Americans usually think of “finding” rather than “growing” solutions. Growing requires more patience, but some solutions require stronger roots. (More)

Piracy, Part III – Growing Solutions (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature examined piracy in the Indian Ocean. Thursday we looked at the attacks on the Quest and the Dover, yachts whose capture has put piracy back in the headlines. Yesterday we explored the history and structure of the piracy in Somalia. Today we consider solutions, both at sea and on land.

Is there a Solution to Find?

We Americans usually think in terms of “finding” solutions. Consider the calls last week to invade Somalia, after four Americans were killed by pirates. Legal history professor D.R. Burgess wrote a HuffPo column about the legal definition of “piracy,” which Burgess claims does not apply to the actions in the Indian Ocean. He says the pirates are simply terrorists. Regardless, that legal debate will occur after the elipsis in his title Send in the Marines … Then the Lawyers:

Last week’s atrocities have raised the stakes in more ways than one. As the pirates’ tactics grow deadlier, so too does our response. Already there are rumblings for more aggressive military action, and even the normally circumspect State Department admits it needs to “recalibrate.” A showdown is looming, but once the smoke clears it will not be the Navy’s job anymore, but the lawyers’. We need a legal definition of 21st century piracy, and we need it yesterday.

But would “sending in the Marines” work any better in 2011 Somalia than it did in 1992-94?

The Finding Solutions frame implies that solutions already exist, and we need only identify and implement the good ones. When an as-yet unidentified solution exists, applying that frame makes us more innovative. But when there is no good solution available, the Finding Solutions frame leaves two options: give up and accept the problem’s inevitability, or repeat a solution that has already been tried and failed … like “sending in the Marines.”

Planting and nurturing seeds.

When no good solutions already exist, we need to change how we talk about solving problems. We need to focus on Growing Solutions: limiting present damage as best we can while planting and/or nurturing the seeds of a better solution in the future. And those seeds exist in Somalia.

There are already functioning governments in Somaliland and Puntland, for example. Both are in northern Somalia – Somaliland in the northwest, Puntland in the northeast – and neither could yet govern the whole of Somalia. In fact, Somaliland claims independent nation status, although no other nation has yet recognized it as such. Still, the idea that Somalis somehow lack the capacity or resources for effective self-government is false.

Both Somaliland and Puntland are presidential democracies blending western political parties with traditional clan structures. Both governments are Islamic, and hold Sharia as their ultimate source of law. The non-profit Conciliation Resources, registered as a charity with the UN, helped each develop its constitution. Each has faced political challenges, and they dispute their border. Still, each has managed peaceful transfers of power through elections, and each has provided stability in the rule of law for their citizens.

The Puntland government is also working to reduce piracy in the region. Their efforts include not only the arrest, trial, and conviction of pirate gangs, but also working with a British security firm to build a naval base at Bandar Siyada and partnering with NATO’s Operation OCEAN SHIELD. The Puntland government efforts have eliminated pirate bases within the region’s borders, and helped to reduce piracy in Somalia by almost 20%.

Growing Solutions requires patience and persistence

We can and should support Somaliland and Puntland, and groups like Conciliation Resources that assist with indigenous nation-building. We should also support UNICEF and other groups that help alleviate the suffering of Somalis while they rebuild their nation. Those seeds are taking root, even if the process is slow and frustrating:

In both the Somaliland and Puntland cases – and despite a reasonable level of political consensus – the making of a formal constitution has taken very much longer than anticipated. […] But the process of constitution making has helped to consolidate peace and create structures of government that possess public legitimacy.

While that process develops, and until it spreads to the whole of Somalia, we should focus on at-sea efforts to limit pirates’ options. As Robert Rotberg wrote in the Boston Globe:

Combating piracy begins with convoys organized and shadowed by the European or American naval forces and their fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Even far out in the Indian Ocean, vulnerable ships travel together. The ill fated yacht, The Quest, left such a convoy before it was captured sailing alone.

Most important, merchant vessels avoid pirates by steaming steadily at more than 16 knots, a speed that makes it almost impossible for pirates to approach and board. In 2009 and 2010, too many bulk carriers and oil tankers proceeded more slowly to save fuel, or because they were awaiting cargoes. No ships have been seajacked successfully when they were moving at speed.

Such efforts will not eliminate piracy in the Indian Ocean. No mere military effort can. But they can keep sailors, vessels and cargoes safer while we help to nurture the seeds of the only good solution: an effective Somali government.

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Happy Saturday!