February 19, 2010
Somali piracy represents the most significant challenge to maritime security since the end of World War II. This is not related to its economic consequences. It arises out of other factors. The crucial problem for all the navies battling piracy off Somalia is that they are operating in a policy vacuum. The US Navy’s effectiveness in particular is vitiated. Because all trading nations have an interest in safe and secure sea lanes, maritime security is a burden that is easy to share. Shared responsibility for maritime security builds a community of political interests that can help shape the over-arching political structure. The US is for the moment the natural leader of such a cooperative maritime security community. However, the US Navy’s failure, in tandem with its coalition partners, to curb the pirates’ activities raises doubts about its interest in maritime security; doubts that in turn raise questions about its position as the natural leader of any global maritime security community. These doubts may only be nascent but if the problem lingers they could undermine the Navy’s future credibility. Failure against the Somali pirates, in other words, risks becoming an issue of prestige. The crucial problem for all the navies whose main concern is piracy suppression is that they are operating in a policy vacuum. The US Navy’s effectiveness in particular is vitiated. If it is to prove effective, the Navy needs a clear and purposeful role.
Dr. Martin Murphy is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Washington DC. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies at King’s College, London. His presentation will be based on his forthcoming book, Somalia: The New Barbary: Piracy and Islam in the Horn of Africa (Columbia University Press). He is the author of Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Contemporary Piracy and Maritime Terrorism (IISS, London 2007); ‘Naval Support’ in Thomas Keaney and Thomas Rid (eds.), Understanding Counterinsurgency Warfare, (New York: Routledge: Forthcoming 2010); ‘The Blue, Green and Brown: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency on the Water’, Contemporary Security Policy and ‘Suppression of Piracy and Maritime Terrorism: A Suitable Role for the Navy?’, Naval War College Review. Dr Murphy holds a BA with Honours degree from the University of Wales, and Masters (with distinction) and Doctoral degrees in strategic studies from the University of Reading.