World news outlets have provided daily coverage on what has been described as escalating piracy off the coast of Somalia. Absent from such reporting is how and why the situation in the region reached the impasse it has and what its broader significance is.
Many of these “pirates” are former fishermen driven out of their sole occupation by years of intrusive and illegal large-scale poaching by world commercial concerns or affected by eighteen years of toxic, including nuclear, wastes dumped off their shores but that isn’t acknowledged. To do so would complicate the narrative contrived by those who have, with disastrous consequences, interfered in the internal affairs of Somalia and its neighborhood for several decades and are in large part responsible for the current crisis.
Instead, the action begins where the governments of the Western states that have deployed warships, helicopters, snipers and bases to the region script its opening act: With pirates.
The national tragedy of Somalia didn’t begin last summer with piracy, or with the armed conflict in 2006 and the invasion of Ethiopia; nor did it commence in 1991 with the ouster of President Barre and fighting between militia groups. No, it started in 1977.
Eight years earlier a military government headed by General Siad Barre came to power in Somalia. Anticipating what would become a general pattern in Africa and indeed throughout most of the non-Euro-Atlantic world, the government pursued a path of non-capitalist, avowedly socialist development.
In the decade between 1969 and 1979 similar transformations occurred throughout Africa, result-ing in socialist-oriented governments allied with and receiving assistance from the Soviet Union. The pattern also emerged in Asia, the Arabian peninsula, Latin America and the Caribbean during the same period.
What was progressing at an apparently inexorable pace was the integration of the Soviet-led socialist bloc, with the entire developing, non-aligned world which coincided with and gave substance to the demands for a New International Economic Order advocated by the developing nations through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and supported by the world socialist community.
Demands included the replacement of the US-enforced Bretton Woods system – including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – in a revision of the entire international economic system that would elevate the nations of the South from mere monoculture exporters to diversified and modernized countries with industrial bases.
On March 25, 1975 the Second General Conference of the UN Industrial Development Organisation, adopted the Lima Declaration and Plan of Action on Industrial Development and Co-operation which included the following provisions:
“That every state has the inalienable right to exercise freely its sovereignty and permanent control over its natural resources, both terrestrial and marine, and over all economic activity for the exploitation of these resources in the manner appropriate to its circumstances, including nationalisation in accordance with its laws as an expression of this right, and that no state shall be subjected to any forms of economic, political or other coercion which impedes the full and free exercise of that inalienable right.”
“That special attention should be given to the least developed countries, which should enjoy a net transfer of resources from the developed countries in the form of technical and financial resources as well as capital goods, to enable the least developed countries in conformity with the policies and plans for development, to accelerate their industrialisation.”
One objective of the plan was to insure that by 2000 25-30% of world industrial production was to occur in the developing world. With the changes occurring in the developing world toward genuine independence and development, and the support of the Soviet-led socialist bloc – which was issuing longterm, low interest loans to southern nations for infrastructural and industrial projects – the prospects for the creation of a new global economic and political order was on the near horizon. But not everyone was pleased with this development.
The US – alone – opposed the Lima Declaration and the follow up New Delhi Declaration and Plan of Action four years later. America’s NATO allies were no less dissatisfied.
With what would be called the US’s hard power/soft power duality and rotation, the Nixon era method of dealing with the reorientation of developing nations away from the West and toward the East, gave way to that of the Carter administration and its foreign policy of grey eminence and all-purpose Mephistopheles, Zbigniew Brzezinski in January of 1977.
The Carter administration had barely moved into the White House when it began to bribe the governments of Somalia, Afghanistan, Egypt and Iraq into entering political and military alliances and giving notorious “green lights” for military invasions of other nations. Its foreign policy architect was not Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, but the man who brought about Vance’s downfall and resignation over the Operation Eagle Claw fiasco in Iran in 1980: Brzezinski, an arch-Russophobe during the Soviet period and ever since even unto the grave. While Somalia is the main subject of investigation, a review of similar cases is in order.
In its first year in office the Carter administration bought off Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, splitting the Arab world, destroying any unified approach to the Palestinian catastrophe and the realization of UN resolutions 242 and 338 and ousting the Soviet Union as the fourth partner in the Middle East peace process, leaving Israel and Egypt armed and backed by the US and the rest of the Arab world, including Palestine, unrepresented, unprotected and defenseless. In the period between Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in November of 1977 and the Camp David Accords in September of 1978, Israeli launched an invasion of Lebanon, Operation Litani, with over 25,000 troops — a warm-up exercise for the full-fledged attack of 1983. This was one of the green lights given by the Carter administration.
A year later Washington gave a green light to China to invade Vietnam, according to Beijing to “punish” the latter for its role in helping drive the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia the previous year.
In the summer of 1978 US National Security Adviser Brzezinski, emulating Kissinger’s trip in 1971, paid a secret visit to Beijing to normalize relations with China, leading to recognition of the People’s Republic and derecogni-tion of Taiwan on January 1, 1979. On January 29, 1979 Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping arrived in Washington, the first visit by a senior Chinese official to the United States since 1949.
According to former Balkans hand and current US Afghanistan-Pakistan point man Richard Holbrooke, the trip “began with a private dinner at Brzezinski’s house.” Deng left on February 6 and eleven days later China launched an invasion of Vietnam along its entire northern border.
In appreciation of Somalia’s geostrategic importance, in the first days of the Carter-Brzezinski administration efforts were made to wean Somalia from its pro-Soviet stance and to secure military, mainly naval, bases on its territory. The covert campaign was largely conducted through the mediation of Saudi Arabia and in July led to the Somali invasion of Ethiopia with tens of thousands of troops, tanks and warplanes.
“Somalia had mounted its major offensive in Ogaden because of a U.S. promise to furnish arms aid. The U.S. policy had resulted from Ethiopia’s decision to expel U.S. military advisers from the country and its successful bid for aid from the Soviet Union.
“According to the report, Somali President Mohamed Said Barre had received secret U.S. assurances that the U.S. would not oppose ‘further guerrilla pressure in the Ogaden’ and would ‘consider sympathetically Somalia’s legitimate defense needs.’
The Soviet Union and its Cuban ally assisted Ethiopia and the US and China, mainly through Saudi Arabia to provide arms to Somalia.
Brzezinski urged the deployment of the US aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk to the region as a show of support to Somalia and an act of defiance toward the Soviet Union and its Ethiopian ally and, referring to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks of the time, said “SALT lies buried in the sands of the Ogaden,” as a report of the time phrased it “signifying the death of detente.”
Somalia was defeated and withdrew the last of its military forces in March of 1978. The war cost Somalia one-third of its army, three-eighths of its armored units and half of its air force.
It marked the beginning of the end for Barre and for Somalia itself. Barre would linger on as president of a weakened Somalia until his overthrow in 1991. His ouster would be followed by years of conflict between rival armed militias and US military intervention that caused the deaths of thousands of Somalis.
Yet for all the horrors US admini-strations from that of Carter to the current one have visited upon the Somali people, Washington gained what it intended: military bases and forces near many of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes and chokepoints in an area encompassing the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
In 1997 the Carter White House issued a presidential directive calling for a worldwide mobile military force which in October of 1979 Carter would officially designate Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF). The site for its first deployments were to be the acquired military client states of Somalia and Egypt along with Sudan, Oman and Kenya.
Originally envisioned to focus on the Persian Gulf, Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) was expanded to include Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia as well as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of Yemen [Aden], Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Arab Republic. That is, from the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf to the eastern coast of Africa to the western one of the Indian subcontinent with the northern half of the Indian Ocean and its seas and gulfs included.
The launch of the RDJTF came less than a month after the first Soviet troops entered Afghanistan. Carter comments on it included this disingenuous hyperbole:
“The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow.”
That at the time a small handful of Soviet troops had arrived in Kabul, the capital of a landlocked nation hundreds of miles from one of the world’s five oceans, could in no conceivable manner affect the Straits of Hormuz.
Carter continued: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
As Carter was succeeded by Reagan, the Rapid Deployment Forces were converted into Central Command, the US’s first new regional military command since World War II, under Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
Central Command (CENTCOM) has as its area of responsibility twenty nations as well as the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and western portions of the Indian Ocean. It has bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Pakistan and Central Asia and until recently at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, now part of African Command.
The Command’s zone of operations is in fact the northern half of the Indian Ocean from the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz where some 40% of the oil shipped in the world passes to the Gulf of Aden where, as recent reports frequently repeat, ten percent of all global shipping occurs to the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia where 25% of world trade, including half of all sea shipments of oil and two-thirds of global liquefied natural gas shipments bound for East Asia, pass.
In addition to the US, NATO launched its first naval operation in the Gulf of Aden last October and has now resumed it with the deployment of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1).
These deployments are a continuation of NATO’s plans in the region described last year by veteran Indian journalist M K Bhadrakumar in an article titled “NATO reaches into the Indian Ocean”:
“By October 15 , seven ships from NATO navies had already transited the Suez Canal on their way to the Indian Ocean. En route, they conducted a series of Persian Gulf port visits to countries neighboring Iran – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which are NATO’s ‘partners’ within the framework of the so-called Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.
“NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General John Craddock, acknowledged that the mission furthers the alliance’s ambition to become a global political organization.
“By acting with lightning speed and without publicity, NATO surely created a fait accompli.
“NATO’s naval deployment in the Indian Ocean region is a historic move and a milestone in the alliance’s transformation. Even at the height of the Cold War, the alliance didn’t have a presence in the Indian Ocean. Such deployments almost always tend to be open-ended.
“In retrospect, the first-ever visit by a NATO naval force in mid-September last year to the Indian Ocean was a full-dress rehearsal to this end. Brussels said at that time, ‘The aim of the mission is to demonstrate NATO’s capability to uphold security and international law on the high seas and build links with regional navies.’
“[An] Indian warship [dispatched off the coast of Somalia] will eventually have to work in tandem with the NATO naval force. This will be the first time that the Indian armed forces will be working shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO forces in actual operations in territorial or international waters. The operations hold the potential to shift India’s ties with NATO to a qualitatively new level.”
Securing the safe passage of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and particularly those delivering United Nations World Food Programme aid is a legitimate concern. Plans by the United States and NATO to turn the whole Indian Ocean into its military and global energy war lake are not.