Our Time Is Now

The new Somali prime minister explains why 2011 is a window of opportunity that his country cannot afford to miss.

Things are changing in Somalia. If we seize it, this moment could be a turning point in our country's conflict.

New leadership in Mogadishu and a sharper focus from the international community is re-energizing the effort to bring peace and stability to Somalia. I took office in October at the request of Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, and the Somali parliament recently endorsed my plan to install a lean new cabinet of 18 ministers. Former President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings now serves as the African Union (AU) high representative for Somalia, bringing a widely respected African leader to the forefront of the AU efforts in our country. The African Union also recently expressed a firm intent to expand AMISOM's troop strength to 20,000 peacekeepers. In the short term, the U.N. Security Council is set, we trust, to authorize an immediate rise to 12,000. The Somali government, the African Union, and the international community more broadly are all committed to seeing our mission through together.

Meanwhile, the consequences for our military struggle have been clear. Earlier this year, our government controlled about a third of the capital, Mogadishu, to the insurgents' equal share. In recent months, however, our troops, in partnership with AU peacekeepers, have established control over territory that is home to more than 80 percent of the capital's population. Our forces have gone from fending off attacks against the presidential compound to actively taking ground from insurgents deep in their former strongholds, sending Islamist rebel-group al-Shabab and their foreign leaders into retreat and disarray.

Taken as a whole, these developments present an opportunity for us to break the cycle of chaos and violence that has gripped Somalia and the region for too many years. But this opportunity will not last for long. We as a government must act now to consolidate the gains of recent months. We must deliver the security and stability that the country craves. Above all, we must demonstrate to ordinary Somalis that we can make their lives better. Somalia has seen many false starts and missed opportunities, but this government is determined to succeed where others have failed. We simply cannot allow ourselves to fail, because the alternative is too dark to imagine.

Thousands of Somalis have fled from a reign of terror in the areas where al Shabab today holds sway.  Perhaps no single incident reflects the horrors of al Shabab rule more than the recent murder of two teenage girls by militant henchmen, who executed the girls in the street after accusing them of spying. But al Shabab terrorizes Somalis every day. Mothers are forced on pain of death to give up their children to al Shabab recruiters.  Any child resisting conscription risks the same fate as 17-year-old Ismael Khalif, whose hand and foot were cross amputated because he wanted to go to school rather than join the terrorist army. 

Countless such atrocities have driven Somali public opinion to a tipping point. Our people are eager now to be rid of al-Shabab. In a recent poll, nearly three-quarters of Somalis questioned said they saw the Islamist group as a force of bad, rather than a force for good. Somalis are desperate for peace and a stable government, and we cannot let them down. Clearly the burden to deliver rests with us in the Somali government. We will not shy away from this responsibility.

But we cannot do it alone.

We all know what is at stake if we fail. Al Shabab confirmed its alliance with al Qaeda earlier this year. If al Shabab grows stronger, so will the influence of the international terror network, across the Horn of Africa and beyond. And al Shabab is already increasing its reach, as was shown in July  when the group bombed World Cup spectators in Kampala, Uganda  .

The world cannot afford to allow Somalia to become a haven -- or an inspiration -- for global terrorism. We are immensely grateful for the support we already receive from the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and other donors. It has enabled us to get to where we are now. Still, we need more international support if we hope to cement our gains against al Qaeda and its armed supporters in our country. At the same time, we understand that the international community needs a credible partner if it is to increase the already considerable support given to Somalia. Our new administration aims to prove that we are indeed worth the investment. 

Our own plan for Somalia includes a few key points. Firstly, we will provide renewed leadership and professional focus in the executive branch. We will  develop a constitutional framework built on respect for traditional Somali culture, religious values, and way of life. We will encourage this through both political leadership and grassroots activism. We recognize that our government is only a transitional one, intended to govern until peace can be established and the people of Somalia can decide for themselves how they want to be governed. We also know just how much the Somali people want that role in deciding their future. We therefore plan to propose a new democratic constitution that will pave the way for free and fair elections. To do so, we will undertake wide public consultation and hope to pass the new constitution through parliament before our current government mandate expires next year.

Second, we must strive to foster the security environment in which a democratic transition can take place. We will re-double our efforts to build a professional, trustworthy, and representative security force that will be accountable to the people whom they are meant to protect.  This is an area where we need the particular help and expertise of the international community. We are already fortunate to have substantial support from donors, eager to see Somalia develop its own security forces. For example, 1,000 Somali soldiers completed military training in December as part of an ongoing program funded by the European Union in Uganda. They will soon join the fight in Mogadishu with EU-paid salaries. Still, the challenge we face is so enormous that more aid must be forthcoming if we hope to succeed. We need more resources to recruit, equip, train, and pay sufficient soldiers and policemen to take over the responsibilities currently held by AU peacekeepers. Restoring peace throughout Somalia is unlikely before August next year, but we will achieve it in Mogadishu. Security and stability in the nation's capital will be a major step forward and a demonstration of what can be achieved by a determined government supported by an equally determined international community. 

Finally, we will work to revive the economy and provide jobs. Increasing economic opportunities through investment, training, health care, and education will be a key priority for my administration. Somalis are the same as people the world over. They want food on their table, a roof over their head, and a future for their children. Somalis are natural traders and entrepreneurs, and we must provide them the space for normal and legitimate commercial activity. We need them to create the businesses that will provide employment and the revenues that will drive the economy forward.

None of this will be easy. It will require the combined effort and energy of the whole Somali people in partnership with the international community. But it can be done. Success comes from hope, trust, and leadership. In Somalia, these have been illusive commodities for a long time. But there are now tangible reasons to be hopeful about the future. A definite momentum is moving things forward in Somalia. And we must not squander the opportunity. Peace and stability is possible in Somalia. It can be done, and the time is now.



The Guns of December

It's about time South Korea started shooting back.

It is hard to recall a better example of successful deterrence than what failed to happen on Monday, Dec. 20, on the Korean peninsula. That was the planned date of a South Korean artillery drill on Yeonpyeong Island, just seven and half miles from the North Korean mainland, but 50 miles from Incheon, the nearest South Korean port. Determined to intimidate Seoul into calling off the artillery exercise -- 94 minutes of live fire -- Pyongyang issued a veritable cascade of threats.

First, the North Korean Foreign Ministry officially declared that because the South was so reckless, the matter would be left entirely in the hands of the military command, which had been given full freedom of action. Ratcheting it up from there, the North Korean military spokesman declared that if the South fired its guns at all, their reaction would be: fierce, devastating, drastic, and/or catastrophic, depending on the translation. But the highest note in the crescendo came from Sin Son-ho, the dapper North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, who solemnly warned that if war broke out, it would not be confined to the Korean peninsula and might easily spread worldwide.

In the event, the South Koreans fired some 1,500 howitzer shells, and North Korea fired nothing back, except for the lame complaint of their military spokesman: "The South's vile military provocations do not deserve even a passing notice."

Ominous is the right tone in the threatening business, not wild exaggeration, as we all learned in my elementary school in Palermo, Sicily, from the luckier kids whose fathers were ranking Mafiosi. Yet despite its overheated language, North Korea had credibility on its side: Just a month earlier, on Nov. 23, it did react to a Southern live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong Island with an artillery barrage that wrecked dozens of houses, damaged and set afire military base buildings, wounded 18 civilians, and killed four, including two South Korean marines. It also frightened the population at large, which knows full well that the North has tens of thousands of guns, howitzers, mortars, rockets, and missiles that could quickly devastate the capital city of Seoul, whose northern edges are less than 25 miles from the border.

In very different ways, that bloody episode in November marked a low point: not only for North Korea, whose aggression was entirely blatant, but also for South Korea, whose deterrence has plainly failed; for the U.N. Security Council, which was reduced to impotence by China's refusal to condemn North Korea; and for various peace-mongering interlopers, who foolishly echoed the Security Council's dispiriting call for "restraint" from both sides.

Even amid that inane company, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter stood out: His own spectacularly ill-judged response was to call for bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks. Nothing sounds more logical -- after all, only madmen talk to themselves as opposed to an interlocutor, and it is with enemies that one must talk, even more so than with friends.

But in that particular case, "bilateral" would have meant to talk about the Korean peninsula without the government of South Korea at the table -- giving the greatest possible political victory to Pyongyang by confirming in spades its central claim that it is the only true Korean government, while South Korea is a mere American puppet. Without seemingly understanding what he was saying, Carter explained the need for bilateral talks by noting that "Leaders in Pyongyang consider South Korea's armed forces to be controlled from Washington." Hence the very fact of negotiating at all would have been amply destructive, simultaneously delegitimizing South Korea's democratic government and anointing the bizarrely monstrous Kim dynasty as Korea's sole legitimate rulers.

Only a month later, and just a day before the momentous Dec. 20 non-event, there was more ill-conceived and damaging interloping in conjunction with the visit to North Korea of Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico. As a seasoned former envoy who had dealt with the regime before, Richardson made all the right moves, said nothing damaging, and emerged with the worthwhile North Korean promise to allow the entry of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear inspectors once again. But accompanying Richardson was the supposed North Korea expert Tony Namkung (he has claimed he has been there 30 times -- always a bad sign) who played the "useful idiot" role to perfection, with the added resonance of speaking from Pyongyang itself. Regarding the imminent Yeonpyeong live-fire drill, his words only added credibility to Northern threats, while seeking to undermine Southern resolve: "There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a [North Korean armed] response," said Namkung. "The only issue is whether they will once again target civilians [as well].… the [North Korean] military has said that there can be no forgiveness, period."

Fortunately, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his ministers and military advisors knew better than to listen to the U.N. Security Council, Jimmy Carter, the likes of Namkung, or indeed North Korean threats. They had finally realized that when it came to deterrence, they had a lot of catching up to do.

Seoul had done nothing whatsoever to punish the North for the Nov. 23 Yeonpyeong bombardment -- leading many in the South to wonder why so much money had to be spent on the latest and best weapons for the South Korean armed forces if they were never to be used. By then many realized that if the South had acted more vigorously beforehand, against an even deadlier attack -- the March 26 sinking of the South Korean navy corvette Cheonan that left 46 sailors dead -- it might have prevented the November barrage.

After a multinational investigation quickly uncovered that the Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo launched by a North Korean mini-submarine, the Security Council duly condemned the attack but -- at Chinese insistence -- failed to identify the attacker. South Korea protested, complained, and did nothing of substance to punish North Korea. As Dec. 20 approached, Lee -- who had been elected as a hard-liner moreover -- along with his ministers and military chiefs were clearly failing in their very first duty: to safeguard the lives of their fellow citizens by deterring North Korean attacks.

Of course, the United States remains the guarantor of ultimate security with its armed forces in place, which include a total of some 28,500 service personnel mostly in the Army's 2nd Division and two Air Force fighter wings -- with reinforcements from Japan if needed. But their task can only be to deter an actual war, not to deal with mere hit-and-run incidents that are over in minutes or hours, nor to retaliate against North Korea for them. It is the South Koreans who are responsible for the day-to-day security of their country. And it was precisely this responsibility that South Korean leaders and military chiefs evaded in March and again in November: partly no doubt because they were caught by surprise; partly because even a right-leaning government cannot ignore the influence of the remarkably anti-American pacifist left on public opinion (American G.I. trysts with their grandmothers are still bitterly resented); partly because South Korean big business is more worried by the consequences of action than inaction; and finally, because the government in Seoul still wanted to believe that China would solve the problem for them.

It is only now that it has become totally clear that China positively wants a somewhat aggressive North Korea, whose outrages would force the South to come to Beijing on bended knee to plead for its safety, gradually accepting suzerainty in exchange. The Chinese talk about the dangers of an all-out war but evidently they do not believe it can happen, hence their unwillingness to really pressure North Korea as they easily could.

By Dec. 20, however, all illusions spent, and with the firm support of an unflinching Obama administration, the South Koreans finally did the right thing. And they did it well: Along with realistic civil-defense plans, the evacuation of the most exposed civilians, and preparations for vigorous counterbattery fire to hit Northern guns if they shelled Yeonpyeong again, the South let it be known that if the North Koreans opened fire anywhere else, in places where it lacked enough artillery to respond in kind, it would resort to airstrikes.

In the days leading up to the drill, many South Koreans were alarmed; others understood the risks but were nevertheless satisfied that their government was finally ready to act purposefully to protect them from the North's aggressions. But by 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 it was all over. The South Koreans had fired their 1,500 shells, the North Koreans had done nothing for all their wild threats, and news of their renewed acceptance of IAEA nuclear inspectors soon followed.

With North Korea's dynastic dictatorship showing no signs of improvement and with its uniquely militarized and compulsively aggressive power structure, South Korea had better institutionalize the lesson of the Dec. 20 episode, if it is to prevent further deadly attacks on its citizens. For it, as for any state facing a permanent conflict with violent enemies, deterrence by whatever means -- not necessarily just military -- is the strategic equivalent of money in running a business: nothing can be done without it.

Words alone are not enough to deter. There has to be the will to act and "escalation dominance" if action becomes necessary. If there is going to be any tit for tat, the South has to ensure that its tit would inflict more damage than the North's tat. With the North having invested over the decades in tens of thousands of artillery tubes as well as rockets and short-range missiles deployed all along the front line -- from sea to sea, right across the peninsula -- the South cannot hope to have more than very localized escalation dominance with guns alone.

Hence if the fighting is restricted to artillery, the North can always out-barrage the South and dominate the outcome, as it did on Yeonpyeong Island in November. Only air power can swiftly out-concentrate the North's artillery. To be sure, South Korea's fighter-bombers could be especially effective if they were to surprise Northern forces out in the open, unprepared for air attacks. But if the South just started to bomb targets of opportunity in response to artillery fire, this might start an entire war. Hence, just as it did before Dec. 20, the South must renounce secrecy and surprise to publicly announce that it would respond to artillery attacks with airstrikes against the offending batteries, if its own guns were not up to the job. That way, a calculated step for local escalation dominance could not be confused with an uncontrolled escalation to general war. It's a delicate balancing act, but such are the tensions of life on the Korean peninsula these days.

One day, no doubt the North Korean regime will pass into history. But until then, the South Koreans must finally disenthrall themselves from the illusion that other countries will ensure their day-to-day security from attack -- it will not be done by the United States, let alone the United Nations, and certainly not by China.

Korea Pool/Getty Images