Over the past week, there has been a rash of maritime hijackings off the East African coast after what had been something of a lull. But New Atlanticist readers were not surprised.
The recent hijacking of a 20,000 ton German container ship in the Indian Ocean, a 32,000 ton UK-owned, Italian-operated bulk carrier and today’s seizure of the 17,000 ton Maersk Alabama, a Danish-owned, US-operated container ship with reportedly 20-21 American crew members aboard that occurred hundreds of miles off the Somali coast, highlights the fact that piracy remains a viable (some would argue thriving) enterprise.
For the last six months, Atlantic Council resident and non-resident scholars, staff writers and senior fellows have covered the piracy crisis arguing that despite the best coordinated and uncoordinated efforts of the NATO, the EU and the international community, the scourge of Somali piracy will not go away by beefing up the maritime at-sea forces. Instead, we have argued that the problem is shore-based where the pirates enjoy unfettered sanctuary. In short, maritime shock and awe won’t solve the problem. We thought it would be interesting for our readership if we re-introduced our readership to a few of our writers’ articles. We aren’t doing this to see who got it right or to say that “We told you so”, but to show an evolution of the piracy problem and to how the international community has thus far dealt with it.
In a September piece titled “The Challenge of Somali Piracy,” James Madison professor Peter Pham lays out the problem. He argues that piracy is big business and it should come as no surprise that in the poor, unstable and under-governed regions of East Africa, the enterprise is growing. In a follow-up piece called “Piracy’s Silver Lining?” he argued that the crisis provided “An opportunity for Russia and the West to work together.”
In “Learning from the Barbary Pirates,” Council senior advisor Robert Manning notes that “we’ve been through this movie before” and argues that the “challenge – and opportunity – now is to create and sustain a large-scale, coordinated, multilateral maritime presence able to put these thugs out of business. Coordinated, standing patrols based on a division of labor covering much of the pirates operating area could really make a difference.” Contributing editor and Naval War College professor Derek Reveron expanded on that idea in “Blue Helmets and Gray Hulls: The Need for Maritime Peacekeeping.”
A far different approach is advocated by Council senior fellow James Easaw in “Maritime Shock and Awe Won’t Fix Piracy“ and “The End of Piracy: Can NATO Contribute?” The active duty Navy commander (speaking, of course, only for himself) argues that the plethora and proliferation of NATO, EU and combined international task forces that operate primarily at sea, cannot solve a problem that originates on land.
Reveron emphatically agrees, arguing in “Just Say No to a War on Piracy” that the ocean is simply too vast to solve the problem by simple patrols. He argues, “Instead of focusing on military solutions to a non-military problem, it’s essential to understand how and why out of work Somali fisherman, thugs, and businessmen can challenge traditional concepts of security. To stop piracy, these relationships need to be broken by some combination of ending illegal fishing and bringing stability to Somalia.”
David Sagunsky, then a graduate student at NWC, argued in his December piece “Improving Our Maritime Vision” that we must vastly increase our resources for monitoring illegal activities at sea, particularly the Automated Information System.
In “Somali Piracy: Trouble on the High Seas” and “EU Piracy Force Given Green Light to Sink Ships,” associate editor Peter Cassata chronicled a few of the significant changes in the evolution of the effort to combat piracy off the Somali Coast.
Of course, there are other articles that the Council has published on this topic and we’ve taken the liberty of providing those as part of this special feature. And, as always, we welcome your feedback.
Atlantic Council managing editor James Joyner compiled this piece based on a draft by Atlantic Council senior fellow James Easaw.