Piracy Prescience

First of all, I was right: those pirates who tried to hijack the U.S. ship (and probably many others besides); they were kids. Which just might make it a bit more complicated to prosecute the one who survived.

And, echoing the comment that drew loud applause from a Somali audience at a conference last month, the country’s prime minister is now basically saying, just give us some money, and we can get the pirates on our own. (For what it’s worth, the president of Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland government already said that he’d take care of that whole piracy thing.) This seems all well and good, and it would probably prove much less expensive than mounting a complex international response that is essentially a band-aid solution. Somalia, though, without even much of a police force, certainly can’t be expected to provide the naval battalions that, even if they are only addressing a symptom, not the cause, of the problem, still provide some necessary security and reassurance for ships out there.

I’m all for supporting the Somali government as a way of rooting out the domestric problems that lead to piracy, but I’m not sure I’d trust it to take out “pirates” on land. That can easily become a label for other such targets, and, anyway, it’s not actually always that easy to tell who’s a pirate. Rather than just give money for pirate-hunters, countries should make serious long-term investments in Somalia’s state institutions and help strengthen its rule of law and justice system. Rebuilding infrastructure will create jobs, helping the Somali government deliver services will shore up its legitimacy and aid the population, and enforcing laws — such as bans on the illegal fishing and toxic dumping that directly spurred the early vigilante piracy — will push people back into legal lines of work. At the same time, Somalia’s humanitarian crisis needs to be taken care of, and its continuing political reconciliation needs to be dealt with very carefully. Bombs, it should go without saying, should be avoided.

Another bad idea — at this stage, at least — would be sending a UN peacekeeping force to Somalia.  The troop commitments would be hard to muster, and the presence of the blue helmets would likely only galvanize hardline Somali militants and further destabilize the country (see here for more on why this would be a counter-productive move).  The Secretary-General is scheduled to release a report today on the possibility, and so far he’s acknowledged that the conditions are not exactly ripe.

In other news, the score is now U.S. ships 2, pirates 0. Unfortunately, as the Greeks, Togolese, Liberians, and Egyptians can now attest to, the global scoreboard is a bit more lop-sided in the other direction.

UPDATE: The smart folks at Information Dissemination and Danger Room are taking the “Sons of Somalia” idea seriously.

(image of African Union peacekeepers in Somalia, from flickr user ISN Security Watch under a Creative Commons license)