The Problems of Doing Good: Somalia as a Case Study in Humanitarian Intervention (Case Study #18)


In 1991, the decision to send US troops on a humanitarian mission to help relieve famine in Somalia raised hopes for a new era of American global leadership. A fateful misstep occurred, however, when American officials fell to the temptation of expanding the mission to address Somalia's wider political and economic problems, setting their troops on a collision course with powerful Somali forces. As in Vietnam, the United States was unable to translate its overwhelming technological superiority over ragtag forces into either a military or a political victory.

After billions of dollars in military spending and the loss of 30 American lives, was the intervention worth it? Did the US have a moral obligation to help Somalia, and was the use of military force justified? And why was Somalia selected for intervention, when there are so many areas of the globe in crisis?

This case study examines these questions from a variety of perspectives, from that of the realist, who argues that the US must be selective and tough minded in choosing priorities—to the globalist, who believes that global order and global standards are essential to American national interest.

To purchase this case study, go to the GUISD Pew Case Study Center.