Journal of Strategic Studies 43(3), 2020, pp. 341-65.
The conventional wisdom about the 1992 US intervention in Somalia is that it was a quintessentially humanitarian mission pushed by President George H. W. Bush. This article challenges that interpretation, drawing on newly declassified documents. The Somalia intervention, I argue, was largely a pragmatic response to concerns held by the US military. In late 1992, as the small UN mission in Somalia was collapsing, senior American generals worried about being drawn into the resulting vacuum. Hence they reluctantly recommended a robust US intervention, in the expectation that this would allow the UN to assemble a larger peacekeeping force that would take over within months. The intervention ultimately failed, but the military learned useful lessons from this experience on how to achieve smoother UN handoffs in the future and thus effectively shift longer-term stabilisation burdens to the international community.