Piracy and the “Black Hawk Down” Effect

There is a lot lot lot of stuff on pirates out there. The New York Times has a page with news commentary on the issue of Somalian pirates and the first columnist wrote a piece titled ‘The Black Hawk Down Effect” which, of course, immediately grabbed my eye. http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/capture-pirates-on-land-and-sea/
(Scroll down a little bit) 

The author is Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of national security studies at the United States Naval War College. As I’m writing this, I haven’t read the article, but his position already speaks a little bit about where this is coming from. Many of the pictures and propaganda we’ve been seeing is coming from the U.S. Navy and this man in particular teaches at a “war” college (what is that?). Even the term national security implies this intense paranoia about terrorism and constant danger to the nation that has fueled so many of the actions of the last several years in the U.S.

On to the article…

The article starts by heightening this sense of fear: “We need to stop thinking about Somali pirates as simple fishermen with AK-47s. The pirate organizations operating from Eyal and other places are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks.” It’s hard to connect this with the pictures of the tiny tiny boats and smiling men, but there it is.

However, he then goes on to explain the genesis of Somali pirates and basically blames illegal foreign fishing: “After all, the genesis of the pirate gangs were the militiamen taken on board Somali fishing vessels to attack the famed “zombie fleets” from other countries.”

His solution is that “Perhaps it’s time for the international community to deal directly with the self-proclaimed governments in Somaliland and Puntland, rather than hoping against hope that a central government in Somalia will be reconstructed.” Though this seems not so bad (at least it doesn’t involve killing people…directly), I wonder now what this means exactly when we know that these “self-proclaimed governments” are listed as terrorist organizations and probably are not U.S.-friendly in terms of economics.

Black Hawk Down didn’t have a ton to do with it, I have to say, except he mentions nations are afraid to attack “on land” for fear of a similar incident to BHD. 

The second columnist calls for the International Criminal Court. As I mentioned in class, this is another dubious solution as it seems the ICC basically serves to “tame” African violence in the Congo, CAR, Rwanda, etc. Which is not to say that genocide didn’t need to be stopped but pirates? Really? They stole some tanks and stuff?

But I guess stealing deserves the death penalty, because almost every single commenter wants to “blow the pirates out of the water” (though they might just be indulging adventure fantasies). But I’m afraid of their fear, afraid of everyone’s paranoia. Afraid that something that doesn’t compare to gigantic international crimes that are staring us in the face might end up at the ICC or end the lives of a bunch of people.


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