Tag Archives: piracy

Combating Piracy Through Development

somali-piratesThe International Maritime Bureau on Thursday reported a sharp decline in piracy on the world’s seas. While the movie Captain Phillips—telling the 2009 story of Captain Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates—receives best picture attention, the reality of global piracy is that it is at its lowest levels in more than six years.  In 2013, there were 264 attacks against merchant shipping vessels, resulting in 12 vessels being hijacked. This represents a 40 percent decline from the 2011 peaks.

The decline in piracy has been driven by several factors. Increased naval patrols by the United States, the European Union, and others in Gulf of Aden and other key waterways combined with a greater investment in security and countermeasures by global shipping companies has deterred some attacks. But increasing political stability and economic development in Somalia has also been critical. In 2010, 49 of the 53 ships hijacked around the world were taken off the coasts of Somalia. The country lacked any central government and was ruled—to the extent that it was ruled—by competing warlords. Fishing communities lacked any options for eking out a living, and thus turned to piracy. Today, the country has a fragile but existing government and is working with other countries in the region to establish itself. Things, in short, are moving in the right direction. And as a result, many who formerly viewed piracy as a means of survival are finding other options available to them. In other words, two of the key factors in combating Somali piracy were political stability and economic development.

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Solving the Somali Pirate Problem

(Courtesy French Defense Ministry)

Danuel Sekulich’s Modern Day Pirates blog had an interesting proposal for dealing with the piracy challenge in Somalia. It’s pretty simple, actually. Sekulich proposes establishing a moratorium on foreign fishing within Somalia’s exclusive economic zone. According to Sekulich, this “would allow Somali fishermen who claim to have turned to piracy because of the foreign fishers to be allowed to work in safety. And it would undermine any of the claims being put forth that Somali pirate gangs are somehow ‘defending’ their own people.”

Sekulich’s proposal is useful because it addresses the underlying reasons for piracy. Many Somalis turn to piracy out of poverty. They are former fisher people who, as a result of the dumpling of waste and overfishing off the Somali coast, have turned to piracy as a way to earn a living. United Nations backed naval patrols may increase the cost of piracy, but it will not end the practice. Only providing an alternative to piracy will. It’s a parallel situation to the challenge of the opium trade in Afghanistan. And it’s a great example of the interaction of environmental degradation and national security.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Debates over Wall Street compensation reemerged on the national stage last week, as the government urged companies that received federal assistance under the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) limit executive compensation. On Thursday, the Federal Reserve issued draft rules governing compensation for companies that have not repaid TARP assistance. Under the new rules, the companies would be required to demonstrate that their compensation packages do not encourage excessive risk-taking. In an interview with the Financial Times, George Soros weighed in on the debate, calling Wall Street’s profits this quarter “hidden gifts” from the U.S. government. He commented that, “Those earning are not from the achievement of risk-takers. These are gifts, hidden gifts, so I don’t think that those monies should be used to pay bonuses. There’s a resentment which I think is justified.”

Meanwhile, concerns over the spread of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus continue to grow. On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a declaration of “national emergency” to combat the flu. Under the declaration, hospitals eases some restrictions on hospital operations, giving them additional powers to treat the flu. 

In news from outside the United States last week:

1. German Chancellor Angela Merkel formally announced her new coalition agreement on Saturday. There were few surprises, as Merkel’s center right Christian Democrats allied with the liberal Free Democratic Party. The coalition contract included a promise to pass a €24 billion tax cut for poor and middle-income Germans and will reform inheritance laws. Under the new coalition agreement, Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the Free Democrats, will assume the post of foreign minister. The Christian Democrat’s Wolfgang Schäuble, a strong fiscal conservative, will become finance minister.

2. In two separate attacks, two car bombs exploded outside government buildings in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, killed more than 130 people and injuring more than 500. The attacks were the deadliest in more than two months. Iraq had been enjoying a period of relative stability, as Western-backed tribal leaders had pushed al Qaeda militants into the margins. But U.S. officials contend that Iraq may be entering a period of increased violence, as militants attempt to reignite sectarian violence ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

3. Negotiations intended to resolve the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program appear to have stalled. The talks, which were reopened early last week, were intended to develop an agreement which reduced Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), building upon an agreement reached earlier this month under which Iran agreed, in principle, to send some of its estimated 1,200 kg of LEU to Russia and France, which would convert the fuel into medical isotopes before sending it back to Iran. But after Iran failed to meet a Friday deadline, the United States warned that it would be willing to wait for a few more days, but cautioned that its patience was limited. Iran’s current stockpile, if enriched, could provide enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

4. Figthing between Somali insurgents and African Union (AU) peacekeepers broke out in Mogadishu on Thursday, killing at least 30 people. According to witnesses, militants attacked using mortars as Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was leaving the country for a meeting in Uganda. AU forces responded with artillery fire. More than 19,000 civilians have been killed, and an estimated 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes since 2007 as a result of ongoing fighting in Somalia, which has made the country a center for international piracy and terrorism.

5. The government of Brazil on Tuesday imposed a two percent tax on some capital inflows into the country. The decision, which as intended to slow the increase in the value of the real, Brazil’s currency, which had already increased more than 36 percent against the U.S. dollar this year. The new tax targets portfolio investment and financial speculation, not productive investment in the country. Nevertheless, the announcement was not well received by the market, and stocks fell sharply after the government made its announcement. But analysts offered a more positive pronouncement. In an editorial comment, the Financial Times described the new tax as “wise,” “sensible,” and “honest.”

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Economic data out this week suggests that the end of the global recession may be nearing. The most recent jobless numbers out of the United States gave economists reason to celebrate, as the unemployment rate declined by 1/10 of a point, leading to a price rally on Wall Street. Germany, which has seen a sharp decline in gross domestic product (glossary) during the global recession, benefitted from an unexpected expansion of exports—7 percent in June. While other countries continue to struggle, including Russia and Iceland, many economists now believe we are seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The trial of dozens of people, including a French national and two Iranians employed in the British and French embassies began in Iran on Saturday. The defendants are charged with espionage and “acting against national security” by taking part in and reporting on post-election protests to Western embassies. Under Iranian law, a conviction on either charge could be punished by death. Several of the defendants have confessed, but Western governments have dismissed the charges as “baseless” and contend the confessions were made under duress. The government of Iran accuses the United States and Britain of interfering in its internal affairs by “proving financial help to Iran’s opposition.” Meanwhile, the trial of 100 opposition leaders continued last week. The opposition leaders have condemned the trials as a spectacle, but the defendants face charges punishable by death. Opposition leaders continue to assert that the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad in June’s disputed presidential election was the result of electoral fraud. Nevertheless, Ahmadi-Nejad was sworn in on Monday.

2. A power struggle inside Taliban in Pakistan emerged over the weekend after the organization’s top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Friday. Mehsud was a powerful figure in the Waziristan district of Pakistan, and Pakistani officials believe he was responsible for nearly all of the major terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the past two years, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the bombing of Marriot Hotel in Islamabad in 2008. Many analysts believe that Mehsud’s death will undermine the ability of the Taliban to operate in Pakistan. Already, political infighting in the Taliban in Pakistan’s leadership has led to the murder of one top leader by another, as Waliur Rehman, a leading contender to lead the organization, killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a rival for the same position. Pakistani intelligence now believes the organization is likely to splinter into several factions, each operating independently, but collectively much weaker than the original organization.

3. Former President Bill Clinton met with North Korean President Kim Jong-il this week, securing the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor for illegally entering the country. The meeting, which the White House maintains was not part of its official diplomatic efforts to address the challenges posed by the North Korean regime, was the highest level contact between the two countries in more than ten years. The Obama administration also reminded North Korea that, despite Clinton’s trip, that the United States will continue its efforts to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on the North Korean state unless it abandons efforts to secure nuclear weapons.

4. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her Africa tour this week, meeting with Kenyan officials on Wednesday. Clinton is hoping to apply pressure on the coalition government to move forward with political reforms intended to bring grater stability to the country and to prevent another flare up of the violence which rocked the country after February’s disputed presidential election.

On Thursday, Clinton met with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the embattled president of Somalia. Clinton used the opportunity to reiterate U.S. support for the Ahmed government, pledging to provide more military and economic assistance as the government continues its battle against Islamist insurgents. Meanwhile, in neighboring Eritrea, President Isaias Afewerki, who is believed to be a supporter of rebel groups in Somalia, dismissed U.S. efforts, saying that it is unrealistic to try and “imposing [a government] that doesn’t exist in reality.” Somalia has long topped Foreign Policy’s list of failed states. The lack of an effective central state has also made the country a haven for pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

5. A series of cyber-attacks aimed at social networking sites last week were believed to be directed at one individual—a blogger posting under the name of Cyxymu Livejournal. The denial-of-service attacks targeted several popular sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the blogging site Livejournal. Cyxymu Livejournal is a critic of Russian policy in the Caucuses, particularly Georgia. According to some sources, the Russian government has used denial-of-service attacks in the past, targeting sites critical of the Russian government in Georgia, Estonia, and Eastern Europe. But if responsible for the most recent round of attacks, this could represent an expansion of the strategy. Leading credence to the theory is the fact that this week marked the one year anniversary of the Russian-Georgian War over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The (Continuing) Problem of Piracy

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a four-point plan for dealing with the continuing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. After a recent increase in attacks, including the much-discussed kidnapping of the captain of the Maersk Alabama, Clinton’s plan is an attempt to develop a more compressive solution to the problem. The Clinton plan includes:

  1. Sending an envoy to the upcoming Somali donor’s conference to develop a plan to improve the situation in Somalia.
  2. Increasing the multilateral response to piracy by expanding U.S. cooperation with the Con tact Group on Piracy Off the Somali Coast (CGPCS).
  3. Encouraging greater criminal prosecution of pirates by the states of the international community.
  4. Eliminating the financial incentive for piracy by tracking and freezing pirates’ assets and by refusing make concessions or pay ransoms for captured prisoners or ships.

The solution to the problem of piracy depends largely on how the problem of piracy itself is framed. Blogging at FP, Elizabeth Dickinson notes that Somalia is quickly becoming one of the world’s largest hostage crises. But in framing the problem primarily as one of criminal activity, she advocates policing solutions. Chris Blattman highlights the problem of incentives—essentially, that piracy pays.  He’s right, but again, this frames the problem as one primarily of criminality, leading again to solutions of increased policing. And at least three of Clinton’s proposals also fall into this camp.

But if we think of piracy as not just an act of criminality but also as a rational decision in the context of the failed Somali state, then solutions to the crisis must extend beyond increasing patrols and prosecutions. Since 1991, Somalia has effectively been without a government, and has instead been ruled by local militias and which have essentially divided the country into their own private fiefdoms. In the absence of a central authority, the formal economy has similarly collapsed, cutting off options for gainful employment for Somalis. In the absence of other options, young men turn to the militias (or piracy) for employment. As long as there remains no other viable options, piracy will continue to be a problem in Somalia. The long-term solution to the problem of piracy thus rests not just in treating it as a simple criminal activity. Any pirates arrested and tried could quickly be replaced from a waiting pool of recruits. Instead, real effort must be made to establish a stable political economy in the country. Unfortunately, this is probably the hardest of Clinton’s four proposals; it is also the most necessary.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to be a problem for the international community. Despite the presence of U.N. sanctioned international forces—which at times has among others involved U.S., E.U., Indian, German, British, French, and Portuguese naval vessels—Somali pirates last week attacked a U.S.-flagged ship and seized control of an Italian-flagged tug. The U.S. navy is engaged in a standoff with pirates who kidnapped the captain of the Maersk Alabama after its crew prevented them from taking control of the ship. In another standoff, French forces stormed a yacht held by pirates on Friday. One hostage and two pirates were killed in the operation.

In news from outside the Gulf of Aden last week:

1. The government of Thailand declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, the country’s capital, on Saturday, hoping to bring to a close the recent uptick in anti-government protest in the country. Under the terms of the state of emergency, the power of the government to arrest and detain people is significantly expanded, and large gatherings are banned. The opposition labeled the state of emergency as “an act of war.” An estimated 80,000 people took to the streets of Bangkok on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has been in office for five months. On Saturday, protestors in the Thai resort town of Pattaya forced the cancellation of a three-day summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations, embarrassing the Thai government.

2. The United Nations Security Council appears to be moving forward with a statement condemning last week’s rocket launch by North Korea. The statement, expected to be approved by the body on Monday, is a compromise between the demands of the United States and Japan for a resolution condemning the launch and China and Russia’s desire for a more cautious approach. Sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council following a North Korean nuclear test in 2006 have not been effectively enforced, but the current statement would permit the Security Council to extend or expand the sanctions.

3. Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru, was sentenced to 25 years after being found guilty of human rights violation on Tuesday. Fujimori was elected president in 1990, but staged in coup in 1992, suspending the constitution and closing down Congress. At the time, the country was engulfed in a civil war, with the government fighting against the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru revolutionary movements. During the war, both sides regularly engaged in kidnapping, murder, and other crimes against humanity. Fujimori was the first democratically elected leader in Latin America to be tried in country for human rights violations and his trial is widely viewed as a potential model for other countries to follow.

4. The trial of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is expected to begin this week. Saberi, who has worked for the BBC, National Public Radio, and Fox News, among others, was arrested by the government of Iran on charges of espionage two months ago. Saberi’s trial would complicate overtures by the U.S. government to enter into formal, country-to-country negotiations with Iran over the status of its nuclear program.

5. Political instability seems to be the rule of the day in the “privileged sphere of influence” claimed by Russia. Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The protests lack a unified theme, but common points of concern include increasing unemployment, Saakashvili’s poor handling of the war with Russia last August, and his attempts to limit the independence of the judiciary. Meanwhile, the constitutional court in Moldova granted Vladminir Voronin’s request to recount ballots from last Sunday’s disputed presidential election. Voronin’s community party won nearly half the popular vote and would get to choose the country’s next president. But anti-communist groups have refused to recognize the outcome and ransacked the president’s offices lat week.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Perhaps the most shocking news from the previous week came in a series of stories and rumors that the U.S. government may move to nationalize some banks in an attempt to address the ongoing global economic crisis.  In an interview on Tuesday, former Federal Reserve Chairman (and ardent free marketeer) commented that, “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.” In the same story, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham concurred, noting, “If nationalization is what works, then we should do it.” Speculation that Citibank and Bank of America may be the first banks to be nationalized drove their stock values down and led to both dramatic selloffs on Wall Street and a sharp increase in the price of gold, normally used to hedge against uncertainty. The events forced the Obama administration to attempt to reassure global markets, as White House Press Secretary Robert Ribbs said, “This administration continues to strongly believe that a privately held banking system is the correct way to go, ensuring that they are regulated sufficiently by this government. That’s been our belief for quite some time, and we continue to believe that.” Remember when the Democrats were the ones who wanted greater government control over the economy, and Republicans opposed such intervention? Seems the global financial crisis makes the conventional wisdom less and less relevant.

Here are five stories from the previous week you might have missed if you’ve been trying to keep the players in the nationalization debate straight:

1. On Friday, the government of Mexico confirmed the country was following the general trend in much of the rest of the world, heading into recession. In the final quarter of 2008, the Mexican economy contracted by 1.6 percent. In an attempt to stimulate the economy, the government cut interest rates. But close ties to the ailing U.S. economy have acted as a drag on the Mexican economy, undermining the ability of the Mexican government to develop an effective stimulus program.

2. The United Nations-backed naval taskforce in the Gulf of Aden appears to have been generally successful in addressing the problem of piracy in the region. A number of U.S. and E.U. naval vessels, as well as ships from several other navies, have been operating off the coast of Somalia in an attempt to curtail the piracy which had become endemic to the region. The government of Somalia remains unable to assert control over its territorial waters, and piracy was one of the few ways in which Somalis were able to earn a living.

3. The government of Pakistan and Taliban fighters in the northwestern part of the country agreed to a “permanent ceasefire” on Saturday.  In exchange for agreeing to the ceasefire, the Pakistani government has offered to reinstate Islamic sharia law in the region. Many observers are concerned that the ceasefire may create a safe haven in Pakistan for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters could regroup.

4. Latvia’s Prime Minister, Ivars Godmanis, became the second victim of the global financial crisis on Friday, as he was forced to resign from office amid widespread popular protest. Like the government of Iceland before it, the Latvian government had been forced by the global economic downturn to launch a series of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund. A number of other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary and Ukraine, have already implemented structural adjustment programs. Several others, including Serbia, Romania, Lithuania, and Estonia, are also seen as vulnerable.

5. The conflict in Sri Lanka continues. After the government had made significant advances into rebel territory over the past several weeks, Tamil Tiger rebels responded on Friday night with a surprise air raid on the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Initial reports indicated that at least 42 people were injured in the attack. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 1983.