Report Chapter

South Korea's Counterpiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden

| October 2012

From Global Korea: South Korea's Contributions to International Security by Scott Bruce, John Hemmings, Balbina Y. Hwang, Terence Roehrig, and Scott A. Snyder, Copyright © 2012 by the Council on Foreign Relations Press. Republished with permission

 

In March 2009, the South Korean National Assembly approved the first foreign deployment of South Korea's naval forces to join the U.S.-led Combined Task Force (CTF-151). The purpose of CTF-151 is to conduct antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia's east coast by the Horn of Africa. South Korea joined the navies of twenty four other countries that participate in the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) through one of three combined task forces, CTF-150, CTF-151, and CTF-152, to help ensure maritime security in this region. The CMF is an international effort to conduct maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean.

South Korea has been a regular participant in CTF-151 with the important contribution of a destroyer, a helicopter, and special operations personnel to counterpiracy efforts in the region.1 The Lee Myungbak administration's most immediate concern has been the security of South Korea's commercial fleet and its citizens who work on shipping and fishing vessels, as it has seen an increasing number of its ships seized with demands for ever-higher ransoms. As a rising middle power with increasing economic and political clout, Seoul has assisted in a multilateral effort of the world's chief naval powers to address the challenge of piracy. Participation in CTF-151 and other international security initiatives has elevated the Republic of Korea's (ROK) status and reputation in the international community. Moreover, participation in these counterpiracy operations has provided valuable operational experience for its navy as a sole operator and in missions with international partners. The ROK navy has considerable experience to share with partners, given the work it must do for peninsular security, but these operations have also been able to improve these skills as well as the navy's ability to coordinate operations with others.

South Korea's participation in counterpiracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden has been a valuable venture undertaken at a relatively tolerable cost. Some analysts have argued that it needs to increase its involvement by sending one or two more ships. Seoul, however, should be reluctant to commit any further resources to these efforts at this time, given the serious security concerns it has to address closer to home with the North Korean threat. South Korean leaders will need to reconcile concerns regarding the serious defense challenges they face close to home and those in more distant oceans. South Korea's rising power and stature compel Seoul to contribute to the international efforts to bring security to the maritime commons. Indeed, the ROK has important interests to protect in foreign and domestic areas and must coordinate both without introducing unacceptable risk in either one.

However, the history of the task force begins several years earlier....

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1 In the literature, the terms antipiracy and counterpiracy are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference. Technically, antipiracy refers to passive defensive measures undertaken to prevent pirates from being successful. Counterpiracy refers to active measures that disrupt, confront, and seek to dismantle pirate operations and networks. CTF-151, though encompassing some of each, is more of a counterpiracy operation, and that term is used throughout this paper.

 

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For Academic Citation: Roehrig, Terence. “South Korea's Counterpiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden.” In Global Korea: South Korea's Contributions to International Security. October 2012.
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