April 2, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, argues that a recent string of attacks indicate that “the Somali pirates have hardly been cowed by the international naval presence” and “have simply shifted their operations to areas which they know are not being patrolled, with strikes increasing taking place on the high seas.”

Moreover, after reporting the latest additional force deployments to the area, Dr. Pham contends that “the increased international naval presence in the waters of the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the western Indian Ocean actually heightens” risks:

First, there is a risk of a naval incident involving the various vessels and flotillas operating in a relatively tight area—most of the patrols have been concentrated in the Gulf of Aden—and each following different and often contradictory rules of engagement. …it is a tribute to the professionalism of the naval officers on all sides that nothing untoward…has yet occurred during the counter-piracy operations.

Second, there is the risk of a terrorist incident targeting the naval vessels… There are already indications that…al-Shabaab is in fact developing a primitive maritime capacity… would it be too far-fetched to imagine the temptation which the assembling fleet must present…[even] before al-Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden weighed in?

After commenting on the implications United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendation that the international community build up local coast guard capacity and offering his suggestion on how it might be practically implemented, Dr. Pham concludes:

The Secretary-General’s recommendation is highly significant in that the pragmatic path it advocates—privileging the allocation of resources to effective and legitimate local actors who recognize the challenge that the piracy poses to their own interests and are willing to work against it—is not only the one most likely to most likely deter the pirates from their marauding, but also the approach that holds the most promise of reducing the chaos in the Somali lands which, alongside the opportunity for unimaginable wealth, is the principal driving force behind the ongoing attacks on the seas off the Horn of Africa.

To read the full text of the article, “Somali Pirates Undeterred by Naval Build-up, but Risks Heightened,” click here.