Piracy Requires More Than Military Solution, Top Officials Say
(Source: U.S Department of Defense; issued April 18, 2009)
WASHINGTON --- Military force is only part of the solution to the recent wave of piracy in the waters off Somalia, the Pentagon’s top military and civilian officials said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said fighting piracy will require an international effort that includes a whole-of-government approach in addition to military force.

“It’s not just a military solution here,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said in a National Public Radio interview today.

Pirates have attacked at least three ships recently in the waters off Somalia and Yemen, and Dutch marines rescued 20 Yemeni fishermen after their boat was hijacked and used as a mother ship for Somalis operating against an oil tanker.

More than 80 attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Aden and waters adjoining Somalia have taken place this year. Though war ships from 16 nations are in the region, Mullen said, it is impossible to have ships everywhere in a 1.1 million-square-mile-area.

“There are an awful lot of ships, and the number of Navy ships we have out there cannot cover the water,” Mullen said. “Nor would increasing that number dramatically cover the water.”

At the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., yesterday, Gates said shipping companies have a responsibility in helping to combat piracy off Somalia, noting that some companies are prepared to pay ransoms to pirates as part of the cost of doing business.

“Clearly, if they didn't pay the ransoms, we would be in a stronger position,” the secretary said.

Somali pirates currently hold 15 ships and about 280 hostages. Piracy has become a business for Somalis, who live in a failed state.

“The impact of the dollars that these pirates get in their villages and for the individuals involved is staggering, because their home villages are unspeakably poor,” Gates said in Newport. “And the infusion of millions of dollars into them, and the corruption and everything else makes it a very attractive career field for a lot of poor young men who have no prospects.” And desperation on the ground will continue to make piracy attractive, Gates added.

“It’s a complex problem, and I think it involves both a maritime aspect that involves enforcement and a kinetic aspect,” he said. “But I think until we can do something to provide some kind of stability on land and some prospects for these people, it's going to be a tough problem.”

On NPR today, Mullen said more needs to be done to punish piracy. “In the end, this is a crime, and it needs to be prosecuted in a court,” he said. “The only country the United States has an agreement with is Kenya, where we have transferred pirates that we’ve captured. That part of the system has to be more robust than it is right now.” (ends)

Somali Piracy: Not Just A Naval Problem (excerpt)
(Source: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis; issued April 17, 2009)
The hijacking of the 17,000 ton container ship Maersk Alabama off the Indian Ocean coast of Somalia on April 8th, 2009 was the first occasion when a US-flagged ship with a US crew had been captured by Somali pirates. If this had been an ordinary ship the expectation would have been that the ship and its crew would have been held for months beyond hope of rescue or retaliation waiting for a substantial ransom to be paid.

Thanks to the effort that Maersk Lines had put into planning for such an eventuality, the courage and determination of the American crew in recapturing their ship, and the accuracy of the sharpshooters firing from the moving deck of the USS Bainbridge who killed three of the pirates holding the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, in a lifeboat, this was not an ordinary hijacking. Instead, it was one of the shortest ever recorded.

This incident was but one in a long history of predation off the coast of this unfortunate country where poor people are ill served by poor government. It presents the Obama administration with the opportunity to place the question of Somalia’s future much closer to the top of the US’s foreign policy agenda.1 Somalia is important because its prevailing lawlessness makes it vulnerable to exploitation by violent Islamist groups that desire to use it as a base to destabilize other states in a region that borders a geo-strategically vital waterway.

The risk, however, is that any action that is taken will be doomed to failure unless the administration places this single piratical act in proper perspective.

The nature and purpose of piracy in the past and piracy today are indistinguishable. The casual factors remain the same: large sea spaces that defy easy application of legal restraint, favorable geography, weak or compliant states that provide sanctuary, corrupt officials and political leaders who can benefit from and protect piracy, conflict and economic disruption that open markets for stolen goods, and the promise of reward from the proceeds extracted from the sales of rich cargoes or the ransoms paid for seafarers lives. These factors, which are present today in Somalia, are different only in detail from the factors that drove Chinese, Mediterranean or Atlantic piracy in the past.

In the end, states individually and collectively that determine whether piracy flourishes or fails.2 The complicating factor in the case of Somali piracy is the presence on land of Islamist terrorists.

Piracy Is Not The Problem – Politics Is

The highest costs of piracy to Somalia and much of the international community are political not economic. Critically, the problem of piracy in which, as the UN reports, officials at all levels in Puntland are apparently complicit, should not blind the US government to the overriding political objective. The problem is to find a workable solution for the underlying political problem rather than mistakenly focusing on the narrower issue of securing sea lanes or protecting merchant shipping. The assault on the Maersk Alabama should spur greater political engagement and not be used as an excuse for reinforcing ultimately futile naval activity.

Why Somali Piracy Is Different

Piracy is a crime of opportunity. It is an economically motivated activity conducted either by gangs of petty thieves who steal ships’ property or by organized criminals who steal whole ships for their cargo and in many cases kill whole crews to prevent them from interfering. Somali pirates are very different: in their model it is the crew who are valuable not the ship or its cargo; their aim is to exploit the difference between the marginal value placed on human life in Somalia and its value in the outside world. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full paper (5 pages in PDF format) on the CSBA website.


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