More Somalian Pirates in the News
Pirates have seized a supertanker off the coast of Somalia, among other ships. The pirates near Somalia appear to have increased both their reach and sophistication, they have seized ships in blue water, IE far from the coast. I wrote about them recently, but the latest attack, more thought and research, and my discovery of the above graphic inspires me to write again. There have been as many as ninety attacks in the region this year, quite an increase from the year old chart above. (The above chart can be viewed in full here or downloaded here.)
So what the heck is going on in Somalia? Well, for one thing Somalia is a line on the map drawn by the colonial powers, the people living there are primarily loyal to their clan leaders, not to the fictional nation-state of Somalia. The central Somalia government which had been propped up by the Soviet Union collapsed after Soviet support was withdrawn in 1991. Since then Somalia has been a failed state. Though that is misleading. Two large sections of Northern Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland have been de facto independent states since 1991. There’s a few smaller autonomous regions as well, but Somaliland and Puntland are the big two.
In southern Somalia though it’s been more or less civil war since 1991. That would include Mogadishu, at 2 million people Somalia’s largest city and putative capitol. And the site of the infamous Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, known in America as the Black Hawk Down incident. Since then the UN has tried to set up a transitional (that’s a euphemism for foreign imposed) government in Southern Somalia, but the Somalians wanted no part of it. They in fact set up their own government, known as the UIC or Union of Islamic Courts. By June 2006 they had taken control over Mogadishu and most of Southern Somalia, establishing peace and order for the first time since 1991. This period lasted about six months, during which time they pretty much put a halt to piracy as shown by the chart above.
However, the UIC was an Islamic government, and the Bush Administration wasn’t about to tolerate an Islamic government, no matter how much the locals supported it, so they arranged for a proxy invasion by Ethiopian forces to install the UN created transitional government in Mogadishu. The result was a bloody (and predicable) failure, since people rarely if ever want a government imposed by foreign troops. At this point the Ethiopians are trying to save face by bringing in other African “peacekeeping” troops, but the transitional government basically controls nothing and it’s simply a matter of time before the Islamists resume authority. So basically southern Somalia is a lawless mess while the insurgency rages, which has allowed piracy to thrive. In other words, the Bush administration bears some responsibility for creating the current piracy problem, an aspect of the problem the mainstream media doesn’t mention.
And to obscure the situation further, the Saudis are now calling the pirates “terrorists.” No, they are criminals. Granted the Bush administration beat them to the punch by justifying Ethiopia’s invasion on the pretext that the UIC was “allied” with Al Qaeda. No proof was ever offered of this of course. However the Ethiopian invasion and occupation has further radicalized the Islamic insurgents, and when they take over it’s not going to be pretty. It is however their country, and how they run it is their business. In fact when radical revolutionary regimes are recognized and integrated into the world community they eventually mellow. Isolating them and demonizing them just makes things worse.
Moving right along, another point about modern day pirates is that we’re also seeing the result of a world awash in ever more powerful and accessible small weapons. This is a point I should make a dedicated post about: The ability of small groups to fight larger groups is still increasing. This is why military responses to problems like this tend to not work or make things worse, massive firepower is of no use against small nimble units who can target your weakest spots. I expect this trend to continue.
Which isn’t to say that increased naval patrols aren’t a good idea. In fact apparently the Indian navy sank a pirate “mother ship” today, though even if true it doesn’t mean much. This isn’t a Hollywood movie where you blow the bad guys away and everyone goes home and gets laid. Part of the problem is that much of the West’s navies in particular are incredibly expensive war machines designed to fight hypothetical fantasy wars, not pedestrian stuff like patrolling for pirates. Unfortunately throughout much of history that’s what navies have mostly been used for, it’s time to get back to the basics.
My main point is that pirates are a symptom with multiple causes, not just some bad guys we need to hunt down. The only thing that will solve this is re-establishment of law and order in Southern Somalia. And it should be clear by now that it is a solution that can’t be imposed from outside. I’ve even heard people say that “invading Somalia” and “teaching them a lesson” will fix the problem. (Fortunately I’ve had my jaw permanently wired shut to prevent further injury in situations like that.) I mean, apparently they weren’t aware that we did invade Somalia in 2007 and have been teaching them a lesson since…and the result has been…more pirates! Old ideas die hard I guess.
In a final little note, what do the pirates claim? Well, they claim to be the unofficial Coast guard of Somalia and all they are doing is fining western companies for the environmental damage they have done by dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia. It’s a lovely argument because apparently it’s based on the truth, Somalia has been a great spot for illicit dumping for decades for the same reason piracy thrives, it’s a lawless coast. And to be fair a lot of the ransom money is certainly going back into the local Somali economy, so in effect this is a tax on the west. (Though I doubt any of the money is going to environmental clean-up as they claim.) I mention this not because I am defending the piracy, criminal action can almost never be justified no matter how rational the justification, but to show that there are bad guys on both sides of the equation.
(The above image is from a UN publication and is public domain so far as I know. I like it becasue it graphically shows that world events all do tie together and have relationships with each other, problems like piracy don’t exist in isolation.)