November 20, 2008

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, discusses the recent uptick in piracy off the Somali coast and calls for “effective steps” to respond to the challenge.

After analyzing both the origins of the problem and the implications of recent developments like the seizure of the supertanker MV Sirius Star earlier this week, Dr. Pham, who has followed this issue for some time, acknowledged that “there are too few naval resources in the region and those that are present have had their hands full.” Consequently, he argues the private sector might offer some assistance:

Commercial shipping might want to consider how to better prepared to protect itself. While some owners have invested in alarm systems, close-circuit television, electric fences, and even an occasional guard to counter the threat to their vessels, unfortunately many have done little aside from being prepared to pay ransoms which only perpetuate the cycle of violence. Instead, ship owners’ associations and seamen’s unions, both of which hitherto have limited their collective action to appeals for someone to “do something,” would do well to spend their energies developing, in consultation with security professionals, minimum safety and security protocols for their activities in these dangerous waters…

International relief organizations might also consider the merits of not having to rely on ad hoc appeals for security assistance from national militaries… It would be better all the way around if the uncertainty surrounding security for critical humanitarian operations could be eliminated and, hence, the gaps in food and other deliveries avoided altogether.

The Republic of Somaliland, too, cut off from direct military-to-military assistance because of its unrecognized status in the international community, might also find in the private sector the technical and logistical assistance it needs to continue to maintain its waters off its 740-kilometer coastline on the Gulf of Aden free of the maritime outlaws from its neighbor to the east.

The commentary concludes:

Of course, it needs to be clearly understood that having the private security sector fill the gap between such responses conventional military forces are willing and able to provide and the rather limited capacities of the commercial shipping industry is, at most, an interim solution, not a long-term fix…However, in the midst of the tempest brewing off the Horn of Africa, anything that calms the waters, however slightly, represents significant progress.

To read the full text of the article, “As Somali Pirates Raise Stakes, Effective Measures Needed,” click here.