The Duck of Minerva

Meanwhile, Off the Coast of Somalia…

5 October 2008

AP reports, in an article titled “Somali Pirates Stare Down Superpowers”:

With a Russian frigate closing in and a half-dozen U.S. warships within shouting distance, the pirates holding a tanker off Somalia’s coast might appear to have no other choice than to wave the white flag. But that’s not how it works in Somalia, a failed state where a quarter of children die before they turn 5, where anybody with a gun controls the streets and where every public institution has crumbled. The 11-day standoff aboard the Ukrainian MV Faina begs the question: How can a bunch of criminals from one of the poorest and most wretched countries on Earth face off with some of the world’s richest and well-armed superpowers?

In Somalia, pirates are better-funded, better-organized and better-armed than one might imagine in a country that has been in tatters for nearly two decades. They have the support of their communities and rogue members of the government — some pirates even promise to put ransom money toward building roads and schools. With most attacks ending with million-dollar payouts, piracy is considered the biggest economy in Somalia. Pirates rarely hurt their hostages, instead holding out for a huge payday.

The pirates are demanding $20 million ransom, and say they will not lower the price. “We only need money and if we are paid, then everything will be OK,” he said. “No one can tell us what to do.” Ali’s bold words come even though his dozens of fighters are surrounded by U.S. warships and American helicopters buzz overhead. Moscow has sent a frigate, which should arrive within days.

Good that the reporter is focusing on the root causes of piracy, not just the need for an immediate response. But I don’t know about this US/Russian Goliath held at bay by David Scallywag narrative. All that’s holding the US back is casualty aversion and the desire not to step on Moscow’s toes. Any guesses as to how this will go down when the Russians show up?