Monday, 4 February 2013

The Appropriate Response to Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia

 The cost of piracy isn't reflected in the reports. It never will be, until those who are compiling the figures start to assess the damage being done to Somali society, to the young men who face a life of violent criminality, to the communities and civilians who have to suffer the lack of opportunity, employment and self development because of piracy. The response of the international community to piracy in the Gulf of Aden will be one of the defining points of the 21st century. It will stand as a measure of the vision, values and empathy of civilisation today.

Somalia, the primary source of pirates in the region, has suffered the breakdown of governance and infrastructure which underpin society since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. This power vacuum has led to a situation of lawlessness and hopelessness for the Somali people. Long-lasting periods of armed conflict in the wake of the governmental collapse in the 1990’s have exposed portions of the population to militarization, which exacerbates radical behaviour such as piracy. UN intervention failed to provide the consistent peace-keeping measures that were seen in Kosovo or the Lebanon, which led to a structured recovery of affairs. These multiple factors have contributed to a situation from which piracy can evolve.    

The absence of governance which could provide the necessary social infrastructure such as education, employment and welfare are lacking and allow the spread of piracy. The current political situation contributes to instability. The separatist Somaliland in the northern area of the country has made attempts to appear as a legitimate state in the eyes of the international community. However, the al-Shabaab led regions of the south facilitate and contribute to the problems of piracy. The tribal regions of Puntland directly benefit from the finance which piracy provides, which incentivises this behaviour for these groups. Support and recognition for Somaliland may provide the necessary state structure from which sustainable development can occur.

The developed nations of the world have so far behaved in a reactionary manner to these problems. Improvements have been made to the defensive measures provided on board ships transiting high-risk areas, such as the provision of physical defences, armed guards and citadels. These measures have successfully reduced the amount of attacks and hijackings of merchant shipping in the third quarter of 2012. While these are effective from the perspective of the shipping industry, the real issues at stake; the lack of opportunity, famine and crime still plague Somalia.

The calls made in February 2012 by General Håkan Syrén, the chairman of the EU military committee, for land-based military operations offer a one-dimensional response to a multi-faceted problem. An armed response fails to address the legacy issues of the famine of 2011, which killed tens of thousands of people or the separatist or terrorist movements which seek to exploit this instability. A militarised response is likely to further radicalise militant aspects of Somalia while disrupting ordinary life. The EUCAP Nestor operation which aims to improve the naval response from the region will likely require substantial funding from the EU and appears unsustainable. This funding could be better spent on the impoverished, the destitute and the downtrodden; the hungry and poor of Somalia who need a better way of life.

The legislative response from the countries most-affected has been too-slow and lacks the comprehensive, transboundary approach required. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides international legislation for addressing piracy. However, the states in the region lack the physical capacity as well as the procedural mechanisms for trying, imprisoning or rehabilitating pirates. This is coupled with an apprehension by the Indian Ocean states in burdening the political and economic cost of processing piracy. This administrative vacuum contributes to the complications, highlighted by incidents such as what occurred on the MV Enrica Lexie off the coast of India.

The international community’s reaction to the issues of Somalia will stand as testament to wealthy nations’ priorities: the protection of their own interests, or empathising with those facing the greatest challenges and to adequately provide for their needs.