Somalia, a parched and inhospitable land, nonetheless occupies one of the world's most important geo-strategic locations. The maritime hijackings that are occurring off its coasts are arguably the most significant manifestations of piracy since the end of World War II. For the United States and other members of the international community that significance is not primarily economic: Less than one percent of all ships transiting the region are even at risk of being attacked, and fewer still are captured and held; most that do fall victim are old, slow, poorly managed, or, in a few cases, just unlucky. Rather, the significance of this maritime depredation is that it shows effects of state failure can be felt more than 1,000 nautical miles offshore. It demonstrates that the international maritime trading system is vulnerable. Yet that vulnerability attracts only minimal political engagement.
Curtailing piracy off its coasts cannot be accomplished with the military and economic weapons used to subdue maritime marauders in the Strait of Malacca. Any solution must be political in nature.
By Martin N. Murphy