Proto state formation in Somalia
Successful states under the Westphalian model have a monopoly on the use of legitimate force within their boundaries. Hopefully those boundaries coincide with the areas that they control; otherwise there are either temporary autonomous zones of non-state actors, anarchy or client non-state actors controlled by foreign state powers. State to state interactions are easier for the United States to manage because states have fixed assets and more readily identifiable pressure points, incentives and interests than non-state groups.
Somalia is not a successful, unitary nation-state under the Westphalian model. Instead it is a fragmented mess whose notional national government is highly dependent on foreign soldiers to control a portion of the capital and several tenuous connections to the outside world. The TFG does not control the coast, or significant portions of the central and norther portions of the country’s internationally recognized borders. Instead there are de-facto governments in quasi-independent Somaliland and Puntland in the north, and clan-based control of the northeastern ports that supply the Somali pirates.
This is okay, it is an opportunity to practice foreign policy minimalism to advance American interests:
The US’s best interests are served by seeing pockets of stability form and sustain themselves so that global interconnections can be made, and multi-issue linkages are possible. These pockets of stability may or may not be in the form of traditional states of the Westphalian model, but they are valuable none the less. These pockets are often a recognition of reality on the ground; local elites, networks and tribal connections as well as sometimes being the strongest group of thugs around who have fairly limited objectives can be sources of needed stability from which proto-states can emerge to better reflect ongoing realities….
- working with the reality that there really is no such thing as a unified Somali state with an effective central government but there are regional pockets of stability that are effectively serving as limited proto-states will be far more successful in accomplishing the limited political/economic goals of the United States (smooth flow of global trade, sidelining of radical Islamists who have the capacity and intent for global strikes) then attempting to re-create a unified Somali state.
Benjamin Powell at Suffolk University (h/t LGM) argues that the non-state governance structures are capable of controlling violence and promote the production of the public good of stability and security in the areas that they control as well or better than the TFG in Mogadishu:
The Somali customary law, Xeer, has existed since pre-colonial times and continued to operate under colonial rule. The Somali nation-state tried to replace the Xeer with government legislation and enforcement. However, in rural areas and border regions where the Somali government lacked firm control, people continued to apply the common law. When the Somali state collapsed, much of the population returned to their traditional legal system.
The Xeer outlaws homicide, assault, torture, battery, rape, accidental wounding, kidnapping, abduction, robbery, burglary, theft, arson, extortion, fraud, and property damage. The legal system focuses on the restitution of victims not the punishment of criminals….
There is no doubt that Somalia remains extremely poor today. However, as far as living standards can be assessed, they appear to be improving since the collapse of Somalia’s national government. In fact, standards are improving faster in Somalia than in most of sub-Saharan Africa.
He notes that there is minimal pirate on Somali violence on land or at sea which implies there is an effective rule of law that can exert significant influence on pirate behavior within the Somali littoral. It is this limited but real rule of law that is the hope of creating effective proto-states within the colonial era drawn boundaries of Somalia that can favorably interact with the wider world. Recreating a western-style unitary nation state in Somalia is an expensive and futile pipe-dream. Supporting proto-states with aid, recognition, money and trade in exchange for a crack down on piracy from the land side is a far more plausible policy course that would actually work.