The CSS Blog Network

Piracy: A Winning Business Model

Playing cat and mouse as pirate operations become a lot more sophisticated than this, photo: UK Ministry of Defense Crown Copyright/flickr

Pirates in the Indian Ocean have struck once again: Within two days, groups of pirates hijacked two more tankers, bringing the total of ships being held hostage in the region to a whopping 30 (with 700 crew members on board).

And the latest hijackings are likely to net the pirates more money than ever, with one of the Greek-owned tankers carrying more than $200 million (yes, MILLION) worth of oil. In addition to the human cost of these tragedies, the cost to the global oil market is potentially significant as it tightens already uncomfortable choking points in the transfer of oil from the Middle East to the rest of the world. Although pirate attacks are getting less frequent, their audacity, sophistication and sheer reach is growing as funds available to pirate groups in Somalia in particular have mushroomed.

Indeed Navfor spokesman Wing Commander Paddy O’Kennedy notes that:

What we are dealing with here is a business model that is so good, that for a matter of tens of thousands of dollars you can put together a pirate action group, you can send it to sea and if you are lucky and hit the jackpot, you can come back with a vessel that within six months will bring you a return of nine-and-a-half million dollars. We are the first to admit we are not deterring piracy.

So, as more money flows to pirates and international naval task forces continue to struggle to secure shipping lanes that keep the world economy moving, the question arises: Is piracy in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden a scourge that is here to stay? And if naval task forces can do little else except damage control, should the international community not be looking to address the root causes of the lawlessness and misery that drives piracy in the region?

Isn’t it time that the international community take another hard look at what is happening in Somalia and to the Somali people?

For a wealth of background information and analysis on this issue, see our Digital Library holdings under the keyword ‘Piracy on the High Seas‘.

Trying to Play Chicken with Everybody’s Money

A slow and painful battle over America's financial future, photo: Benjamin Reed/flickr

The bumbling US Tea Party has issued its latest ultimatum: cut public expenditures or risk defaulting on the national debt. And how? By stopping lawmakers from raising the country’s legal debt ceiling, currently set at $14.3 trillion. The US Treasury reckons it will hit and inevitably exceed the limit sometime between late March and May.

The Obama White House has deemed the issue non-negotiable. Is it an idle threat?

Strictly speaking, the Tea Party doesn’t have the votes in Congress. Mainstream Republicans would all have to vote no. Mainstream Republicans, however, primarily serve the interests of the corporate and financial elite; overt attempts to undermine US economic power typically receive a cold reception with this crowd.

As discussed in my ISN Blog post last week, the instance of disagreement nevertheless puts the spotlight on the growing rift in the American Right. It also exposes the ignorance of the frustrated Tea Partiers. Nuking your economy is no solution to your economic woes. » More

No Escape from the Curse of Taxation

Bad News in the Cards for Romania's Witches, photo: Brenda Clarke/flickr

Politicians in Romania are currently debating a bill which will inescapably change the lives of the country’s witches, fortune tellers and soothsayers. Only one month after the Romanian Parliament changed the country’s labor laws to officially recognize the centuries-old practices as taxable professions, the nation’s witches & co. are cursing a new bill that threatens fines or even a prison sentence if their predictions do not come true. In addition, the law will make them carry permits and provide receipts, and forbid magic weavers from carrying out their work near churches or schools.

This move by the Romanian officials does come as a surprise (to some of us, at least). Witchcraft has been part of Romanian (sub-)culture for centuries. Nevertheless, the lives of witches, astrologers and other forms of spiritual mediums have always been tough, to say the least. Under the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, the supernatural industry was even banned and its adherers prosecuted. Only in the 1990s the witches re-emerged to carry on their craft in freedom.

Today, superstition is considered a serious matter in the land of Dracula, and officials regularly turn to occultists for help – not least to help the impoverished country collect more money and crack down on tax evasion. It is thus hardly surprising that the country’s sitting president, Traian Basescu, is known internally to wear purple on certain days in an attempt to ward off evil. » More

Race for the UN Security Council

Kevin Rudd, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia addresses the UN GA, courtesy of UN Photos/Marco Castro

The race for the 2013/14 election for non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council is raging among a group of countries, including several EU countries, Australia, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Luxembourg and Finland are the official EU candidates and enjoy the support of the EU member states and have the advantage of not having been regular UN SC members. Luxembourg was never elected and Finland was elected twice, the last time in 1989-1990. In an attempt to win more votes for the election, the two countries have engaged in ‘cash-diplomacy‘ by increasing their aid money abroad, especially in Africa, amongst countries that form the most influential grouping in the UN General Assembly.

Recently, Australia also declared itself a candidate for the council. Some analyst says that Australia’s chances are low. It already lost against two EU members (Sweden and Portugal) in 1996, it does not have the EU’s support, it entered the race later than its opponents, and is less engaged in a cash-diplomacy than Luxembourg or Finland. According to the Lowy Institute, Luxembourg and Finland respectively gave $137 and $237 million in aid money to Africa while Australia only gave $80 million.

At first glance it seems that Luxembourg and Finland have a better chance to win the race to the UN SC. But if we look a bit more closely, the election might actually be much tighter. » More

ISN Insights: Look Back, Week Ahead

The new ISN Insights week starts today, photo: Nicole North Rodriguez/flickr

Last week, we examined the following issues:

This week we’ll be looking at: the nexus between FIFA decisions and world politics, EU’s approach to illegal immigration, the ongoing Munich Security Conference, and oil politics in the wake of Egypt’s political crisis. Stay tuned.

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