Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Somalia Piracy
As Submitted for the Record
Friday, April 24, 2009
Mr. President, I was glad earlier this week to join Senator Leahy in passing a resolution commending Captain Richard Phillips for his brave conduct, and those members of our Armed Services, particularly members of the Navy and Navy SEAL teams, who rescued Captain Phillips. I also want to commend the leadership of the President and the efforts of many U.S. government departments and agencies in their response to this crisis. These many acts of bravery and leadership are deeply inspiring, and we should recognize them.
However, while the episode involving the Maersk Alabama was resolved, we are likely to see more such episodes if we do not take comprehensive measures to address not only piracy on the waters, but also conditions on land that enable it. We cannot ignore the fact that piracy off the coast of Somalia is an outgrowth of the state collapse, lawlessness and humanitarian crisis that have plagued the country for over a decade. In recent Congressional testimony, both Director of National Intelligence Blair and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. General Michael Maples cited lawlessness and economic problems on land as the cause of the rise in piracy at sea. Until we address those conditions, we will be relying on stopgap measures, at best, to deter this piracy problem and we are unlikely to succeed in reversing the growing violent extremism in Somalia.
Mr. President, for years I have been calling for the development of a comprehensive, interagency strategy to help establish stability, the rule of law, and functional, inclusive governance in Somalia. This is the only sure and sustainable solution to address the problem of piracy – and the instability in Somalia – over the long term. Moreover, I am convinced that we have a unique window of opportunity for progress as a result of the Ethiopian troop withdrawal earlier this year and the establishment of a new unity government relocated back to Mogadishu. This government has the potential to unite Somalia if it demonstrates a genuine commitment to inclusion and begins to make a real difference in people’s lives – in terms of security and basic services, such as protection, trash collection and job creation. Helping the government to find tangible solutions to expand effective and inclusive governance must be a central part of our overall strategy to stabilize Somalia and address the threats of piracy and terrorism.
To that end, I continue to urge the Obama administration, as it develops its response to piracy, to make it a priority to engage at a high level with the new Somali government. I have written to President Obama, asking him to personally call Somali President Sheik Sharif and indicate a clear commitment to work with his government not just on maritime insecurity, but also on establishing security and governance within the country. We have been engaging with President Sharif at the ambassadorial level for quite some time now, and I met the president in Djibouti in December. In addition, there needs to be a stronger and more sustained diplomatic push to engage with a wide range of actors within Somalia and stakeholders in the wider region – both in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East – if we are going to address the underlying problems that have contributed to piracy and rising extremism.
Mr. President, the events with the Maersk Alabama earlier this month have finally brought increased attention to the problem of piracy in Somalia’s waters. But it will be insufficient if our response only deals with the symptoms and not Somalia’s central problems. I urge my colleagues and the different committees who will examine this issue over the coming weeks and months to take this seriously. For if we do not finally deal with Somalia’s lawlessness and instability, we will continue to see them manifest themselves in activities – be they acts of piracy or terrorism – that threaten U.S. and international security.
I yield the floor.