This paper argues that since 2005, the global security discourse has confused maritime piracy off the Horn of Africa with terrorism. American and European policymakers and financiers have tapped a vulnerable public imaginary to exaggerate Somali pirates as ‘maritime terrorists’ linked to Shabaab and Al Qaeda, driving the militarization and legal obfuscation of counter-piracy operations. The discursive conflation of piracy and terrorism has thereby launched a tactical and legal War on Piracy that mirrors the War on Terror. This approach is pushing pirates to become more daring and dangerous in response. We conclude that the tactical extension from counterterrorism to counter-piracy is unlikely to succeed, as it is insensitive to the origins, motives and modus operandi of Somali pirates. The paper proposes a shift from military to developmental responses to piracy, with an emphasis on respecting local institutions of law enforcement and governance in Somalia.

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Erasmus University Rotterdam
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Singh, C., & Bedi, A. S. (2012). ‘War on piracy’: the conflation of Somali piracy with terrorism in discourse, tactic and law (No. 543). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 543, pp. 1–44). Retrieved from