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The US/UN Military Humanitarian Intervention (MHI) in Somalia has given rise to a vast body of writing to which the MHI's relationships with Somalis and the devastating political and moral impact on them have often remained incidental. This article focuses on how the MHI in Somalia, taken as a whole, was unable to keep or enforce peace, failed to benefit the humanitarian wellbeing and human rights of ordinary Somalis and itself caused the latter new violence. With the benefit of hindsight and drawing on recent political and military memoirs, this article analyses how the US leadership of the MHI's first stage (UNITAF or United Task Force) used the discourse of a ‘politics-free’ humanitarianism to pursue policies that empowered Somali perpetrators of crimes against humanity, undermined the wellbeing of common Somalis and set the UN up for failure in the MHI's second stage (UNOSOM or United Nations Operation in Somalia II). It further shows that, during this second stage, the MHI's military dimension came to overwhelm its humanitarian and peace-building focus so that even US/UN drawdown and troop withdrawal rewarded the very Somali perpetrators of crimes against humanity whose violence had provoked the MHI's military overreach and disaster. By evaluating the MHI's actions in and impact on Somalia, and assessing it as a stage in increasingly militarized global approaches to ‘First World’ interventions into ‘Third World’ lives, this article cautions against uncritical support for MHIs as tools for preventing and containing the large-scale violence and human suffering that characterize complex emergencies.


Final draft of manuscript of article published in the Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 15, No. 4, December 2013, pp. 421-442.

Final published version can be found here: