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Alison A. Kaufman
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Piracy in the Horn of Africa region is a growing problem, but its scale should not be overstated.

Speakers cautioned that, while piracy is a serious problem in the region – with 120 confirmed attacks and 43 ships taken in 2008 – it still affects fewer than one-half of one percent of total transits through the area. Several panelists also noted that it is difficult to measure the true impact of piracy on the global shipping industry, and that the economic effects may be relatively minimal. However, when we also consider the psychological strain on ship crews and the political implications of local governments allowing piracy to flourish (discussed below), the problem looms far larger.

Curbing piracy is, ultimately, a political dilemma as much as it is a military one.

Participants stressed that, while national militaries have an important role to play in preventing future pirate attacks and stopping those already underway, in the long term the problem can only be solved with an infusion of strong political will. Several speakers blamed the persistence of pirate activity on the combined factors of Somalia’s near-total dearth of domestic governance, the inability or unwillingness of Somali power holders to bring known pirates to justice, and a lack of international consensus on how to deal with perpetrators.

Contributing to anti-piracy operations can bring recognition and prestige to participating nations.

Several participants noted that a desire to enhance international prestige may be one driver for many countries’ participation in anti-piracy operations. Piracy affects the trade and security interests of many nations, and thus participation in HoA anti-piracy operations has become one way for a country to signal both its willingness and its ability to cooperate in issues of international concern. Currently at least a dozen national navies have deployed to the region, in addition to the several multinational coalitions operating there. In a sense, panelists suggested, there is a bandwagon effect: the greater the number of nations that send ships to the region, the more additional nations will also feel compelled to participate in anti- piracy operations.

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  • Pages: 22
  • Document Number: MISC D0020834.A1/Final
  • Publication Date: 5/1/2009
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