June, 2012 – The EU’s Misguided Move to Fight Pirates Onshore

When confronting the crisis of Somali piracy, the preferred strategy of the international community has been to deploy naval vessels to protect vulnerable ships and deter and disrupt pirate attacks. The refrain that ‘the solution to piracy lies onshore’ is oft-heard, but counter-piracy actors-including the US, the EU, and NATO-have been slow to deepen their engagement with regional authorities and hesitant to expand the military scope of their operations. A significant shift in strategy was thus seen on March 23, 2012, when the Council of the European Union agreed to extend the area of operations for the EU’s counter-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta, to “include Somali coastal territory as well as its territorial and internal waters.” While a more inland focused policy is a welcome development, the EU’s proposed escalation of force risks increasing civilian casualties and local resentment and will have to contend with the unintended consequences of mission creep. This new strategy also comes at the expense of an alternative onshore policy: increased international support for maritime security capacity building programs in Somalia’s pirate-prone areas and the wider region.