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Maritime Piracy, Somalia and the International Response

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About this Event

26 Jan 2012 @ 12:45

Download the audio podcast of the keynote speech here.

About the Speech:

Roger Middleton described piracy off the coast of Somalia as a cottage industry that has developed into a major concern. A combination of natural and man-made factors – geographical location, extreme poverty and lack of central government – has made Somalia the main growth area for the global phenomenon of piracy, also seen in the Niger delta, the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

With the advent of large ransom payments since 2007-2008 (now averaging $5 million) piracy became the most lucrative career for young Somali men, according to Mr. Middleton. Their adaptability has made a clampdown difficult – when security was tightened in the Gulf of Aden, for example, pirates focused their attacks on the vast Arabian Sea.  The effects are felt not only by the crew of the hijacked merchant ships by way of psychological and physical trauma, but also by the Somali population due to the perpetuation of instability on land and by international business and trade as a result of ransoms payments, costs of employee compensation, insurance premium hikes and delayed delivery of goods.

Mr. Middleton identified three main dimensions of the international response to piracy – naval, legal and political. Naval cooperation in the Horn of Africa region brings together NATO, the EU and a US-led “coalition of the willing” with a host of unlikely military collaborators including China, India, Malaysia and Pakistan. They have had some success in patrolling the Gulf of Aden and ‘blockading’ the Somali coast, but Mr. Middleton underlined that their warships are ill-adapted to policing-style tasks. 

Legally, work is ongoing to establish a framework in international law for prosecuting and imprisoning pirates. Western states have little incentive to arrest and try Somali pirates in their own countries, and have done so almost exclusively when their own citizens have been captured. In some cases the arrested pirates are handed over to the governments of Kenya or the Seychelles, but most frequently they are merely disarmed and released.

Mr. Middleton argued that piracy is essentially a symptom of state collapse in Somalia so therefore the third dimension of the international response must be political. In the north of the country, the region of Somaliland declared independence in 1991 and, although it is not recognised by any state, it has developed its own institutions and held democratic elections last year which resulted in a peaceful handover of power. It has the best functioning governance in the country and few problems with pirates. The neighbouring region of Puntland has not taken control of its territory in the same way and has become a hotbed for piracy. Elsewhere, the Islamist Al Shabaab controls the south of the country while the internationally recognised and funded Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is confined to Mogadishu.

Mr. Middleton described the TFG as being designed outside Somalia and lacking legitimacy on the ground. Yet most international involvement onshore involves supporting the TFG. The EU provides funding for African Union military support to the TFG. It also runs an operation, based in Uganda, to train Somali security forces (EU Training Mission or EUTM). Mr. Middleton pointed out that the operation suffered teething problems, including trainees defecting, but that the situation has improved recently. However, he suggested that it is still problematic to provide military support to a government which does not control the country.

Mr. Middleton laid out a number of elements which he considers essential for a permanent solution to the problem of piracy. He warned against a purely military response. He also called for the political situation in Somalia to be addressed and urged the West not to be too prescriptive about the type of government they wish to see in the country. Up to now there has been insistence amongst the international community that the political solution must be one that the West is comfortable with – Mr. Middleton argued that, in fact, it is far more productive to deal with an unfriendly regime than with a complete power vacuum.

While the situation in Somalia is highly complex, Mr. Middleton did point to limited local successes in cracking down on piracy to demonstrate the potential for progress. He called for flexibility and open-mindedness from the international community to understand why Somalis are involved in piracy and to empower legitimate national actors to build a Somali solution.


About the Speaker:

Roger Middleton is a leading expert on piracy, and from 2007 to 2011 was a consultant on the Chatham House Africa Programme. He will consider the intensification of acts of piracy in the region and beyond, and analyse the legal, military and diplomatic responses from local, regional and international actors.

Theme: Foreign Policy and ESDP 

Views: 3692

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