While the consensus seems to be that Somali piracy is in a terminal decline, over the weekend the Washington Post’sWonkblog highlighted an interesting academic study from last year that attempted to determine the costs of Somali piracy since 2008. The bottom line, from economists Timothy Besley, Thiemo Fetzer and Hannes Mueller, was that piracy increased the cost for shipping bulk cargo through the region 8%, with a 14% seasonal discount between December-February and June-September when the monsoon causes sea states to be less hospitable to pirates.
Of particular interest is the economist’s attempt to measure how efficient piracy has been as a method of transferring wealth from the rest of the world to Somalia. According to their analysis, pirates generating a total in $120M in annual ransoms would possibly drive industry to spend up to ten times that amount on insurance and onboard security. Theoretically, Somalia could get the same amount of money from an .8% tax on charters than the 8% increased costs faced by shippers.
Piracy has driven some economic growth in Somalia, with one study arguing that ransoms received in 2009 were five times greater than the budget of Puntland. Such development has been uneven however and did not benefit all Somalis. Intriguingly, economic growth and development measured in terms such as construction, urbanization, and light emissions measured through overhead imagery showed significant growth in major Puntland cities like Bossasso, rather than main Puntland pirate bases like Eyl and Hobyo.
Although ransoms as a wealth transfer are a “thought experiment” which the authors don’t necessarily advocate as policy, there is a clear subtext that aid for effective security forces would be a cheaper method to achieve the security needed to eliminate piracy than paying ransoms or funding afloat counter-piracy task forces. They cite Stig Hansen’s compelling argument that the triggering event for the explosion of piracy in recent years was the Puntland economic crisis in 2008, during which the government of the semi-autonomous region suspended pay to the police and militia responsible for border security.
Of course while a tax on trade to fund a wealth transfer to Somalia may have been a much more efficient way of combating piracy than the current combined approach of naval forces afloat, industry best practices, a Kenyan invasion of Somalia, and the funding of AMISOM troops (in a previous article in Proceedings I vainly attempted to compare the relative costs and benefits of counter-piracy task forces afloat and security forces in Somalia), it does not square with any accepted notion of freedom of navigation in international waters. While an effective Somali government would certainly have the right to regulate economic activity in its Exclusive Economic Zone (commonly listed narratives for the start of piracy in the region include grassroots local efforts to regulate illegal fishing and toxic waste disposal by foreigners in Somali waters), impeding or taxing commercial shipping traversing international waters adjacent to Somalia would be unacceptable to the international community.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.
January is named for the Roman God Janus, the two-faced deity of the doorway or the threshold. With one face looking toward the future, and the other contemplating the past, Janus inspires the annual reviews of naval affairs as well as the predictions for the future that we see in the naval blogosphere. New Years 2013 in the maritime world is no different than in years past.
Over at Information Dissemination our favorite China shipyard-watcher Feng has a great post summarizing where the People’s Liberation Army Navy has been in the past year. Two things caught our eye in reading through Feng’s summary. First, seeing it all laid out in one place really emphasizes the capacity that is being developed by Chinese shipyards. For all the discussion of a dwindling industrial base in the United States, it is interesting to watch the pace of work in the Chinese shipbuilding industry. Second, we shouldn’t miss the massive construction underway for the maritime policing and Coast Guard equivalents in the People’s Republic. USCG cutters routinely deploy globally, sailing with USN ships in the Arabian Gulf and Pacific as well as the regular patrol of our backyard in the Caribbean. As China continues to build cutters and grows the size of their maritime security forces, we should expect them to develop interoperability with the PLAN in the same way the USCG and USN have developed their concept of The National Fleet. This melding of law enforcement patrol with military operations (based on a model provided by the Americans) in the South and East China Seas will continue to complicate the issues there.
Also at ID, CDR Bryan McGrath gives us a quick look at some highlights for I&W to watch for in 2013. We were glad to see him place the Blue/Green Team as his top item to keep an eye on. The Marines need to get over their fears of another Guadalcanal and return to their historic roots as an integrated part of naval forces. The Navy needs to overcome their self-consciousness about their comparative lack of recent combat experience and learn to look to the Marines for ideas and help in developing new concepts. It is time that both forces genuinely came together as an integrated, hybrid force rather than a pair of brothers constantly arm wrestling over who side is “supported” and who is “supporting.” We also note that discussions about the future of the Air Wing are on CDR McGrath’s list. That’s easy for a former SWO to say, but he’s right. The Naval Aviators amongst us are going to have to realize that there need to be some serious changes. Hard thinking, innovative ideas, and practical experimentation and testing will be required…humming “Highway to the Danger Zone” and quoting Goose and Slider will only give our adversaries more time to realize our weaknesses and take advantage of them. Maverick told us that you don’t have time to think up there…unfortunately today’s challenges require us to have people who are practiced and capable thinkers.
Elsewhere online the sometimes genial, sometimes grumpy, CDR Salamander takes a broader view toward the future at his blog. Strategy is the matching of ends, ways, and means. Sal points out that the United States must figure out the last part, with an honest and genuine assessment of the national financial status. Without it, developing “the ends” of national policy, and “the ways” of a sound Naval policy and shipbuilding plan, is impossible. That honest assessment…it isn’t going to be pretty. It has some very serious ramifications for the Department of the Navy, but also for every single part of American society.
We encourage you to follow the links and read the posts. There is some serious thinking here, some deep analysis, and some quick ideas that can help us frame the coming year – all worth your time. Janus is the namesake of the first month of the year and serves as a symbol of our New Year’s passion for self-assessment. He also serves as a fantastic symbol for naval analysts in general as we attempt to clarify the lessons of the past to illuminate our way into the future. If you’re still feeling a need for speed though, check this out to get your 2013 off to the right start.
The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters. Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.
TheNew York Times published a piece last week describing the “sharp” decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia It cited data provided by the US Navy demonstrating that attacks had significantly fallen off in 2012 compared to 2011 and 2010. The decline was attributed to industry having implemented better security measures, the large-scale participation by forces from many world navies in counter-piracy operations in the region, and raids conducted to rescue hostages.
Conspicuously absent, however, is any mention of how events ashore may have impacted piracy. The only mention in the piece as to how actions on land are related to piracy was that “renewed political turmoil” or “further economic collapse” could cause more Somalis to pursue piracy as a livelihood.
In June Matt Hipple made his case in this blog that international naval operations had little or nothing to do with the current decline in piracy. He argued that the Kenyan invasion of Somalia and continued operations by the multi-national forces of AMISOM, as well as armed private security forces onboard commercial vessels were the decisive factors behind the recent drop in pirate attacks. Another June piece by the website Somalia Report attributed the decline to internal Somali factors, primarily declining financial support by Somali investors in the pirate gangs, and increased operations of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).
A basic principle within the social sciences and statistics is that “correlation is not causation.” Just because the U.S. and other world navies applied military force at sea to combat Somali pirates does not mean that maritime operations caused the piracy decline, particularly when there are so many other independent variables have contributed to piracy, especially those ashore driven by Somalis themselves. Until this year the only group with real success at stopping piracy over the last decade was the Islamic Courts Union (forerunner to al-Shabab), who stopped it when they controlled southern Somalia for most of 2006. Piracy came back when the Ethiopians invaded and forced the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and the pirate strongholds at the end of that year.
Both the deployment of ships and other assets by the world’s navies, as well as changed behavior by the maritime industry, have played some role in the drop in pirate attacks. To assume that those were the decisive factor, however, with no consideration given to what has actually happened in Somalia over the past few years, is shortsighted and ignores the larger reasons for why the phenomenon of Somali piracy started in the first place.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
Heat waves, rising temperatures, and retreating ice grab headlines today. However, receding sea ice in the Arctic and a concurrent increase in shipping traffic will intensify attention on the globe’s (still) frigid northern reaches. Though the United States issued a forward-looking Arctic policy with National Security Presidential Directive 66 in 2009, it has not seriously faced the implications of matching these policy goals to strategic ends and backing its interests in the region with capital investments. Our Canadian allies have, and we should seek to learn from their experience.
Canada’s adaptation to the Arctic’s changing maritime geography is instructive. For starters, it serves as a reminder of Canada’s importance as an ally of the United States. Geography, heritage, and shared sacrifice have forged a special relationship between Canada and the United States and, like the Night’s Watch in the cold Northern reaches of the fictional world in Game of Thrones, I think we too infrequently give them proper credit for their support of our defense. This isn’t the first era requiring US-Canadian security cooperation in the Arctic – both countries jointly manned the “Distant Early Warning” Line of radar stations above the Arctic Circle during the Cold War.
The United States can look to Canada’s experience in matching ends, ways, and means in a new Arctic geography while under austere fiscal constraints to inform our own decisions as we contemplate our role in the region.
Canada is an Arctic nation, and this identity figures heavily in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Among the most important declarations in the strategy:
In Canada’s Arctic region, changing weather patterns are altering the environment, making it more accessible to sea traffic and economic activity. Retreating ice cover has opened the way for increased shipping, tourism and resource exploration, and new transportation routes are being considered, including through the Northwest Passage. While this promises substantial economic benefits for Canada, it has also brought new challenges from other shores. These changes in the Arctic could also spark an increase in illegal activity, with important implications for Canadian sovereignty and security and a potential requirement for additional military support.
Canadian Forces must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. New opportunities are emerging across the region, bringing with them new challenges. As activity in northern lands and waters accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this potentially resource rich region.
Canada First proposes Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) as the primary strategic means to accomplish the policy goal of demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in the Arctic. In early July of this year, the Canadian Government announced a preliminary contract to draft an execution strategy for the project and execute a design review of the proposed vessel, which will be based on the Norwegian Svalbard-class of ships. While representing a significant step towards realizing Canada’s goals in the Arctic, the proposed class has received a fair amount of domestic criticism. Some Canadians call the design too small, too light, and too slow. Others point to the vessel’s lack of armament, though some propose incorporating space for future weapons systems into the design. A final criticism of the class is that it is designed for light icebreaking duties, earning them the moniker “slushbreakers” in the Canadian American Strategic Review. Vessels designed for polar cruising typically conform to a “Polar Class” indicating a specific level of icebreaking capability. The proposed AOPS will be Polar Class 5, which means “Year round operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions,” and represents the lowest year-round capability to negotiate polar waters.
The AOPS represents, as some Arctic watchers have noted, a compromise between an offshore patrol vessel and a dedicated Arctic warship. This is the essential difficulty in planning an Arctic force structure: though the ice is retreating, there is still plenty of it and significant seasonal variations present new design challenges to Naval and/or Coast Guard vessels. True Arctic vessels require completely different hull, mechanical and engineering systems that significantly impact their tactical performance. No bow mounted sonar. Poor speed and maneuverability. Et cetera. Indeed, given the fact that American and Soviet/Russian submarines have a long, distinguished history of operating under the sea ice, I would question a surface vessel’s ability to operate in a submarine threat environment while noisily plowing through ice floes. This is just one challenge among many to tactical surface operations in the Arctic, and they are probably the reason why (as noted at Information Dissemination yesterday) the US Navy hasn’t seriously considered itself an Arctic player beyond ICEX and some limited research and development projects.
There are similarities between Canadian and US Arctic policy. While, geographically speaking, Canada seems to have a stronger need for an Arctic presence due to its more extensive maritime claims in the region, the Bering Strait – a critical choke point – is in Alaska’s back yard. US policy for the Arctic includes the following as summarized in a recent report:
The USA names several military challenges with implications for the Arctic, including missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.
It’s possible to fulfill many of these goals with submarines, but once the discussion veers towards sealift, missile defense, and freedom of navigation, a polar surface combatant seems a necessary part of an Arctic force structure. The United States will have to answer many key questions raised by these stated goals:
Should Navy, Coast Guard, or joint assets fulfill these roles?
How important is it to the United States to lead the exploration and militarization of the Arctic?
What metrics of civil use and sea ice change will determine the extent and timing of the United States’ Arctic presence?
What functions can/should an Arctic ship fulfill?
How does receding ice impact the existing Polar Classification system? What baseline of Polar Class is appropriate to Arctic warships/coast guard cutters?
Answering these questions is the work of strategy, and it’s telling that a recent letter signed by both of Alaska’s senators requested just such a strategy. If the United States does forge a detailed Arctic plan, it would do well to consider the experience of Canada’s government. Canada has pioneered the militarization of the Arctic region and revealed many of the challenges inherent in operating beyond “The Wall.”
LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.