What’s the long-term goal, exactly?

While I applaud the work of HMCS Winnipeg in deterring a pirate attack, I have to wonder about the cluelessness of the people and politicians that sent them on that mission.

Winnipeg‘s role is to deter pirate attacks on commercial vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden, especially food aid vessels bound for Somalia.  In order to achieve this, the minimum amount of force required to achieve the desired result is employed.  So pirates can be scared off by a sign dangling from a Sea King helicopter, so be it.  They will relent and live to pirate another day.  Bravo Zulu, Winnipeg.  And what the f*ck, Ottawa?

Did anyone bother to ask the UN World Food Programme what sort of logistics were involved in their Somalian relief project?  Back in 1948, during the Berlin blockade, the Allies had to improvise a short-term solution.  Somebody sat down and figured out how much food and coal rations Berlin required to keep itself alive, and then they slowly but surely built up the airlift capacity (including airport upgrades and new construction within Berlin itself!) to get it there.  More or less inventing modern air navigation procedures (and subsequently modern air travel) along the way.

Given that Somalia’s food situation looks like this…

somalia_food_aid

… what’s the strategy, exactly?

  • What’s the total volume of annual or monthly food aid that needs to be sealifted to Somalia?
  • How many vessels on what kind of rotation will that require?
  • What does an adequate force protection scheme for that number of vessels look like?
  • How long will that sealift effort (and its force protection) have to be in place?
  • Is pirate catch-and-release (sometimes even minus the catching) a viable long-term strategy?
  • Is there another long-term strategy for piracy reduction or is the hope that, once said pirates are fed and (presumably) apprenticing at non-piratical jobs, they will be happier with the reduction in potential revenue and glamour?

Common sense says that the pirating poor of Somalia (who, after all, have nowhere else to go) are much more likely to hang around into the long-term than the NATO navies—guided as they are by fickle politicians who frequently operate out of their depth.  Getting a failed state back on its feet will take decades, and my bet is that Western populations and politicians will not have the attention span to maintain a decades-long catch-and-release constabulary force in the Gulf of Aden.

In 1948, the goal was clear.  Keep Berlin alive as long as the Soviet blockade lasted, and demonstrate that the Allies would not cede territory due to Communist threats and starvation.  That goal was clearly enunciated by Allied military governor General Lucis D. Clay, as well as the political leadership back home.  After the Allies demonstrated that the airlift could not only meet but exceed Berlin’s food requirements, it didn’t take very long for the Soviet blockade to crumble.

Today, of course, the Somalian pirates are not a cohesive group with a particular aim.  It is reasonable to believe they will be present long after the UN meets and exceeds Somalia’s food aid requirements.  So how about a little long-term clarity on our mission in the Gulf of Aden?

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