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Piracy and Failed States April 18, 2011

Posted by Heather Mark in Failed States, Piracy & Maritime Security.
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Governments that are unable to enforce laws within their own boundaries or project and protect their interests outside of their geographical limits are largely considered to be failed state.  The Fund for Peace studies 12 specific characteristics of failed state in their annual Failed States Index.   This serves as a very comprehensive analysis of what causes states to fail.  However, for the purposes of analyzing the genesis, spread and growth of modern-day piracy, the inability of a state to project force will serve as the definition.

The ability to project force is an essential characteristic of a functioning state. Not only does this enable states to maintain order within their domestic boundaries, it serves notice on those outside of the country’s borders that the state can and will protect their interests abroad – whether that means in the diplomatic community or in international waters.  When governments lose the ability to protect their interests, it ceases to be a legitimate government.  Its citizens no longer depend on the state for protection and its enemies (in this case pirates) begin to take advantage of the power vacuum left by the failed state structures.

The Gulf of Aden provides an ample illustration of how failing and failed states have allowed piracy to take root and flourish.  Somalia is a failed state.  In fact, it ranks at number one on the Failed States Index.  Its governmental organs are non-existent.  There is no recognized law, nor is there any means to enforce that law if it did exist.  Somali pirates often claim to be members of the Somali Navy or Coast Guard enforcing fishing rights in the region.  Since  no actual Somali Navy or Coast Guard exists, there is no one to prevent such acts from occurring.  One might suggest then that regional collective security arrangements might be beneficial in taking on the problem of piracy.  An examination of the surrounding states, however, once demonstrates why collective security arrangements would fail.

Djibouti, Somalia’s neighbor to the north, is considered a “failing” state.  Yemen, the state directly across the Gulf of Aden is a “failed state.”  Eritrea, the Sudan, Ethiopia – all of these states bordering either Somalia or the Gulf of Aden itself top the list of Failed States.  They have little or no means of enforcing laws within their own borders, let alone attempting to work together to stem the tide of Somali pirates.

While simply identifying states that are struggling to maintain control over their physical territory cannot stem the tide of piracy, it can help in predicting growth trends and likely “hot spots” for piracy, that have not yet been identified.  A more detailed analysis of the geopolitical context for modern-day piracy, can be found in the following www.drheathermark.com

Dr. Heather Mark, PhD

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