The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners thinks that a blockade of Somali ports would be more effective against pirates than shipping escort. The European Community Shipowners Association thinks that air and cruise missile attacks on pirate bases would be even more effective. And the Russians, apparently, believe that direct land-based attacks on pirate strongholds are necessary:
NATO, the European Union and others should launch land operations against bases of Somali pirates in coordination with Russia, the Russian ambassador to NATO said on Wednesday.
Dmitry Rogozin said the view of Russian experts was that naval action alone, even involving a large fleet of a powerful nation, would not be enough to defeat the pirates, given Somalia’s geo-strategic position.
“So it is up to NATO, the EU and other major stakeholders to conduct not a sea operation, but in fact a land coastal operation to eradicate the bases of pirates on the ground,” he said.
Let’s take these in reverse order. The idea of a NATO/EU/Russian invasion of Somalia (which is what ground based attacks would amount to) strikes me as crazy. David Axe:
Please recall that the last time Western troops had a large presence in Somalia, in 1993, 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis died in a brutal gun battle. And much of the bloodshed in Somalia today is an outgrowth of a brutal Ethiopian occupation. Somalia is not the kind of place you invade lightly, and certainly not just to kill a few pirates.
I’m also less than convinced by the airstrike option. Pirates may have offices and known operation centers like everyone else, but I doubt that much organizational capital is tied up in fixed land infrastructure; rather, I suspect that the capital is in ships, human expertise, and organizational/tribal loyalties, the last two of which cannot be easily destroyed with cruise missiles. Striking pirate motherships in port might make some sense, if you could reliably differentiate them from normal shipping. But any such strike would run the risk of civilian casualties, and the piracy problem just isn’t serious enough to take gambles like that.
I don’t know about the close blockade concept; my hunch is that there are too many points of egress on the Somali coast and too few ships to carry out a full blockade. A close blockade would also put naval vessels at risk of attack from small boats; it’s very unlikely that we’d see suicide attacks off Somalia, but I expect that the various navies would be too paranoid about the idea to actually go for it.
Axe gets it right, I think:
Ending piracy means encouraging Somalis to establish law and order on their own territory, while deterring pirates with naval patrols in international waters. An armed invasion would be counter-productive, by exacerbating the present nationalist insurgency and prolonging the country’s instability.