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Security Policies We Can Believe In

The increase in piracy off the Somali and Yemeni coasts has prompted international shipping companies to call for a blockade of the region. Some companies have already decided to go round South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, incurring huge cost increases as high as 30 percent, rather than risk piracy. Defense consultant Robbin Laird writes about what the Obama administration should do to address this crisis.

We have heard a lot about "change you can believe in". We have heard almost as much about possible appointments and anticipated changes in policy. But what we need to see is change we can believe in that tackles real security challenges, ones which seem to have fallen off of the table from the final days of the Bush Administration.

No issue is more compelling than dealing with maritime piracy. Acts which would have led the British Navy to spring into action in the 18th century seem to have met with giant yawns in Washington. If the U.S. wants to exercise global leadership this is best done by acting and in real collaboration, not at Davos annual seminars.

Global piracy requires a global solution. The U.S. Navy and the US Coast Guard have signed several documents celebrating their ability to deal with maritime security. Now would be a good time to demonstrate these with action. U.S. maritime forces could be joined by AFRICOM (remember them?) in crafting a global coalition to take action against piracy in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

First, the U.S. can work with several global partners who are mobilizing for action. The European Union under the leadership of France is generating a maritime task force. Arab allies have met recently to craft a common response. The Indian navy, in actions reminiscent of their former colonial masters, have sunk a pirate ship and are on station and ready to play a significant role. The Russians and Ukrainians are able and willing to play important roles as well. States with which the U.S. has had more difficult relationships, Iran and China, can be recruited to play a role as well.

Second, those states unable to contribute war ships or other forces can contribute supporting capabilities. Global partners in support of the U.S. and other naval forces can do tanking at sea like Japan is doing for allied forces in Iraq.

Third, a realistic and aggressive approach to sharing of data among law enforcement, commercial and air and naval assets can be forged to provided for real "maritime domain awareness" which leads to action rather than endless reflection on the "art of the possible."

Fourth, as a global coalition emerges to patrol the seas and to eliminate piracy, new platforms can be designed to provide for such activities in support of global maritime security. A more realistic approach to building simple but effective ships and persistent ISR can be crafted to support the kind of global sharing which countering piracy requires. It is time to move from only building platforms in a vacuum, and to build to need.

In short, the Obama Administration can seize upon this crisis to provide leadership within a global context. To do so will require more than words; and publishing new strategies. Rather a new strategy can be built from the bottom-up by taking measured actions in concern with partners to re-shape security for the global commons. The pirates of the world are not quaking in their boats while we navel rather than naval gaze. Robbin Laird is an international defense consultant who served on the National Security Council staff of both the Reagan and Carter administrations.

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