Skip to content

Global Security Workshop: “Pirate Lands: State Capacity and Maritime Piracy”

PrinsOn September 5th, 2017, as part of the Howard H. Baker Center’s Global Security Workshop, Dr. Brandon Prins, Professor of Political Science at UT, presented the initial findings from his forthcoming coauthored book, “Pirate Lands: State Capacity and Maritime Piracy.” Speaking to an audience of graduate students and research faculty from the Department of Political Science at the Baker Center, Dr. Prins provided a fascinating conversation on the origins of modern piracy in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

With research that has received funding from the Department of Defense, Dr. Prins challenged the general assumption that modern piracy emerges from failed states. Rather, pirates rely on some degree of state capacity in order to sell their goods and find potential targets. While modern pirates do tend to avoid operating around countries that have the capacity to find and sanction them, these organizations also wish to avoid areas that completely lack roads, electric grids, or basic government services. Pirates, therefore, seek out locations where there is a low risk of being targeted by the state, but increase their ability to sell their ill-gotten goods.

Dr. Prins noted in his presentation that many conventional measures of state capacity fail to capture this proverbial “Goldilocks” relationship between basic state strength and opportunities for piracy. To address this shortcoming in the previous literature, Dr. Prins relies on innovative measures of satellite photos of night lights as well as paved roads to capture when and where piracy emerges in fragile states. Using original data on the location of piracy incidents in Indonesia, Dr. Prins demonstrates that piracy occurs in areas where there is moderate state capacity, as compared to locations where there is no state capacity or significant state capacity.

This research spurred a lively conversation from the audience on how to measure state capacity, alternative explanations for piracy, and future directions for the work.

To view an interactive map of maritime piracy events visit the link here.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.