U.S. Navy Uses “Smart Power” to Fight Pirates

February 19, 2009

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In January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated a new national security strategy entailing closer cooperation between the State Department, the military, government and civilian humanitarian agencies, and foreign allies. "Smart power," she called it.

Just a month later, U.S. smart power is becoming a reality in one of the world’s most troubled regions. Off the coast of Somalia, a country that hasn’t had a functional government in 18 years, a Navy-led international humanitarian and training mission has joined a new, firepower-heavy counterpiracy fleet, while State Department negotiators play a key supporting role. What has emerged is a complex, sophisticated and, yes, smart approach to fighting piracy

In 2008, pirates captured around 100 large ships, ransoming them for a million dollars or more apiece. Several ships and their crews remain in captivity. The U.S. military and State Department have been heavily involved in promoting East African maritime security, but prior to February their efforts seemed to lack coordination.

In January, in Djibouti, the Navy formed Combined Task Force 151, with a mission to hunt down Somali pirates at sea. Last week, CTF-151 scored its first victories back to back. Over a two-day period, the task force’s four warships captured 16 pirate suspects.

Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, CTF-151 commander, said he hopes the early successes will prompt more foreign navies to offer warships to the task force. "It’s really a world interest, you know, to ensure commerce flows freely throughout the open seas," McKnight said. "So I think it’s a collective effort, to make sure that we all are working together in [combating] piracy."

But so far, among U.S. allies only Great Britain has sent forces to join CTF-151. The task force is still very much a unilateral, combat-only, U.S.-heavy operation. In light of Clinton’s "smart-power" speech, CTF-151 seems downright "dumb."

In late February, Africa Partnership Station, the Navy’s poster-child "smart-power" operation, will join the war on Somali piracy, adding a wide range of grassroots maritime security initiatives and international relationships to CTF-151’s singular focus on hunting pirates.

Read the rest at World Politics Review.

(Photo: Kenyan navy training, courtesy U.S. Navy)