Just War Theory holds that in order to be just, a war must have just cause, be a last resort, have right intention, have a reasonable chance of success, be declared by a proper authority, and must have an end proportional to the means used to achieve it (Fieser & Dowden, 2010). US intervention in Somalia was not completely justified under this theory. Although the original motivation for intervening in Somalia’s affairs was just and seems to have been a last resort, the United States deviated from its original mission and became embroiled in affairs that were not justified.

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In 1992, the accounts from the news media made it clear that the United States had a just cause to intervene in Somalian affairs. Laurence O’Rourke of the McClatchy News Service wrote, “President-elect Bill Clinton, Thursday night endorsed the use of military force to guarantee shipment of food and medicine to millions of starving people in Somalia.” Clinton applauded outgoing president Bush for his humanitarian effort and said, “By voting to authorize all necessary means to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia, the United Nations has provided new hope to millions of Somalis at risk of starvation.” (O’Rourke, 1992, p. 12)

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Bush ordered troops into Somalia to “save thousands of innocents.” (Wines, 1992). Preventing starvation and saving the lives of millions, then, were the just cause America’s politicians and media outlets reported the country had for intervening in Somalia. Newspapers also featured photographs of Somalia’s struggling women and children, evoking great empathy from the American public.

The United States had the authority to act. Bush had approval from Congress, incoming president Clinton, the United Stations and a broad coalition of states. According to Wines, Britain, Belgium, Jordan, Canada, France and Pakistan committed to sending in troops and supplies and Germany and Japan also planned to send aid (Wines, 1992).

Their actions seem to have been justified. Each player suggested that intervening in Somalia was imperative to stop the loss of life and claimed intervening was a last resort. Bush, for instance declared that Americans would “not stay one day longer than is absolutely necessary,” but would take whatever action was necessary to stop the attacks and looting which prevented the delivery of food and supplies to the starving. He thought that his response would be proportional, telling Congress that he expected “little serious resistance.” (Wines, 1992) Clinton shared this view. According to Wines he said, “Impediments to delivery of relief supplies and particularly looting of life-saving food supplies simply must not be allowed to continue.” (Wines, 1992) Each actor argued that intervention was necessary to save lives. In 1992, most of the media accounts are positive. There is bi-partisanship support for intervention.

Yet after humanitarian efforts saw much success, the mission shifted. According to NPR, “But by the fall of 1993, the mission had expanded to one of restoring a government in Somalia. On Oct. 3, a special ops team was sent into Mogadishu to arrest two top lieutenants of the warlord Mohammed Aidid, who controlled the city.” The BBC reports that the US Raid was “disastrous.” Instead of finding success, the US saw two of its Black Hawk helicopters fired on and taken down. 18 Americans, 2 UN soldiers and hundreds of Somalians died in the violence that ensued. The failure led the US to end its humanitarian mission, reversing much of the good its original actions had done (BBC, 2017). Instead of simply saving lives as it had originally intended, the United States began taking lives. The costs of its intervention began to outweigh its humanitarian good.

At this point, the United States was no longer justified in intervening. Instead of simply acting according to its right intention, the United States began taking measures which had other intentions, may not have had just causes and were probably not last resorts. In hindsight, knowing how badly the mission failed, it is also possible to suggest that the intervention did not comply with Just War Theory because its chance of success was not high, though it is hard to know for certain if that would have been apparent to the actors involved. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that because Bush expected little resistance when he first intervened that the United States and its allies believed their chances of succeeding were very good. According to NPR, the United States even believed that it could send its soldiers into combat without fear of them being harmed and that when they were, it was a grave wake-up call that changed the face of international interventions permanently. According to the BBC, “The sight of dead US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu was a turning point in one of the United States’ most high-profile interventions in Africa.” (BBC, 2017)

Although, the United States’ original goal in providing humanitarian aid to Somalia did constitute right intent, and although its first interventions seem to have been just and necessary, it’s decision to engage in mission shifting ultimately made its actions less justifiable under the Just War Theory. The actions it took which were not guided by right intent, not necessarily taken as a last resort and not necessarily made with the same authority as the first, led to unnecessary death and destruction. Holistically, then, the United States’ decision to become involved in Somalian affairs was not just under Just War theory.

  • BBC. (2017, February 01). Black Hawk Down: The Somali battle that changed US policy in Africa. Retrieved from BBC.com: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-38808175/black-hawk-down-the-somali-battle-that-changed-us-policy-in-africa
  • Fieser, J., & Dowden, B. (2010). Just War Theory. Retrieved from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/
  • O’Rourke, L. (1992, December 04). Clinton endorses Bush plan to send troops to Somalia. Santa Maria TImes, p. 12.
  • Wines, M. (1992, December 5). MISSION TO SOMALIA; Bush Declares Goal in Somalia to ‘Save Thousands’. The New York Times.