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The Gulf of Aden is located in the Arabian Sea between Yemen on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. In the northwest, it connects with the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. Geographically, the ocean type of the waters is “Gulf”. It covers an area of approximately 2,000,000 km2 and is inhabited by about 90.2 million people (Onuoha, 2010).


Source: Gulf of Aden map.png: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The waterway is part of the ever busy Suez Canal shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean waters, which are home to busy shipping lanes for trade between Asia and East Africa, as well as for ships making longer voyages around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope (Ploch, et al, 2009). The Gulf provides transit for Persian Gulf oil, and also is a shortcut for trade ships from Europe to Africa, making it an important water way in the world, as far as global trade and commerce is concerned.

Approximately 11 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden on its way to the Suez Canal or to regional refineries. The Gulf plays host to a good number of ports, which include Port Aden in Yemen, Port Djibouti City in Djibouti, and Ports Zeila, Berbera, and Bosaso in Somalia. With her unique location in the Horn of Africa, and jutting out into the India Ocean, Somalia’s harbours are naturally ports of call for ships and traders sailing the all important trade route (Ploch, et al, 2009).

Somalia, which is of particular interest in this study occupies a geographic area of 637,657 sq. km in the Gulf of Aden, with a population of about 9.9 million (2011 estimate: no census exists). Somalia used to have a robust economy that depended on aid. During the Mohamad Siad Barre’s regime, countries like Denmark, Great Britain, Iraq, Japan, Sweden, USSR and West Germany provided Somalia with aid which was used to develop its fishing industry.

Prior to the Siad Barre regime, Somali fishing was very limited in returns due to low demand for seafood in Somalia and the absence of technologically improved fishing technology and export facilities. However, aid money improved fishing, shipping, and supported the construction of storage and maintenance facilities. Unfortunately, the income from fishing declined, and the economy collapsed after the fall of the Siad Barre’s regime, and the country degenerated into Civil War.

In the wake of the collapse of the Mohamad Said Barre-led Somali central government, the Somali Navy ceased to be functional in terms of protecting her maritime jurisdiction. Therefore foreign fishing trawlers, taking advantage of the civil war, plunged into the undefended Somali waters and began fishing in Somali waters illegally. Besides, Multinational Corporations from far and near began discharging toxic and even nuclear waste in Somalia waters. This led to the attrition of the fish stock, and compelled the local fishermen to band together to protect their maritime resources, and territory. This hitherto innocuous act of self-protection gradually spread from Somali territorial waters through to the entire length of the Gulf of Aden becoming full-scale piracy and armed robbery.

Subsequently, the resultant humanitarian situation in Somalia and the maritime security situation in the Gulf of Aden attracted the attention of the international community African Union (AU), North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO), European Union (EU) member states, and the United Nations (UN) which responded by way of armed intervention on humanitarian grounds.

At the outset, the principal objective of the armed intervention was to arrest the humanitarian challenges in Somalia which included starvation, sickness, general sufferings, wanton killings and death, etc. However, as the crisis arising from the civil war extended to the waters of the Gulf of Aden, piracy and armed robbery against ships and other vessels plying the Gulf became rampant and brought about huge losses to the maritime world.

In view of the economic, strategic and security importance of the Gulf, the international community was compelled to extend her armed intervention to the waters of the Gulf of Aden. The aim of the intervention was essentially to patrol and provide security, by fighting the upsurge in hijacking of vessels and crew plying the nearly 4,000-kilometer-long coastal water corridor off Somalia for ransom. To that effect, as from mid-2009, almost all of the world’s most powerful navies and governments have been pinned down “to contain the phenomenon caused by a rag-tag army of Somali youths, some barely in their teens, sailing in sometimes rusty ‘motherships’ and using skiffs and speedboats and armed with AK47s, hand and shoulder held rocket propelled grenades; the favourite pirate weapons” (Odeke, 2011:1-2).

These pirate attacks, armed robbery and the concomitant war against them have raised a lot of legal, policy, and strategic issues in international relations; top of which revolve around sovereignty, human rights, right to protect, self-determination, maritime security, development of template for humanitarian intervention, the place of the UN in the post-cold war era among others. On the economic side, it has resulted in escalation in prices of global commodities like oil; increase in maritime insurance, civilian vessels carrying arms, etc. Meanwhile, the fear of violence by Somalia pirates tops the agenda of maritime business meetings, and that of the international organizations like the UN.

It is against this background that this study set out to explore the impact of the armed intervention on maritime security in the Gulf of Aden region, from inception in 2008 through to 2011 when this research started.



With more than 21,000 ships travelling every year through the Gulf of Aden, representing 10 percent of the international oil trade and 7 percent of global maritime trade Marchal (2011:11); the rise in the number of successful pirate attacks; increase in the number of violent attacks; increase in overall use of arms; an increase in the level of violence towards the crews; and increased use of sophisticated weapons; the international community had good reasons to intervene in the internal armed conflict in Somalia. This is with a view to restoring law and order in Somalia, and consequently salvaging the maritime security situation in the Gulf of Aden occasioned by Somali youth “pirates”.

But there is an ongoing debate as to the relevance of armed intervention in settling disputes and or restoring law and order, peace and security in political situations where sovereignty is nonexistent particularly where the “political neutrality” approach to armed intervention is the case. According to Dalton (1995), the prevailing policy in contemporary armed military intervention is “to maintain absolute neutrality in the face of all provocations for fear of becoming unwilling participants in a civil war” (Dalton, 1995: A18). Interestingly, Clarke (1997:3) posited that the “notions of external force neutrality, coupled with unquestioning respect for state sovereignty where clearly none exists, can effectively negate the potentially beneficial effects of multilateral armed humanitarian intervention”. He remarked that:

With the potential for more state breakdowns caused by ethnic and regional stresses, it must be recognized that cold war etiquette no longer provides the basis for relations with distressed states. International mandated political action, backed by military force, may be the sole formula to halt or blunt chaos and the endless cycle of violence brought on by complex mandate disasters (Clarke, 1997:3).


While it may be correct to argue that the international community was being politically neutral in the civil war in Somalia, the contributors to the armed intervention in the Gulf of Aden were not neutral; they had divergent objectives that negate their collective efforts. French interest in participating in the armed intervention principally was to showcase the utility of her hitherto dysfunctional military base in Djibouti; and to allow President Nicolas Sarkozy to cast himself as a primary European leader, among others (Marchal, 2011). The interest of Japan was to assert her relevance in international affairs and redeem her image that was battered by her non-involvement in the 1991 Gulf War – which could not be cured by her huge financial contribution to the international coalition against Saddam Hussein (Marchal, 2011). Russia’s involvement was highly instructive. It projected the condemnable reluctance of Kenya, Djibouti, and Yemen to prosecute the pirates and brought about a series of UN Security Council Resolutions (see in particular UNSC Resolution 1918 (2010), which reflected a number of Russian concerns).

The United States of America (U.S.), whose initial interest was the Gulf of Guinea, saw this venture as yet another opportunity to legitimize the newly created U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which had fighting piracy as one of its five priorities (Ploch, 2010). It (piracy interdiction) also allowed the U.S. Navy to claim a greater role than the one it had assumed thus far in the war on terror (Ols, 2008). Again, when China joined the fray, the U.S. felt that this operation would provide an opportunity to start a fresh discussion on some military issues (Economist, 2009). More so a number of other nations that had citizens and ships hijacked by Somali pirates eagerly joined the international maritime coalition to rescue their citizens and ships, and safeguard their own maritime interest. It was the need to provide minimum coordination to avoid confrontation amongst participating countries that was the point of convergence of interests.

However, to complicate matters, the many UN Security Council Resolutions touching on Somalia apparently dealt with peripheral issues like the protection of ships involved in the transport and delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia; the threat that acts of piracy and armed robbery posed to the safety of commercial maritime routes and international navigation; the need to participate in the prosecution of piracy suspects and the imprisonment of convicted pirates apprehended off the Somali coast etc. In all the resolutions and consequent actions, the UN and the rest of the international community avoided/failed to consider and address the generality of the myriad of historical, political and economic issues that surrounded the civil war in Somalia and help sustain the present challenges in maritime security in the Gulf of Aden. These include lack of economic growth and good governance. They equally glossed over the secondary or consequential problems that gave rise to the state of affairs in the Gulf – which is dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes by international corporations, and illegal and destructive fishing methods by multinational fishing companies.

In view of these developments, the supposed Somali pirates saw it as their responsibility to protect themselves and their maritime domain interest. The result is that while the local militia are seen by the international community as pirates and robbers that are responsible for the maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Aden, the local Somali fishing communities (who sometimes are victimized by pirates) regarded the Pirates as “genuine nationalists, committed to taking revenge against numerous infringements on Somali sovereignty” (Marchal, 2011:3). These activities and developments pose threats not only to maritime security in the Gulf of Aden (Onuoha & Ezirim, 2010) but also to the world economy (Odeke, 2011).

Existing scholarship in this area such as Ploch (2009), Dalton (1995), Ols (2008) Marchal (2011), Clarke (1997), Weiss (1997), Brown (1993), Gurr & Harff (1994), Gowing (1994), Adam (1994), Waal & Omaar (1994), Meddleson (1991), Weiss & Campbell (1991), Onuoha & Ezirim (2010), Odeke (2011), among others, revolve around analysis on legality, and otherwise of armed intervention, best practices, failures, successes and challenges of armed intervention etc. However, these scholars did not empirically explore the impact of the application of the principle of political neutrality in the armed intervention, and the conflict in the interests of members of the international community on the armed intervention in the Gulf of Aden. Again, they failed to ascertain whether the armed intervention has improved maritime security in the Gulf of Aden between 2008 and 2011. This study shall therefore attempt to fill the gap within the context of the following research questions:

  1. Has the application of the principle of political neutrality by the international community in their armed intervention enhanced security in the region?
  2. Does the divergence in the interests of members of the international community to the armed intervention undermine the task of combating piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden?
  3. Has the armed intervention improved maritime security in the Gulf of Aden?



This study has both broad and specific objectives. The broad objective is to explore the relationship between armed intervention and maritime security in the Gulf of Aden. Again, the specific objectives as derived from the research questions are to:

  1. Determine whether the application of the principle of political neutrality by the international community in the armed intervention has enhanced security in the region.
  2. Explore whether the divergence in the interests of members of the international community to the armed intervention undermined the task of combating piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden.
  3. Ascertain whether the armed intervention has improved maritime security in the Gulf of Aden.


This study has theoretical and practical significance. Theoretically, this study will unravel the reality in the application of the principle of political neutrality in armed intervention in conflict situation, whether on humanitarian grounds or otherwise, highlighting its successes, failures, challenges, and best practices. The study shall contribute to the pool of existing literature on the principle of political neutrality in armed intervention (peace-keeping, peace-building, peace-enforcement etc), piracy and maritime security. Therefore the study will be significant to the academic community – students of international politics, development studies and researchers in piracy and maritime security. It will therefore serve as a secondary source of data for future researchers in the subject.

Practically, this study shall equip policy makers, international agencies, politicians, and humanitarian organizations to better appreciate and understand the intricacies surrounding and consequences of armed intervention; as well as the challenges associated with the use of force by way of armed intervention in states where sovereignty is not assured particularly as it concerns Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. It will also help social reformers to establish a suitable platform to re-evaluate peacekeeping or peace-building policies particularly as regards the questions of external force neutrality; the respect accorded to sovereignty; political passiveness during the period of armed intervention in failed states; and the need to incorporate in armed intervention plans measures to address pressing humanitarian crisis; and long term design to resolve the underlying political issues that may have brought about the conflict.


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