resources into coping with "the rich man's war" in Yugoslavia. He forced them to see misery in the Third World. He is the first secretary general from Africa and, though a Christian, the first from a Muslim country. As an Egyptian, he is acutely aware of starvation and butchery in nearby Somalia, which is both African and in the Arab League.

The U.N. resolution is significant, too, because the members committed themselves to addressing a problem, with a task force in place to recommend measures, but did not set a budget. The ways and means, the provision of transport, the method of distribution and the duration are not worked out. This while the U.N. is struggling to meet expensive peace-keeping commitments in Cambodia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Namibia, without capsizing from nonpayment of dues and assessments.

A third precedent is that, as in Cambodia and what was once Yugoslavia, the U.N. is eroding the concept of sovereignty for humanitarian motives. The right of rulers to kill or starve their own people is not recognized. The resolution calls for an urgent airlift to a population threatened by mass starvation. It demands that all armed Somalian factions cooperate with some 500 U.N. guards and civilians who will distribute food. But, "In the absence of such cooperation, the Security Council does not exclude other measures." With that vague play on words, the Security Council threatens armed intervention. It may have to.

Many would argue that sovereignty is not at issue, that Somalia no longer exists, that it has no government. But it takes a lot to make the cautious world community write a blank check, obey its chief civil servant or hint at taking over a country without consulting its people. In this case, it takes the breakdown of civil order, banditry against food aid, one and a half million people starving and another three million in danger of it (out of a population that formerly was eight million but thanks to starvation and slaughter is nearer seven million.)

Having gone this far, the U.N. Security Council should do what it takes to deliver the food and ensure its distribution Somalians in need. And the United States should pay its fair share.

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