Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meetings Don't Make A Strategy

The four new steps the State Department will undertake as part of its counter-piracy initiatives are to hold meetings--with allies, partners, Somalis and industry.

I realize that politicians want to show how they are "doing something" but these meetings should have already been taking place. Why wasn't piracy a front-and-center issue at the NATO summit? Don't we already have quasi-diplomatic contacts with the separatist governments in Somalia (perhaps we don't).

The real challenge begins when the meetings are done. We've already had discussions about increasing the multilateral effort, about more countries prepared to prosecute pirates, about what industry should be doing. What happens if/when others don't step up to the plate? That's the eventuality we need to be planning for.

A lot of commentary and analysis regarding piracy look back to the US experience with the Barbary Pirates in the late 18th and 19th century. There are great stories of heroism and the apt lesson that paying tribute buys nothing besides further trouble. But nobody points out that the problem persisted despite increasing applications of force by the US and other powers. The Royal Navy essentially flattened Algiers with an expedition in the 1810s. But only when governments exercised authority over territories where they claimed sovereignty did piracy end. Outsiders may have warned governments to clean up the mess or face intervention, but denying pirates bases from which to operate marked the key step. Now this part of the story leads to the problem with failed states, and that's a lot harder to solve.
The solution that seems most reasonable to me is to station the maritime equivalent of air marshals on board vulnerable merchant ships. This could be done on all U.S. flag vessels that transit the area.
Mr Billington

That's what I suggested in my other comment to the Somali piracy problem post.

I described it at some length.

Actually, your proposal of stationing marines on ships for transiting the area is different (I would have armed marshals on board all the time). But if what you propose has been successful at reducing piracy in the Straits of Malaccca, then it may be a better solution for having been tested.
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