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Yes, the EU has a navy, sort of…

By and
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 5:03 PM

As Raffaela noted in today’s news summary, it is being reported today that EU naval forces attacked pirate bases on the Somali mainland.  Several people have asked: “The EU has a navy?”

The background here is legally, operationally, and diplomatically interesting.  These anti-piracy operations are conducted as part of a multilateral coalition, acting pursuant to several UN Security Council Resolutions, including UNSCR 1816 and 1851.  That latter resolution authorizes states cooperating with the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to conduct counter-piracy efforts in Somali territory and to suppress acts of piracy at sea.  The threat is difficult to combat militarily; the multilateral coalition is very large and diverse; and the Somali government is very weak.  It’s widely believed that the piracy problem must be dealt with on-shore, not just off-shore.  French forces reportedly detained several pirates on Somali territory in 2008.  There have been few other reports about counter-piracy activity on Somali soil since then, however, so this latest action could mark a significant move.

These attacks (which reportedly destroyed arms, boats and other supplies — but are not believed to have resulted in any deaths) were conducted by the EU Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR), which is assembled within the framework of the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The CSDP falls within the EU’s foreign and military policy domain, and in that regard its membership overlaps with but is not identical to NATO.  It’s a separate political structure that, along with its predecessor initiatives, has been part of a long-running effort by European states to develop a stronger independent security capability.  This has proven difficult to do that in a way that strengthens rather than erodes the NATO alliance and U.S. security guarantees, and certainly to do so without paying the large financial price.

Official information about the EU NAVFOR, including statements from the force commander about the latest actions, can be found here.

One final point about the operation: it allowed EU member states to take effective steps against piracy without having to detain anyone.  European states have wrestled mightily with the question of what to do with any pirates they take into custody.  These states are especially cautious about pirate detentions and transfers because of European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, which sets a high bar for transfers to states where pirates face a possibility of mistreatment.  EU states also have been worried about bringing pirates to Europe for trials because the pirates might seek asylum.  An airborne operation directed only against the pirates’ tools of the trade avoids those complications entirely.

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