With chaos erupting in North Africa and the Middle East, it’s easy to forget the many challenges the U.S. faces in the region. On Monday, Somali pirates seized an American yacht off the Horn of Africa. The next day all four Americans onboard were murdered by their captors.
Piracy is one of the most common and most complicated issues for the international community. According to The Heritage Foundation’s Maritime Security report, each year, 21,000 commercial ships sail through the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal, transporting over 10 percent of the global oil supply and 7 percent of the world’s maritime commerce. Somali pirates exploit their geographic position to make easy money. This year alone, there have been 50 recorded incidents off the Horn of Africa, which totals 75 percent of the world’s pirate attacks.
Piracy is a particularly difficult issue for the U.S. to handle for a number of reasons, including (but certainly not limited to) the lack of a functioning government in Somalia. For nearly two decades, Somalia has been ruled by tribal factions, warlords and terrorist organizations. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG)—the government “authority” recognized by the United Nations—remains unable to establish control over Somalia or even the capital city. As a result of this anarchic environment, piracy continues to thrive.
While authoritarian regimes collapse across the region, the U.S. must not forget those states whose governments have already failed. They too wreak havoc on national security. While the TFG is an unreliable partner in combating piracy, there are legitimate actors within civil society and traditional clan authorities that the U.S. should engage. By working with some of the more acceptable local authorities, the United States can not only encourage improved governance in Somalia but also combat piracy.
With attacks averaging more than one per day, the United States must defend its people and economy against lawless acts in international waters and focus on a strategy to address lawlessness in Somalia. This is essential to global commerce and America’s broader security interests in the region.