Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How to Beat the Somali Pirates

EagleSpeak yesterday presented an exceedingly lucid perspective on measures that could be emplaced to deter further attacks by pirates off the Horn of Africa, promulgating the idea of increased use of convoys to protect commercial ships in the region. Some shippers are already doing so, but a greater use of this time-tested process could definitely help alleviate future attacks.

There are many ideas being put forth about how to address the situation in the waters off the Horn of Africa, and before I add my own thoughts to EagleSpeak's opinions, I'd like to comment on a piece posted on the Foreign Affairs website by blogger Elizabeth Dickinson. Entitled "Pirates on a spree", it sums up what a number of people are feeling, especially in light of the hijacking of at least five vessels in the last two days. However, in my estimation she only gets things about half right.

Dickinson wonders,"How are a bunch of former fisherman (sic) defeating the world's navies?", which is wholly incorrect. Somali pirates are by no means defeating navies, for they go out of their way to avoid encounters with warships patrolling the region's seas. Indeed, pirates there are not 'defeating' anyone - they are threatening and attacking mariners in a manner intended to maintain the inflow of money to the various gangs and warlords who control these criminal ventures. Unlike, for instance, terrorist groups, pirates do not wish to defeat or vanquish an enemy; they wish to exploit a resource - ships and seafarers - on an ongoing basis.

Dickinson also brings up what she calls the "grievance theory", the idea that Somalis are "pissed" about over-fishing and the illegal dumping of toxic waste in the Indian Ocean, though she sums this up with the odd sentence, "Don't dump your waste on Somali soil if you don't want to get wasted at sea, apparently." I'm not sure what she means by that, but, regardless, the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (known as IUU), and the dumping of toxic waste, is nothing new to the seas off Somalia. These activities go back well over a decade and have, at times, been done with the complicity of Somali warlords. You simply can't extract bribes, or "permits", on the one hand and then decry the despoiling that comes from allowing such activities on the other. If Somalis were out patroling their maritime economic zone and protecting fishing vessels - their own and foreign - or detering waste dumpers by reporting their activitiesto the international community, that would be an entirely different matter. But the cloak of environmental protectors sometimes put forth just doesn't fly with me.

However, Dickinson is spot on when she says that Somali pirates are venturing further offshore to avoid naval patrols and are continuing to pirate because there's no other viable, economic option available. But, most importantly, she offers a view I've already taken about the confusion arising from so many nations sending so many vessels into the foray.

To add to EagleSpeak's views, I would suggest that we need a more comprehensive and organized international response to piracy off the Horn of Africa. This is the only situation in current times in which such disparate elements as NATO, the EU, Russia, China and India have shown a willingness to work together to combat a low-level conflict, which is what piracy is. But the command and control structures are overlapping, reducing overall capabilities. It is vital that this be addressed.

And as to the big issue - dealing with the land-based commanders who send pirates out - it is clear that no one wants to send troops into Somalia itself. So, instead, I offer the suggestion that the international community work with the younger generation of Somalis, many of whom live in the West and hold little fondness for their elders, the members of the TFG and other groups that have done little to provide leadership in Somalia.

Two opportunities exist to augment convoys and patrolling warships: A more effective, coordinated multinational leadership and support for the younger generation of Somalis willing to put aside the sins of their fathers. Somalia today is a litmus test of how the international community can address age old problems in a completely modern, 21st century manner. To be sure, commercial shipping is being affected by the plight of piracy, but there are currently no other strategic imperatives there which might diffuse political objectives, such as oil, gas or terrorists. But there is the potential to suppress piracy in the seas off the Horn and support East African security without adding Somalia to the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unaddressed, though, Somalia's criminal elements will prove far more costly to us than any ransom ever paid.

1 comment:

Wintermute said...

Carrot and stick tactics. Lie offshore and flatten one pirate enclave then offer a truce. The Western powers are too timid to pursue such measures but soon China will not only rule the waves but also fill the much - needed role of de facto colonial master in much of Africa and the piracy will be met with unstoppable force.