In America Alone, I quote Robert D Kaplan referring to the lawless fringes of the map as “Indian Territory”. It’s a droll jest but a misleading one, since the very phrase presumes that the badlands will one day be brought within the bounds of the ordered world. In fact, a lot of today’s badlands were relatively ordered a couple of generations back, and many of them are getting badder and badder. From Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. Navy said pirates commandeered a Saudi-owned supertanker bearing more than $100 million worth of crude a few hundred miles off the Kenyan coast, an attack that sharply increases the stakes in an effort by governments and militaries to protect the world’s energy-supply lines.
U.S. Navy officials said the hijacking was unprecedented for its distance from shore and the size of its target — a ship about the length of a U.S. aircraft carrier. The attack appears also to be the first significant disruption of crude shipments in the region by pirates.
And from Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph:
The British tanker Trafalgar was suddenly surrounded in the Gulf of Aden by at least eight speedboats. It radioed for help and a German frigate patrolling 12 miles away despatched a Sea Lynx helicopter.
The German navy said that the pirates fled at high speed as the helicopter loomed down on them.
It’s the scale of these operations that impresses. In the quarter ending September 30th, Somali pirates hijacked 26 vessels and kidnapped 537 crew members. According to Chatham House, their booty in ransoms so far this year may be as high as $30 million. That makes piracy about the most attractive profession in Somalia.
This is a glimpse of tomorrow. Half a century ago, Somaliland was a couple of sleepy colonies, British and Italian. Now the husk of a nation state is a convenient squat from which to make mischief. And, when freelance raiders are already seizing vessels the size of aircraft carriers, their capability in the future will be constrained only by their ambition.