The Security Council today passed a resolution authorizing the use of land-based measures to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. Unanimously adopted after a three and a half hour meeting in New York, resolution 1851 (2008) states, in part, that "States and regional organizations cooperating in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off Somalia’s coast - for which prior notification had been provided by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government to the Secretary-General - could undertake all necessary measures “appropriate in Somalia”, to interdict those using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake such acts."
On the surface, this says that military forces could be deployed ashore in order to engage pirates and their supporters in the various havens from which they have been mounting attacks on shipping (including the reported hijacking of two more vessels today, a tugboat and a cargo ship). However, resolution 1851 (2008), like previous pronouncements, does not allow for unilateral actions by foreign powers into Somalia's sovereign territory. Instead, the internationally-recognized governing structure, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), must still give permission for any actions in the country.
However, sources tell me that the TFG may be much more willing to now allow military operations, as they face increasing pressure from the international community to do something about the problem of regional piracy. But the TFG's power base in Somalia is currently tenuous, at best, in the face of other governing entities, insurgent groups and criminal gangs who hold sway over large parts of the country. If the use of foreign military forces against pirate gangs becomes a mere means to prop up the TFG, the long-term solution to the problem will linger.
As the resolution also states, "The need to address the root of the piracy problem - namely the poverty and lawlessness that had plagued Somalia for decades - and to not look at it through the prism of international trade alone was also emphasized." While many in the international community do, in fact, worry about the impact of Somali piracy on seaborne trade, the UN is emphasizing the regional security issues that engender maritime crime. Both are important.