Tuesday, April 14, 2009
What to do about piracy
From a recent US Naval Academy Study:
As the rest of the world considers what to do about the increasingly problematic modern Somali pirates, it would behoove us to think beyond superficial and simple naval solutions on the high seas and consider the five factors underlying the long and productive careers of the Mediterranean corsairs. To analyze Somali piracy more deeply and ultimately suppress it, we must ask ourselves these vital questions:
Who are these Somali pirates?
Where do they find recruits, and how many of them are available?
Why do they take up piratical activities?
Do we know the exact number, character, and location of all of their havens?
Are these pirates organized, and if so, how are they organized, and is this organization strong and effective?
Do the Somali pirates enjoy any outside sources of support?states or groups (including terrorist groups) that are providing money, goods, weapons, intelligence, or other help to their cause?
Do these pirates maintain close bonds between one another with a keen sense of solidarity and cohesion, and if so what is the nature of this solidarity, from where does it come, and is it powerful and abiding?
We know some of the preliminary answers to these questions from intelligence gathered by American agencies. Today's Somali pirates are, in general, trained militia fighters based in the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland. They do not call themselves pirates. Organizationally, the piracy is based on the clan system so influential in Somalia. But it is allegedly controlled by elements within the Somali government as well as businessmen in Puntland.
The pirates are based in camps located adjacent to coastal port villages, and they also deploy previously captured ships as sea-going bases, or mother-ships. We do not know how intense the bonds of solidarity are among these raiders, but one would guess that relations are strong since the piracy overlays the indigenous clan system. At this time, analysts discern few clear links to terrorism, but this possible development is of ongoing concern.
The key to eradicating Somali piracy lies in interrupting the larger, complex system that supports it. It is essential that the pirates be intercepted in action on the high seas, and the United States and its allies should continue to meet this objective. However, the situation is more complicated than that, and the longer the system is permitted to stay in place and grow, the more intractable the piracy problem will become.
Possible courses of action include somehow interrupting the flow of recruits (by introducing alternative economic possibilities, for instance), establishing some sort of compelling alternative to the clan system (an action that would weaken the pirates' organizational structure and feeling of solidarity), and eradicating the base camps.
Diligent efforts must also be made to prevent the Somali pirates from acquiring outside sources of sponsorship and support. The danger is that al Qaeda (or some other terrorist group) will seek involvement in the enterprise, especially since Somalia is an Islamic country. Al Qaeda has experience both in international shipping and allegedly the piracy affecting Southeast Asia.
Above all, we must not ignore this contemporary African piracy or underestimate its potential severity simply because we arrogantly assume that pirates in small speedboats (the Somalis' raiding craft of choice) can do little harm. Indeed, one of the vital lessons the history of the golden age of piracy imparts is that pirates can do serious damage with what seem to be unformidable naval assets. As in the case study of the Barbary corsairs, it is ultimately the support system—based on the previously mentioned five fundamental factors—that determines the success of piracy.
Or . . . "We could blow the heads off Muslim teenagers who were just looking to get something to eat and go home" - which is how the media would have framed the US Navy Seals' action on Sunday if George Bush had been President.