Suits Before Boots: Diplomacy Over Militarism in Somalia (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Emma Sanderson, Fall 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

American foreign policy in Somalia has failed. For years the United States has been entrenched in a counterterrorism campaign against al-Shabaab, Somalia’s most prominent militant group. Today, the U.S. war in Somalia offers a clear example of what happens when Washington leads with its military despite mounting costs, with little to show in curbing insurgency or achieving greater U.S. national security. The root causes of conflict in Somalia require a new approach. 

The United States must reassess its mission in Somalia and recognize that its current strategy sustains the cycle of conflict and hinders stability. This will require Congress to take hard steps toward increasing transparency and oversight. Washington must reprioritize its foreign policy, opting for diplomatic solutions to Somalia’s political and governance problems with the objective to end military commitments and encourage self-sufficiency.

The United States’ presence does not inherently guarantee a functioning Somali government or an autonomous security force, but it is clear that sticking with the same military-led strategy will not deliver those results. If the U.S. reorients its policy toward a diplomatic approach that engages Somali leaders and civilians on reconciliation and reform, it has the potential to resolve key issues driving al-Shabaab’s insurgency.