Somalia’s Piracy Dilemma

Earlier this week I requested a book to review on Somali piracy as part of my naval history book review series, written by the former commander of the Task Force 151 who led a multinational fleet to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, a strategic but also highly unstable part of the world. It just so happened that after I made this request I received an article from Stratfor [1] dealing with the expensive but diminishing threat of Somali piracy. It is worthwhile to discuss these matters, as dealing with piracy is a much larger strategic dilemma for Somalia than would appear to be the case at first blush.

Puntland is a semi-autonomous region of Somalia between the independent but unrecognized nation of Somaliland to the west and the core of Somalia to the south. Puntland’s poverty and lack of development (along with the lack of strong central government) have contributed to the rise of piracy along its coastal regions. Somali governments have generally (and sensibly) chosen to focus on the core regions of the ports of Mogadishu and Kismayo in the south, where the majority of the people live and where economic prospects are somewhat brighter. Given very limited resources, the new federal government has made the same decision as governments before (including the rather weak Transitional Federal Government) and focus resources and attention on the core region of Somalia, such as it is. This means that resources have not been given to develop Puntland or to help its regional government to eradicate piracy by attacking its land bases.

There are reasons for this. For one, Puntland as a region neither lacks a strong commitment to being a good province of Somalia nor does it wish to be totally independent. The leaders of Puntland appear to harbor ambitions of leading Somalia, and resources that increase their power could very easily and very quickly be used against the same Somali government that provided that aid to them. Puntland at present lacks the resources (or the will) to tackle piracy from the land side, and its threat to the stability of Somalia as a whole (given that it has common enemies in both independent Somaliland as well as the core region of Somalia). And it is unlikely that resources will be given to Puntland to pursue its present policy of seeking the freedom of autonomy within Somalia without desiring the responsibilities of independence.

So, for now, the international community (whether we are dealing with the US-led fleet, an Arab-led flotilla, the Indian fleet, or the EU fleet) has done the next best thing and pursued a sea-based policy that has focused on convoys and on putting armed guards on ships at considerable expense. The pirate craft are not particularly robust, and so far a ship with armed guards has so far managed to avoid being taken by the Puntland pirates, but at the same time the costs of arming a large amount of ships is greater than the cost of ransom as piracy has declined, though the price of security is a more regular and easier to plan expense. This makes it an attractive option for regular budgeting.

But as long as the pirates have bases on the shore to protect their ships, store their ransom victims, and return to lick their wounds after failed attempts to take ships, the threat of piracy will continue in the Gulf of Aden at the base of the Red Sea. Too many ships travel through the region for the threat to be totally overcome merely from the sea without boots on the ground. And the strength to stop piracy from the land would also give Puntland the strength to either resist or try to dominate the Somali national government, as well as threaten its neighbor in Somaliland. So, it would appear that the threat of Somali piracy is being allowed to continue because the alternatives are even worse, for the moment. Policies are not made in a vacuum, and the greater strategic dilemma of a powerful Puntland makes a few pirates a much smaller problem to deal with, for the moment at least.

[1] http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/expensive-diminishing-threat-somali-piracy?utm_source=freelist-f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20121108&utm_term=sweekly&utm_content=title&elq=0a7646eb33b141a2a9d4ee00c8ce1a66

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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