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IHS Analysis - Politics & Piracy


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Naval participation in counter-piracy operations around the Horn of Africa has been a success, but does this mean a long-term commitment from governments, or will a change in priorities mean that they leave before the situation is solved? IHS Jane's Defence Weekly Naval Editor Dr Lee Willett examines the issues.

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IHS Analysis - Politics & Piracy

  1. 1. IntroductionFor a number of years, the rim of the Indian Ocean hasbeen a source of significant security instability. In theHorn of Africa (HoA) region, this instability has been thesubject of media and analytical focus since initialattempts at international intervention in the early 1990s.However, perhaps not until 2008 and the ascendancy ofpiracy as an international security concern did the regionreceive appropriate levels of international political focus.The pirate threat impacted on global security in a numberof ways, putting at risk World Food Programmeshipments into Somalia, as well as threatening widerinternational shipping and the strategic security of the keyglobal sea lines of communication which cut across theIndian Ocean.Since 2008, the international counter-piracy campaign –headed by a coalition of the world’s navies under thebanners of the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) Operation ‘Atalanta’, NATO Operation ‘OceanShield’ and the United States-led Combined MaritimeForce operations – has wrestled, in an often ugly politicalenvironment, with the challenge of finding a strategicsolution to the piracy problem.In political terms, the navies’ record appears mixed. In thelast two years, the naval task forces together have beenbehind 280 separate disruptions of pirate activity.However, there have been some particularly difficultyears, with attacks peaking in 2011, when attacks andsuccessful hijackings numbered 237 and 28 respectively.By the middle of 2012 and into 2013, however, a numberof different political strings had been tied together togenerate an effective counter-piracy strategy, applied atsea and ashore, which has eliminated almost completely– at least in the short term – the number of successfulattacks. In fact, the last successful hijacking occurred inJuly 2012.April 2013IHSAnalysis: Politics & PiracyDr Lee WillettIHS Janes Defence Weekly© 2013 IHS 1
  2. 2. IHS Analysis: Politics & PiracyThis does not mean that the threat of piracy has beenremoved completely, however. Consideration must begiven to the possibility that a number of the underlyingcauses of piracy remain, and that the problem mayresurface if appropriate levels of international effort do notcontinue to be applied.Naval presence and tacticsAt any one time, perhaps as few as two dozen ships fromthe international naval community have been present onstation in the HoA region. With a requirement to policearound 8.3 million km2of ocean and to be able to reachany ship by sea or air within 20-30 minutes of the shipcoming under attack, some have argued that perhaps asmany as 70 ships would be required (with three times thisnumber needing to be in the operational rotation tomaintain the 70 ships on station). However, despite thislack of coverage relative to the requirement, the shipshave made a significant strategic contribution at sea andashore.The counter-piracy campaign demonstrated how navalforces can be used to exert influence at a place and timeof policy choice through presence in international waters,even if the circumstances ashore are not conducive toexternal engagement. When the international communitydecided to address the piracy problem, despite the truismthat the solution to the problem always lay ashore,establishing naval task forces to deter attacks at sea gavenations the opportunity to respond quickly to theemerging crisis. Drawing on the UK’s already-establishedoperational command-and-control structure at itsPermanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, EUNAVFOR ships arrived on station within six weeks of thepolitical decision to stand up the operation. They werefollowed quickly by the NATO and US task forces, as wellas a number of national task groups.First, the navies established the InternationallyRecognised Transit Corridor (IRTC). Running parallel tothe northern shore of the Gulf of Aden, the IRTC provideda relatively secure convoy route through what wasoriginally the most at-risk area, and the naviesdemonstrated the ability to provide an effective combinedconstabulary capability.However, while the IRTC may have helped to reduce therisk in the Gulf of Aden, at that time the lack of focus onaddressing matters ashore resulted only in thedevelopment of the ‘balloon effect’, in which the navalpressure in the Gulf of Aden merely forced the problem tobulge out into other regions. As the incidence of piracyattacks picked up, the international community reactedwith the establishment of UN Security Council Resolution1816, which permitted international warships to pursuepirate ships into the 12 n mile limit of Somali territorialwaters.The campaign also provided navies with the opportunityto demonstrate one of the key advantages of the use ofnaval force at sea in the pursuit of international security,© 2013 IHS 2
  3. 3. IHS Analysis: Politics & Piracythat of the force multiplying effect, which can be providedwhen navies work together. Chinese, Indian, Iranian,Pakistani and Russian navies, for example, have beenalongside those of the traditional Western powers tosupport the greater international good as well as nationalinterest. The navies also established effective waterspacemanagement arrangements to enable them to maximisethe presence and coverage of their ships.Reacting to the changing tone of the international piracydebate, by early 2012 the navies were ready to take thefight to the pirates in a more proactive manner byconducting carefully targeted strikes against piratelogistic dumps. EU NAVFOR conducted its first air strikeashore on 15 May 2012, an operation which may havebeen in part a policy tool aimed at demonstrating newapproaches in solving the problem, as Europeangovernments sought more tangible evidence of progressas the question of renewing ‘Atalanta’s’ mandate (whichruns until December 2014) came up once again. Debatehas continued, nonetheless, as to whether the strikes hadthe intended and perceived effect. Ultimately, only alimited number were carried out, perhaps because thenavies needed to consider how to distinguish pirates fromother Somali citizens and how to avoid the risk ofresentment at external interference.The piracy issue first hit the headlines in late 2008 as theinternational commercial shipping industry raised at thehighest levels of the global security community itscollective concern at the growing threat of piracy.Today, given the challenges facing the navies in providingcoverage at sea over such large distances and givenarguments that the commercial sector should take greaterresponsibility for its own security, the role of thecommercial sector in providing security at sea remainsone of the most contested elements of the debate.Initially, there was significant resistance fromgovernments and the shipping industry alike to the idea of© 2013 IHS 3
  4. 4. IHS Analysis: Politics & Piracyembarking armed guards on ships, for a number ofreasons. However, as the piracy problem escalated, sodid the intensity of public and political debate on thismatter. A small number of nations had already beenpermitting the use of armed teams aboard ships sailingunder their flag. Perhaps the pivotal decision, however,was taken by the UK in October 2011, when it allowedUK-flagged ships to embark armed teams.Since this strategic shift in the policy debate, the use ofarmed teams on ships transiting the HoA region hasincreased significantly: at the same time, the number ofsuccessful attacks has dropped, prompting argumentsthat the deterrent effect of the presence of armed teamshas seen no ship carrying a security detachment beingpirated.The shipping industry continues to face the challenge ofthe affordability of such a security presence at a timewhen a number of economic pressures are weighingdown on commercial shipping business models. Theprivate security companies which provide the armedteams are facing economic pressures of their own as,while demand may still be high, there is arguably asurplus in supply.While governments and industry continue to worktogether on guidelines for the use of force at sea bycommercial organisations, perhaps the most criticalquestion remains as to what extent the gap is being filledby private security because of continuing reductions innaval force levels, in particular within many Westernnavies.The commercial sector also contributes to the delivery ofeffective security at sea by the implementation of bestmanagement practice. Sparked by the piracy threat,governments, industry, and the international maritimesecurity community produced the Best ManagementPractices (BMP) counter-piracy handbook.The shipping community argues that ship masters whoadopt the BMP principles have an increased chance ofdeterring and surviving a pirate attack, and it has beenargued that 70% of the ships transiting the HoA’s high-risk areas are implementing its principles.However, the effectiveness of the BMP process ineducating mariners and reducing the risk of piracy in theHoA raises the question: given increasing levels of piracyin other parts of the world, should these bestmanagement principles have a wider geographical remit?Developments ashoreWhile there was initial nervousness within theinternational community about becoming embroiledashore in what is potentially an extremely difficult set ofcircumstances – and with politico-strategic lessons fromAfghanistan and Iraq fresh in many Western politicalminds – as the piracy problem continued largely unabateddespite the best efforts of the world’s navies it becameclear that action was required ashore.© 2013 IHS 4
  5. 5. IHS Analysis: Politics & PiracyWhile the international community has endeavoured tobreak the piracy model by pursuing both the majorcriminal figures underwriting the pirates’ activities and theransom money which flows to them, perhaps the majorbreakthroughs ashore have come in the form of theestablishment of indigenous capacity to deliver maritimesecurity and effective criminal justice.One of the primary problems confronting the internationalcounter-piracy effort has been the inability to prosecutepirates in Somalia, other regional states, or Westerncounties, with only a handful of cases having beenbrought to court so far. Added to this is the limited effectof operational strategies such as ‘catch and release’,under which captured pirates are denied their pirateparaphernalia but returned to their communities.With the overall aim of enabling governments and peoplesto take greater responsibility for their own security, todaya number of international organisations – including the EU(through its CAP Nestor programme, launched inDecember 2011, and its Somalia-based EU TrainingMission), NATO, and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime(UNODC) – have made significant progress in workingwith regional states to develop self-sustainable nationalcoastguard and naval capacities, to develop information-sharing mechanisms, to enable the development ofgreater political, economic and social infrastructureashore, and to build sustainable governance and judicialconstructs.As part of international support for the judicial process,the UK is funding the basing of two Crown ProsecutionService prosecutors in the Seychelles and announced thisyear the injection of a further GBP2.2 million (USD3.3million) into the international funding pool to support thebuilding of judicial capacity in the region.Navies, pirates and politicsAlong with the international desire to secure sea lines andprotect international trade, a number of nations arguablysaw the advent of Somali piracy as a grand strategicopportunity to increase national influence in the region.There are a number of interesting examples here. First,the piracy problem – and in particular the hijacking inSeptember 2008 of the Ukrainian cargo ship MVFaina , aBelize-flagged ship reported to be transporting 33Russian-made T-72 tanks to Kenya – saw the arrival onstation of the Russian Federation Navy (RFN), in one of itsfirst significant overseas deployments since the collapseof the Soviet Union. A number of the RFN’s principalwarships have contributed to national and coalitiontaskings.Second, despite playing a primary role in theestablishment of ‘Atalanta’, France also increased itsdirect national interest in the region in a number of otherways. France’s possession of dependent territories in theIndian Ocean means that it is regarded by some regionalstates as a legitimate international actor in the region. Yet© 2013 IHS 5
  6. 6. IHS Analysis: Politics & Piracythe piracy issue saw a couple of key developments fromFrance’s perspective.Under Operation ‘Amethyste’, the French Alindien taskgroup established a national presence at sea in theregion. Furthermore, the French government haspromoted a number of multinational counter-piracyinitiatives ashore on the African continent, such as thedevelopment of a regional maritime security trainingcentre in Djibouti. This has led some to ask whether suchdevelopments have rivalled the US-led regional maritimesecurity operation based out of the US Central Command(CENTCOM) headquarters in Bahrain.Moreover, France has been increasing its footprint in theregion as a whole, establishing naval-basing access inDjibouti and the United Arab Emirates. France’s increasednaval presence in Djibouti and the UAE gives Parisincreased strategic presence around two of the world’skey strategic choke points: the Bab Al Mendeb andHormuz straits.The international piracy campaign has seen the arrival in-theatre of a sustained presence from China’s People’sLiberation Army Navy (PLAN). China’s primary strategicaim is to secure access to resources to fuel its peopleand access to markets for the products they produce.This is mandating an increasing presence in a number ofdifferent regions around the world, including theMediterranean, the Arctic, and South America, as well asthe Indian Ocean. In other words, an increasing Chinesepresence in the Indian Ocean was perhaps inevitable,regardless of its desire to support national andinternational interests within the counter-piracy campaign.For some time now, China has been working with anumber of littoral states in the Indian Ocean to developinfrastructure ashore, such as in Myanmar, theSeychelles, Sri Lanka, and – more notably in recent years– Gwadar in Pakistan. There are also recent reports ofChina considering options to build a logistics base inDjibouti, with its piracy task group having made a numberof resupply calls to the port in the last few years.Developing basing access in Djibouti, Mynamar, andPakistan would give China strategic presence at the threemain access points into the Indian Ocean and, thus,increase politico-strategic influence.The established presence of a Chinese naval task groupin the Indian Ocean has raised a number of strategicquestions. China has recently recognised publicly theinevitability of its own rise to become a ‘maritime power’.However, some nations – perhaps the US globally, andIndia in the Indian Ocean in particular – continue to watchthe growing Chinese naval presence with a wary eye. Onthe other hand, the piracy operation demonstratedanother truism about the role of navies as an internationalpolitical tool.Navies, operating as they do on a daily basis on theworld’s high seas and being in effect a primaryinternational public face of their governments, learn to co-© 2013 IHS 6
  7. 7. IHS Analysis: Politics & Piracyoperate at a tactical and operational level when deployedin the same waterspace and when pursuing the sameinterests, even if relations between their parentgovernments are not close. While the Chinese task groupinitially deployed to the HoA to protect Chinese-flaggedships, the PLAN learned very quickly that they could alsomake a wider contribution to the international counter-piracy operation by protecting any ship at risk within thevicinity of their task group, no matter what flag.Chinese commanding officers also learned that theycould also turn to fellow sailors for supplies. The bigquestion with regard to the Chinese naval presence in theIndian Ocean remains: to what extent has the piracyoperation simply provided a window of opportunity forChina to establish a more permanent presence in theregion, and what does this mean for its relations withregional states, especially India?China’s presence in the area has wide-reachingimplications: it has provided a platform from which Chinahas been able to project naval power to support nationalinterests in the Mediterranean region. Chinese ships oncounter-piracy tasking were deployed to evacuateChinese nationals from Libya in 2011. In 2012, during theSyrian crisis, ships diverted to conduct exercises in theBlack Sea with the Russian Navy. These ships also madea number of port calls, for example to Istanbul; Turkeyappears to be a nation with which China is looking todevelop closer ties.Given the economic instability in Southern Europe, thestrategic volatility in North Africa and recent resourcefinds in the Mediterranean, the growing importance of theMediterranean may be reflected in a growing Chinesemaritime presence. Once again, the key question is: whatdoes this means in politico-strategic terms? For example,the purchase of a pier in the commercial port of Piraeus,Greece, by state-owned Chinese shipping companyCosco in 2010 passed largely unnoticed in theinternational political and analytical communities, withonly broadsheet business rather than news pagescovering the issue. How much consideration is beinggiven to the strategic implications of growing Chinesemaritime relations with a number of key NATO states?Piracy containmentDespite recent success in containing the piracy problem,the question remains as to whether this success issustainable, especially in the face of competingbudgetary pressures and policy priorities in Westerncapitals. The Economist reported that, among otherthings, the pirates may be waiting for ‘the internationalcommunity to tire of an expensive policing operation’. UKForeign Office Minister Alistair Burt reinforced this riskearlier this year, arguing that “it is by no means ‘missionaccomplished’. Progress is fragile and reversible”.Political focus on the piracy problem was sparked by anumber of nations seeking to protect economic interests,while also taking the opportunity to improve grand© 2013 IHS 7
  8. 8. IHS Analysis: Politics & Piracystrategic political influence in the region by filling a powervacuum created by a lack of governance ashore and atsea. However, at a time of enduring global economic andpolitical crisis, and at a time when strategic interest inother regions is developing, such as in West Africa, thequestion remains of whether the nations responsible forcoming together to head off the piracy issue will be ableto sustain the required levels of naval and wider politicalinvestment in theatre. Simply, the sustainability of thecurrent success remains too short-term at this time toassume that the problem has gone away.Despite global perceptions of a generic decline inWestern naval strength, the counter-piracy campaign hasstill been mounted and led by Western navies. Yet theseWestern navies are facing significant challenges. TheUK’s position in meeting its enduring global requirementswith a reduced number of surface ships in particular iswell documented. France’s last defence White Paper wasproduced in 2008 prior to the global financial crisis, andthe next one – which was due out in 2012 – is still toappear, at time of writing.Meanwhile, the impact of sequestration on US Navy(USN) operations is still to be fully understood but, inannouncing delays to several major ship deployments,the service is playing the highest of high stakes with itsown political leaders as it attempts to demonstrate toCapitol Hill how US national interests will be affected ifsequestration goes ahead.Such pressures have raised questions over whether theWestern navies will have the capacity to maintain thelimited number of ships on station in the medium term,and to retain the primary role in suppressing piracy atsea. Moreover the major Western navies would struggleto find capacity to support any increase in operationallevels in these areas without reducing existingcommitments.Despite reinforcing the UK’s commitment to ‘stay thecourse’, Minister Burt argued that “the situation offAfrica’s western seaboard is becoming increasinglyserious”. If other priorities become more acute, is there arisk that nations may shift their naval forces to othermaritime arenas before the Somali piracy problem hasbeen demonstrably solved in the longer term?This analysis is abridged. The full analysis was firstpublished in IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly and representsone aspect of IHS naval reference, analysis, forecastingand maritime domain awareness capabilities.Share thisConnect with IHS© 2013 IHS 8
  9. 9. IHS Analysis: Politics & PiracyAbout IHSIHS (NYSE: IHS) is a leading source of information andinsight in pivotal areas that shape today’s businesslandscape: energy, economics, geopolitical risk,sustainability and supply chain management.Businesses and governments around the globe rely onthe comprehensive content, expert independent analysisand flexible delivery methods of IHS to make high-impactdecisions and develop strategies with speed andconfidence.IHS has been in business since 1959 and became apublicly traded company on the New York StockExchange in 2005. Headquartered in Englewood,Colorado, USA, IHS employs more than 6,000 people inmore than 31 countries around the world.ihs.comAbout IHS Defence & SecurityWith over 100 years of history as Jane’s, IHS is the mosttrusted and respected public source of defence andsecurity information in the world.With a reputation built on products such as IHS Jane’sFighting Ships, IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft and IHSJane’s Defence Weekly, IHS delivers comprehensive,credible and reliable news, insight and analysis across allkey defence and security subject areas, and in support ofcritical military and security processes.IHS defence and security products and servicesrepresent invaluable open-source news, information andintelligence assets for businesses, defence organisationsand armed forces.© 2013 IHS 9