Somali Solution

Piracy threatens billions of dollars of shipping a year, one one of the oldest shipping routes on Earth. Don’t forget, almost everything is moved by ship, whether it is the energy that heats homes and moves cars, the shoes on your feet, the clothes you wear, or the toys your children play with.

This trade is the backbone of the world economy. Poor, undeveloped nations will never develop if they have no chance to trade with the rest of the world, and we cannot maintain our standard of living without doing so either.

Now, due to a failed state that hovers on the edge of anarchy, and has done so for the past two decades, piracy is endemic to the region, and terror cells are moving into Somalia more and more to use the wild region as a base for attacks on civilization.

We discuss defensive measures against piracy, but because the coastline of Somalia is so long, riddled with inlets and small villages that will happily support pirates for a few dollars in cash, and because there is simply no law in that “state”, defensive measures are all we can think to apply. Placing armed security men on freighters would be a good idea. Something like an air Marshall, but on the sea. They could be deployed in teams of three, and ride with a ship as it passes through the dangerous area, then be picked up and ferried to a freighter entering that zone from the other direction. A few teams could thus ride along with many freighters and this would spread out the financial cost to shipping companies of paying for the men; they pay only when they need them most.
Or we speak of convoys of freighters with our destroyers guarding them, as we were forced to do in WWII to get shipping past the U-boats and across the Atlantic.

Personally, I think that a wartime-style re-organization of our shipping in the region is excessive, that destroyers and warships cost more than a few security personnel, and certainly a lot more than allowing crew to be trained and to keep firearms with them on freighters that can be locked up before they go into a port. Still, these are defensive measures, aimed at reducing the loss due to pirate attack and not at eliminating the possibility of pirate attack to begin with.

I think that the UN actually has a role to play here, despite my general skepticism of that organization. Maritime trade is a fundamental to the world community as a whole, and the UN should be willing to at least provide political cover to whatever country decides to take the bull by the horns and deal with this problem.

Here is what I suggest be done in an optimal world. Obviously, I do not think this will actually be done any time soon, but I will lay it out nonetheless.

A number of nations have the military resources and size necessary. India, Australia, Japan (not that they would consider this), several European countries (ditto Japan), Obviously the USA, even Argentina, Chile, Brazil, or Columbia could probably put together the resources necessary if they thought it was worth it, and were given a little help with logistics and transport. Thinking outside the box, Turkey or Taiwan also easily have the capability required.

The idea is simple (and politically incorrect), the global community, led by the responsible, democratic nations, create a group in the UN to deal with the problems of Somalia. The nations mentioned above (and possibly a few more) then negotiate with this group, and one who is interested and willing to take the risk is offered a deal by the UN backed by all the nations interested in maritime trade.
The chosen state will gear up a large number of troops, arm them, prepare their military for a long term deployment, and (with whatever transport aid they may need to get to Somalia), begin to deploy them to Somalia with a specific directive. They will gain control of the territory, create law and order, and, starting with local governments, allow elections, then moving up to provinces and eventually the national government of Somalia. Taking lessons from Iraq, they are to engage in a nation building project, and once a stable national government is in place and a national military and police trained, they are to leave.

Now for the obvious question; why on God’s good Earth would any state be crazy enough to volunteer for that? Simple; it is known as Awdal.

Like any start-up venture, there are obvious risks here, and like any good start-up, there are potentially great rewards. Awdal province is the Northernmost part of Somalia, a part of Somalia that abuts Djibouti and is the part of the Horn of Africa where the Somali coast is closest to the territory of Ethiopia. This province is the Westernmost part of a quasi-state that calls itself Somaliland and makes up roughly the Northern half of what used to be Somalia.

Why is Awdal interesting? Simple; it’s location. Not only is Awdal on the strategic choke point between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, but it is, as I said, the narrowest strip of Somalia which comes between Ethiopia and the sea.

The deal would work like this; the powerful state would send most of their troops into the Southern half of former Somalia; which includes Mogadishu, the pirate coast, and the majority of the radical Islamist cells in the area. An operation would begin using the new counter-insurgency and nation building rules developed in Iraq. This, of course, would be a considerable sacrifice on the part of the “volunteer” state, which would be compensated for by the other part of the plan.

Somaliland, the North-western part of former Somalia, has established the foundations of a new state. They have developed a currency, opened a functioning port, elected officials using a basically democratic process, and are currently building a police and military force which has already captured pirates and would be terrorists trying to operate or pass through their claimed territory. Clearly, very little needs to be done with this half of the Horn region, except that Somaliland should be given aid and developmental assistance as well as recognition by more established states.

In return for the development aid and especially recognition, Somaliland, which as of now has no real agreed upon borders, would sell a small strip of land along the border with Djibouti, in the Awdal province. This strip would run from the Ethiopian border to the coast.

For the “peacekeeper” nation, having Somaliland control their own territory will save them a great deal of trouble, allowing them to focus on the South, where most of the piracy and terrorism originates. Meanwhile, the Awdal strip would become a controlled area; a base where UN and NGO aid organizations can operate from. Infrastructure will be built there, and a local administration set up by the peacekeeper nation. This strip, possibly with the protection of either a direct purchase recognized by the UN, or a similar mechanism to the 99 year lease under which the UK governed Hong Kong, would over time become an economic development zone under the sole control of the state that made the sacrifices to rebuild the South of Somalia.

Why would this be a benefit to the peacekeeper nation? Quite simply, the same economic formula that built Hong Kong and the fastest growing large economy in the World today; China. Ethiopia is a massive state with a very large population that has not yet undergone an industrial revolution. It has no access to the sea; but must funnel all trade through surrounding nations. Inevitably, as infrastructure is built in Ethiopia, and as the industrial revolution begins to take effect there, it will become a source for inexpensive and labor intensive mass produced items just as happened with China. As the cost of labor in China inevitably rises, Ethiopia could be one of the nations “taking” jobs from them just as they took jobs from elsewhere.

This process would be accelerated by the creation of a “Awdal Strip”. A rail link and port facility, combined with sufficient power generation, and a reasonable industrial park style infrastructure, would create a “Hong Kong effect” very rapidly, which would become incredibly lucrative over time. Millions of people in East Africa would be interested in moving into the burgeoning city in search of work in the new factories, and if the government maintained liberal trade and industrial policies such as no minimum wage laws and discouraging unionization, the economic engine could be tremendous in scope. The potential exists for an East African Singapore or Hong Kong, which would bring tremendous benefit to the entire region as the industrialization spread just as it did to China.

Do I expect this to happen? Not in today’s political climate. Certainly not so long as we place ideology ahead of realistic incentives and analysis in our foreign policy. Perhaps an East African Hong Kong is a pipe dream, but at would be a scenario that would simultaneously take care of the Somali terror problem, the Somali pirate problem, and the Somali failed-state problem at a stroke. Perhaps the presentation of a non politically correct, but very beneficial solution will cause some rethinking of our baseline assumptions in foreign policy planning that have led to the current situation in Somalia.

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~ by Jubal Biggs on April 23, 2009.

One Response to “Somali Solution”

  1. Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

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