Daniel W. Drezner

“Good enough” global governance, Pirates 0

To follow up with another data point suggesting that we’re living in a world of "good enough" global governance, let’s take a look at piracy on the high seas , shall we?  You might recall that in 2009 piracy off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere was skyrocketing.  This triggered multiple policy responses by shipping companies ...

To follow up with another data point suggesting that we're living in a world of "good enough" global governance, let's take a look at piracy on the high seas , shall we? 

You might recall that in 2009 piracy off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere was skyrocketing.  This triggered multiple policy responses by shipping companies as well as governments.  Ships started carrying armed guards on tankers as a form of deterrene.  An ad hoc and diverse group of countries formed Combined Task Force 151 to help patrol the Horn of Africa to prevent pirate attacks.  Hell, even Iran sent ships to participate in anti-piracy operations. 

So it turns out that all of these measures seem to be working.  By 2012, both press reports and official statistics  suggested that the tide had turned.  As the New York Times' Thom Shanker wrote up one U.S. Navy finding last September: 

To follow up with another data point suggesting that we’re living in a world of "good enough" global governance, let’s take a look at piracy on the high seas , shall we? 

You might recall that in 2009 piracy off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere was skyrocketing.  This triggered multiple policy responses by shipping companies as well as governments.  Ships started carrying armed guards on tankers as a form of deterrene.  An ad hoc and diverse group of countries formed Combined Task Force 151 to help patrol the Horn of Africa to prevent pirate attacks.  Hell, even Iran sent ships to participate in anti-piracy operations. 

So it turns out that all of these measures seem to be working.  By 2012, both press reports and official statistics  suggested that the tide had turned.  As the New York Times’ Thom Shanker wrote up one U.S. Navy finding last September: 

Data released by the Navy last week showed 46 pirate attacks in the area this year, compared with 222 in all of last year and 239 in 2010. Nine of the piracy attempts this year have been successful, according to the data, compared with 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.

How bad have things gotten for Somali pirates?  The top pirate just announced that he has retired from piracy. 

So can we chalk this up as an example of successful global governance?  I would say yes, but it’s worth noting two additional points.  First, it’s far from clear that activity on the water is the sole factor responsible for the decline in piracy attacks.  Events on land — including Kenya’s invasion of Somalia and Puntland’s increasing "stateness" — might have something to do with it as well.  Second, it’s not only multinational sea patrols that have played a role.  If it was, then shipping companies wouldn’t be mobilizing their own private navy.

Still, these actions compliment rather than substitute for each other.  The protection of shipping is one of the global economy’s oldest public goods — and it appears that after a post-financial crisis spike, there has been a useful policy corrective.  That’s good enough. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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