Dealing with Somali Piracy at the Multilateral Level

March 30, 2009
U.S. Navy Ship Provides Support to Motor Vessel Following Release by Somali Pirates

About the Author: Gregory L. Garland serves as Media and Outreach Coordinator for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of African Affairs.

For two days this month (March 16-17), I participated in meetings of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), comprised of 28 countries. On the first day, I headed the U.S. delegation to the Public Diplomacy Working Group, chaired by Egypt and gathered to coordinate public information efforts. The following day, I joined the broader Plenary Session, which heard reports from all four working groups. (The other three deal with operational coordination, legal questions, and outreach to the shipping industry.)

I’m new to multilateral diplomacy. My career has so far featured press conferences, civil society events, and much public speaking, but this week I started with the basics of multilateral procedure. Take, for example, the seemingly minor act of requesting an intervention (aka, comment). A colleague from the U.S. Coast Guard had to explain to me to turn the country name plate on its side to call the chair’s attention.

We were in Cairo because of Egypt's chairing the Public Diplomacy Working Group and as well as being host for the CGPCS. Working from 9:00 AM to 8:30 PM on both days, we broke for coffee and lunch, but continued with our own discussions deep into the night. As is the case with such international gatherings, the breaks really served as opportunities to speak directly with members of other delegations. At the end of the long days, even Cairo’s famous souvenir stores were closed.

A contact group is generally loosely structured and frequently governed by consensus. This flexibility and procedural informality make it a favored mechanism for crisis response, but it also encourages the very ambiguity and vagueness that produce extended discussions. One of these debates concerned the mandate of the Public Diplomacy Working Group. Some delegations urged the working group to act as a venue to address the "root causes" of Somali piracy – the economic and political conditions in Somalia itself. A number of delegations differed, noting this would go beyond the working group's mandate to coordinate public diplomacy. Furthermore, they pointed out that a separate Contact Group on Somalia already exists to deal with such on-shore issues. In fact, representatives of the UN Political Office for Somalia, based in Nairobi, attended the meeting and helpfully explained their own mandate. By late in the day, the Public Diplomacy Working Group had found compromise language that went into the recommendations presented the next day to the Plenary.

Nonetheless, there was a general appreciation for the contributions of many countries to the naval forces patrolling the seas off Somalia under UN Security Council Resolution 1851. On Tuesday, our own American head of delegation underscored the significant reduction in piracy over the past year. The most direct victim of piracy, the shipping industry, has responded fully on all fronts; several industry representatives actually attended the sessions as observers. The shippers’ application of higher standards of security and best practices are long-term solutions that pro-actively hinder piracy

Where was Somalia in all this? The new national unity government was represented by its resident Cairo ambassador, who linked piracy to conditions on land. A Somali civil society activist living in Nairobi was the first speaker on Monday and occupied the Somalia chair for the rest of the day. Yet, overall, it was the 28 different countries of the CGPCS who dominated. At best, this was mostly a gathering of non-Somalis talking about Somalia.

Throughout the discussions, I continued to marvel at this multilateral process as only a newcomer can. One arrangement in particular kept gnawing at me. The UN’s standard practice of seating member states in alphabetical order places the U.S. and U.K. side by side. Perhaps in the days of the U.S.S.R., it was less conspicuous, but the spectacle of the two largest delegations (other than the host Egyptians) seated together couldn’t help but to draw the attention of the rest of the large room. Americans and Britons easily conversed in their mutual native tongue throughout the proceedings and during breaks. The many delegations directly across the table were thus treated to a constant vision of Anglo-American camaraderie, which others might interpret more negatively. It took extra effort for us to reach out to those who were sitting further away, but we certainly did so, especially during breaks in the meetings.

What has become of the Cairo meeting? Probably most important is the inclusion of an ever-growing number of countries in the coordinating process. With Egypt in the lead, the interests of states in the region became clear, though most have not contributed units to the patrols off the Somali coast that have captured so much of the world's attention. Egypt itself is a major regional power, a leading Muslim nation, and both Arab and African. Moreover, it is a major victim of piracy as Suez Canal revenues decline with the re-routing of shipping around the Cape of Good Hope. The Public Diplomacy Working Group ended up by taking these interests and perspectives into account. With more work, we may agree on a way to speak with one voice. That would be no mean accomplishment either in multilateral politics or in the rough neighborhood where the Middle East meets the Horn of Africa.

Editor's Note: Read more about multilateral diplomacy and the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.

Comments

Comments

Matthew M.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
March 30, 2009

Matthew M. in Washington, DC writes:

The multilateral effort to subdue piracy at the horn of Africa appears to be a sign of hope for international relations in these uncertain times. However, although a significant threat to maritime trade, piracy is a relatively low risk issue for nations to get involved with in terms of countering the threat through cooperative means. Any marginal success from naval units deployed would be seen as a victory for the countries involved at only the cost of maintaining the deployed fleet. In other words it's a quick way for countries who can afford to send ships to jump on the bandwagon and improve their reputation internationally, while gaining approval domestically. However, as stated in the post, most countries involved with the effort have not sent naval units.

While this is not a negative gesture, it should not be construed as a sign of greater international cooperation in the region. Egyptian efforts, and the efforts of countries most affected by piracy, show their willingness to actively participate, the lack of Somali leadership alludes to the unfortunate reality that local governments are still unable to handle their affairs independently

joe
|
Tennessee, USA
March 30, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

I simply do not understand why the shippers do not hire professional armed units from any of the reputable companies as Dyncorp and Blackwater U.S.A. It would be cheaper in the long run, especially in lowering insurance rates per vessel.

Given the nature and history of those attacking the freighters, any small contingent of professionals could easily stop this threat. We don't need to waste Navel vessels and crews for this problem.

John
|
Greece
March 30, 2009

John in Greece writes:

Sometimes I have childish ideas. Every ship is equipped with a GPS system. Right? All of which means that we can always trace it! We have the ability to know where it is, anytime we want!

And, pirates, cannot disconnect the GPS system, especially if it's hidden inside a secret/zebra compound of the cargo boat.

So, if they "take control" of a ship ("to take advantage" of the cargo), they obviously "drive" it somewhere! However, the ship is "somewhere" we can (do) know. I mean, we know the "port", the "place", the "people". After all we have the best sats in the world.

Why NATO ships -- they can be in pirates' "places" in an hour -- are not allowed to go "there" -- where pirates are with OUR cargo and ships -- and fetch FREEDOM back? Even if we have to use "weapons"?

After all, it's not our initial choice. Pirates begun it and they keep on stealing us -- I mean West.

I'd really love to hear Donald's in VA opinion on this.

P.S. @ Mr. Garland: I wish you the best Sir. Of course diplomacy is THE vital corridor to make our world better. Great post of yours. Please do not misunderstand my views.

Ron
|
New York, USA
March 30, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

Rig a few ships to explode after hijack; piracy will end.

John
|
Greece
March 31, 2009

John in Greece writes:

I think that Joe in TN brings to table a very important point!

Is it an international effort we have to invest in or a private sector situation "they" (ship-owners) have to deal... using their budgets?

(I don't know guys, that,s why I "debate")

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
March 31, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Greece -- Hey buddy, long time since I've seen a post from you. I was begining to wonder if you were doing ok or not.

Nothing childish about wondering why pirates arn't taken down at the source (the brains and money enabling their their opps).

Eventually the maritime aspect must include a ground game to score a complete victory over piracy, and there's no way around this as far as I can tell.

What will be interesting is how the ultimate cooperative effort to end piracy will manifest itself as a model for crisis intervention in other areas of the world.

I think the last time Russia, China, and the U.S. were all on the same side as military "allies" was in WW2. NATO added to the mix, along with India, Iran, and others involved now just make things all the more interesting.

The so-called "unintended concequences" could be quite positive I think.

Aarti
|
United States
March 31, 2009

Aarti in U.S.A. writes:

Piracy off the Somali coast has been a threat to international shipping. Many international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and the World Food Program, have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.

John
|
Greece
March 31, 2009

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- Thank you very much my dear friend Eric. Everything is OK (theoretically). Well?, sometimes I do not post, when I do not know the subject.

But I am always here!

Of course, this does not mean that I post "things" when I necessarily know the issue (Chuckle!) I try to read everything and be a part of this great Blog, no matter if I write or not.

I told you the other days, I will never leave the building, unless they kick me out of here.

Thank you very much for your concern Sir. Best Regards. Keep on Bloging!

RegulationAuthority.com
|
Australia
March 31, 2009

R.A. in Australia writes:

An important point discussed but nothing constructive has come out of it as of now I reckon. Pirates and piracy is a biggest threat to economy who relies mostly on import/export trades through its sea route and diversion would mean extra cost with relatively less revenue.

Glad to hear that people are actually talking about it, but the point is what can we do about it? or what type of effective steps should betaken to overpower this situation? Cant patrol sea routes 24/7, however even a minimal watch would matter and that's what I think I will be discussing sometime soon over at my webspace.

Thanks.

lucy
|
New Jersey, USA
April 6, 2009

Lucy in New Jersey writes:

I understand that the U.S. and Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding piracy in January 2009. Does anyone know where I might obtain a copy of this? The Treaty Section within the U.S. Dept. of State doesn't seem to make these available.

BLUEMONKEY
|
United States
April 8, 2009

B.M. in U.S.A. writes:

If you won't be tough with Somali pirates, soon or later you'll find Europeans doing same thing. Till now there are easy money over there.

Escorting each ship is impossible, so arm the ships and hire at least to professional army guys ($4000 month each) and train a dozen of sailors to help them.

Rules of Engagement: No rules of Engagements. Shoot First and after say HALT.

Reporting and Recording Incidents: No Record or Report. Just quietly send them in the bottom of the Sea.

John
|
Greece
April 9, 2009

John in Greece writes:

Any news from the ship "Maersk Alabama" and the Americans (crew) on board? What about the Captain? Is everybody Ok?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090409/ap_on_re_af/piracy

I'm sure that everybody understands that the situation in Somalia becomes even more "ridiculous" day by day.

Someone -- all of us -- must stop those "guerrillas" and their gangs.

Geoff
|
United Kingdom
April 14, 2009

Geoff in the United Kingdom writes:

Basking in self-congratulation, and no doubt in common with other delegates, Gregory L.Garland celebrates the success of negotiations: "Probably most important is the inclusion of an ever-growing number of countries in the coordinating process."

Here's a four-point plan which should see the end of Somali piracy and the end of this useless talking shop. Underlying the plan is a zero-tolerance policy of piracy or for pirates.

1. Ban the payment of ransoms, and if necessary impose secondary sanctions on shipping companies that pay. Sanctions against companies might involve denial of port facilities or a refusal to protect company vessels offshore Somalia. It should be noted that ransom payments are used to finance the civil war in Somalia and listed terrorist organisations, including al-Shabab. Also, pirates are now able to purchase ever more sophisticated weaponry such as MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defence Systems) and RPGs.

2. Police the ports from which pirates operate, inspecting mother vessels and if necessary arresting those aboard before sinking them. It will be necessary to get a renewal of some of the sections in UN resolution 1816 before this is internationally legal.

3. Consideration should be give to denying asylum to pirates tried in western countries.

4. Any vessels captured should be freed using all necessary means with a balanced judgement being made at the time on the possible risks to crew-members' lives.

Craig
|
United States
April 21, 2009

Craig in U.S.A. writes:

I Think We should stop the pirates and capture them.

John
|
Greece
April 24, 2009

John in Greece writes:

I thought like this web suggestion would be interesting as a brief note for those who do not know what simply SEALs mean. They are our top-gun heroes!

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1891738,00.html?imw=Y

There are some idiots worldwide that are attempting to "play" with the name "frogs" vs "SEALs", saying that seals are not frogs in order to make an anti-propaganda.

(actually both are their nicknames)
First and LAST name though: Heroes!

Darn excellent job 6s! (Now, anti-Americans will say that 6 is the Devil's number) God shot!!! I'd say.

.

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