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The Piracy Problem.

Consider two approaches—

The Stick. If the United States and other countries simply blew up any ship captured by pirates, including the crew and the pirates themselves, then, after a few demonstrations, piracy would no longer be a profitable activity. The pirates, rational profit-maximizing agents that they appear to be, would conduct backward induction and then find something else to do with their time. After the short term costs are incurred, the sea lanes would be safe until memories faded.

The Carrot. Pay the pirates to stop engaging in piracy. That was the approach of the United States and other maritime powers in the early nineteenth century; for a number of years, they paid ransom as necessary; eventually, the process was formalized as tribute payments, which made the initial capture of the ship and crew unnecessary. As Michael Oren's recent book makes clear, this practice was entirely rational; when the United States finally decided to destroy the pirates, the naval costs were far greater than the tribute payments had been. The various U.S. administrations paid the ransoms as long as they could but eventually bowed to popular pressure incited by a sense of national shame.

Each approach has characteristic costs and benefits. The stick lacks credibility. The pirates know that no government will kill its own people, nor can governments or shipping companies refuse to pay ransoms. The problem is not so much the doctrine of double effect as the political difficulty of inflicting harm on innocents even to advance the greater good. The carrot gives pirates incentives to invest in more destructive capabilities and draws more people into the labor market. Depending on just how costly piracy is for the pirates, the implicit tax imposed on shipping could end up significantly suppressing economic activity. At approximately $100 million per year, however, we are far from reaching that point.

One significant problem is the low cost of entry into the piracy business. It would be much better if a single pirate leader controlled entry. Then we could do business with him, paying him a tribute (we might prefer to call it a "toll") in return for a promise not to molest our ships. As a monopolist, he would have an incentive to limit "production" of piratical activity, relative to the unregulated market we currently live in. The monopolist essentially would be selling passage off the coast of Somalia, and would be constrained by competition from people who control alternative routes (which, unfortunately, seems limited). We might even expect the pirates to start organizing, or fighting among themselves, in an effort to establish a single firm that could obtain these monopoly rents. In the happy event that an organization emerged, we could call it a "state" and deal with it as we deal with any other state—paying it or pressuring to act as we want it to act, in light of its interests and capacities. We could even call this state "Somalia." If the gains from rational management of this newly discovered resource—the power to block important sea lanes—provide sufficient incentives for Somalia's warring clans to make a deal and reestablish a state that can control entry into the market, we should be sure to keep paying Somalia money (we might call it "foreign aid" if "tribute" or even "toll" is too irksome) rather than yield to the temptation to smash it to pieces. In the state system, sometimes you do better with an enemy than without one.

But that outcome is a long way off. In the meantime, governments will have to employ an unsatisfactory combination of carrots and sticks—mounting expensive patrols that spot and pick off pirates on occasion, while paying ransoms to those pirates who succeed.

Everyone thinks that President Obama will put together an international coalition that will solve the piracy problems. So far skeptics have emphasize the costs of patrolling, which are extremely high. But there are other reasons for skepticism. Clearing the sea lanes is a public good, and no state has much of an incentive to help others. Indeed, we have already seen that states take their own nationals far more seriously than the nationals of other states. The French attempted to rescue a French crew. Piracy was considered a joke among the American public until an American crew was captured; now President Obama is "personally involved," according to the papers, as he never was before. These conflicting incentives will contaminate all aspects of an international operation. Some states may hope to pay tribute payments to pirates so that the pirates will go after other states (akin to putting bars over your windows so that burglars will go next door). The current practice of responding more forcefully when one's own nationals are involved will have a similar effect. Obama will have no more luck persuading states to overcome these incentive problems than he has had in so many other areas—economic stimulus, contribution of troops to Afghanistan, assistance in relocating Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Obama has good reason to become personally involved in the current hostage crisis. Despite the relative insignificance of the problem up till now (ransom payments of $100 million per year are a pittance), the pirates' main tactic—hostage-taking—has a way of capturing the public imagination. It also has a way of sucking the air out of normal politics and destroying presidencies. That is what happened to President Carter, when Iranian militants took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran. And that is almost what happened to President Reagan, who launched his cockeyed arms-for-hostages scheme in order to secure the release of a handful of hostages in Lebanon. The scandal nearly destroyed his presidency. President Obama has every reason to be concerned.

He also has little room to maneuver. Having just returned from a trip promoting internationalism, he has raised expectations that any anti-piracy endeavor will have an internationalist flavor. This will mean costly, time-consuming negotiations for the sake of largely symbolic contributions by other countries, if history is any guide. Having also raised expectations that his administration will act with the utmost respect for legality, Obama will either have to direct American forces to walk on eggshells or risk exposing his words as empty. If the pirates continue to take American hostages, he will have trouble maintaining these commitments while giving satisfaction to the inevitable nationalist backlash driven by the mounting sense of powerless and humiliation that we haven't seen since the Carter years.

Soronel Haetir (mail):
I think you underplay the importance of the fact of the vessel being US flagged. I don't think there would have been nearly as much of an uproar if the same vessel, with the same crew had been registered with a flag of convenience. Isn't USN intervention supposed to be one of the major benefits of going through the trouble to US flag a vessel?
4.12.2009 1:31pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Everyone thinks that President Obama will put together an international coalition that will solve the piracy problems.


Only if "everyone" = "crazy people".
4.12.2009 1:36pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Are pirates purely aquatic creatures or do they have bases of operation on land? Wouldn't it be simpler to lay waste to the somali coast than attempting to catch the pirates in the act? Just bomb/shell the shoreline back 10 miles, repeat as necessary.

Our battleships are all sitting around waiting to be decommissioned because nobody has a use for naval bombardment these days. What better use than bombarding pirates?
4.12.2009 1:38pm
ERH:
Prof. Posner you casually mention that ransom payments of a 100 million dollars per year are a pittance. I would beg to differ. There's a tremendous oversupply of shipping available currently, so much so that shippers are practically giving space away. (check the Baltic Dry Index) Any amount of randsom paid can make a profitable journey into an unprofitable one and you can afford only so many unprofitable journeys before you simply lay your ship up.
4.12.2009 1:38pm
JNT:
Is it known if the pirates were aware the Maersk Alabama was US flagged before attacking? I wonder if that operates at all as a deterrent factor.

It seems like a deadly combination of conditions is at work here that make it nearly impossible to take effective action. 1)Tragedy of the commons issue, combined with the fact that 2) The task is, on its own, extremely difficult, even if countries were willing to donate resources, and 3) the overall cost of the piracy is still relatively tiny, making any cure likely more expensive than the problem.

I also kind of suspect the media coverage would be dampened had the raiders been termed something other than "pirates." That word alone is enough to guarantee a toehold in the popular consciousness.
4.12.2009 1:42pm
Oren:

Wouldn't it be simpler to lay waste to the somali coast than attempting to catch the pirates in the act? Just bomb/shell the shoreline back 10 miles, repeat as necessary.

Because the lives of innocents are clearly less valuable than a mere 1% surcharge on shipping?

In fact, most of the sources I read place the cost of ransom (plus higher insurance and hazard pay) at quite a bit less than 1% of the total cost.
4.12.2009 1:42pm
FantasiaWHT:
If you blow up a few, even with innocents on board, the deterrence to the pirates will save many more innocents in the future. Do it a couple times and then you'll be credibly in future negotiations when you say "Let the captives go and surrender to be jailed, or we'll blow you out of the water."

Also, these pirate crews don't seem to be very large, how much would it cost to put armed guards and rail-mounted machine guns on some these ships?
4.12.2009 1:47pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Everyone thinks that President Obama will put together an international coalition that will solve the piracy problems.

Who is everyone? The local yacht club? Obama is going to do nothing, and organize nothing. Perhaps you haven't kept up with the news and you didn't see his utter and complete joke of an international trip last week. Let me know when Obama actually does something other than talk.

I have quoted this before here and I will do so again. In the movie "Wise Guys" the Don (played by Dan Hedaya) asks "do we really hurt them by killing them?" to which Mr. Acevano (played by Captain Lou Albano) responds, "it's a good start."

I think whacking a few pirates would be a real good start to ending the problem. However, I am sure ACLU lawyers only see potential clients going to waste.
4.12.2009 1:48pm
Vermando (mail) (www):
Nice analysis; I like it a lot.

Out of curiosity, then, what do you think we should do, both immediately with this situation and in the longer-term?
4.12.2009 1:50pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

It would be much better if a single pirate leader controlled entry. Then we could do business with him, paying him a tribute (we might prefer to call it a "toll") in return for a promise not to molest our ships. As a monopolist, he would have an incentive to limit "production" of piratical activity, relative to the unregulated market we currently live in.


This would be one subset of a lack of the problem. The real issue though is that whether it is for a lack of a single leader or a lack of centralized authority and law through other means.

Let's face it: solving this issue is going to fundamentally require invading (with ground troops) and occupying significant portions of Somalia. As long as we are going that route, I think we should just go ahead and invade the entire country, establish martial law, and rebuild civil governance. While I doubt this is politically, economically, or strategically feasible at the moment, if we can wind down our presence in Iraq, it might become feasible in the future.
4.12.2009 1:54pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Bah.... should have previewed:


This would be one subset of a lack of the problem.


I meant "This is one subset of the problem: a lack of order."
4.12.2009 1:55pm
ruuffles (mail) (www):

If you blow up a few, even with innocents on board, the deterrence to the pirates will save many more innocents in the future. Do it a couple times and then you'll be credibly in future negotiations when you say "Let the captives go and surrender to be jailed, or we'll blow you out of the water."

I'm sure that will go over real well when the hostages are US citizens, like say, right now. 24 is not real life.
4.12.2009 1:56pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Posner wrote:

"The various U.S. administrations paid the ransoms as long as they could but eventually bowed to popular pressure incited by a sense of national shame."


National shame is something. At one time men had honor and would fight over an affront to it. A people who live without honor live a very empty life. There are things in life not covered by economic tradeoffs. Letting American crews be taken hostage and paying ransom is an affront to American national honor and that counts for a lot.
4.12.2009 1:58pm
Oren:
There's no dishonor in deciding that a foe is simply too small and his harm too insignificant to merit devoting our efforts to squashing him. If anything, it's a sign of strength that we are so powerful we can afford to ignore sure trifles.
4.12.2009 2:05pm
ReaderY:
There are several options that are closer to the "stick" than the "carrot" side that don't involve simply blowing everyone up.

These include, for example, rescue operations. There is an enormous difference between the case where hostages get killed by their captors while people are attempting to rescue them.

Ordinarily I might suggest offering the pirates life in exchange for release of the prisoners as an option to prevent bloodshed. Recent federal court decisions appear to essentially preclude such a possibility and to require that all pirates be killed on the spot in any rescue attempt without any possibility of capture. It appears that any effort at capture could result in violations of the pirates' constitutional rights, while efforts to kill in an on-the-spot situation continue to involve no such violations. Killing thus appears to be the only way that the possibility of violating pirates' constitutional rights can be certain to be avoided and hence the only effective way to prevent legal liability. In this legal climate, capture would appear to be legally foolhardy.
4.12.2009 2:06pm
byomtov (mail):
Obama is going to do nothing, and organize nothing. Perhaps you haven't kept up with the news and you didn't see his utter and complete joke of an international trip last week. Let me know when Obama actually does something other than talk.

OK.

Here's something.
4.12.2009 2:10pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Reader Y:

Ordinarily I might suggest offering the pirates life in exchange for release of the prisoners as an option to prevent bloodshed. Recent federal court decisions appear to essentially preclude such a possibility and to require that all pirates be killed on the spot in any rescue attempt without any possibility of capture.


If the military was engaged in a foreign rescue operation, why would this be significant? Isn't there a difference between a hostage situation resolved by police power and a hostage situation in a foreign country resolved by American military power?
4.12.2009 2:13pm
Humble Law Student (mail) (www):
Hmm, one pirate was injured. How long till a "human rights lawyer" files a lawsuit against the United States on his behalf.
4.12.2009 2:20pm
Diego Fuente:
There's another approach that may or may not appeal to the President: Just as Geo. Bush declared, after 9/11, that Islam is a religion of peace, Pres. Obama may wish to announce that Somalia is a land of peace, while allowing that there might be a couple of bad apples somewhere, who can certainly be appeased by education and opportunities.

Mr. Obama's great popularity may help him eliminate the credibility factor in this approach, which is akin to the husband found to have lipstick on his collar dismissing the matter as "who are you going to believe, your eyes or me"?
4.12.2009 2:20pm
ReaderY:
I must say, so far American captains seem to show that at least that profession continues to behave in ways so obviously not motivated by mere economics or the threat of legal liability thzt they put economists and lawyers to shame.

A society motivated solely by self-interest and fear is, after all, a very short-lived society, and economists and laywers have the good fortune of living and theorizing among people whose real motivations are capable of supporting much longer-lived societies, and hence who continue to be incapable of achieving the kind of short-term efficiencies espoused.

The average fortune 500 company lasts a couple of decades. If our country as a whole were run the same way, we ought to expect it to have a similar lifespan. When one hears how much more efficient businesses are than other forms of organization, one has to remember that their ephemerality and almost certain ruin is part of the equation as well. If people seriously advocate repeating the behavior, surely they can't seriously pretend to expect a different result.
4.12.2009 2:21pm
ReaderY:

If the military was engaged in a foreign rescue operation, why would this be significant? Isn't there a difference between a hostage situation resolved by police power and a hostage situation in a foreign country resolved by American military power?


This was intended a bit tongue in cheek. It's an alusion to the recent federal district court holding that detainees in Afghanistan can petition for a writ of habeas corpus and have various constitutional rights. The decision essentially expanded the Supreme Courts 'Gitmo jurisprudence, which had been based on the idea that Guantananom Bay was fully U.S. territory because of the unique treaty relationship with Cuba, to essentially any prision on any U.S. military base. If the decision stands, any detention by the military would result in police-like constitutional rights, while military action that doesn't involve detention, i.e. take-no-prisoners killing, wouldn't. (Or at least, military action in which people are killed while control of the territory is in de facto dispute. i.e. during combat, wouldn't). I'm pointing out that this legal situation would seem to create a perverse incentive to kill enemy soldiers rather than capture them simply to avoid liability.
4.12.2009 2:33pm
oledrunk3 (mail):
byomtov: Looks as if Obama let the military do the job while saying nothing in public. I think we have a commander-in-chief.
4.12.2009 2:38pm
Jmaie (mail):
Isn't USN intervention supposed to be one of the major benefits of going through the trouble to US flag a vessel?

The Jones Act requires cargo carried between U.S. ports to move on American flag vessels. U.S. aid cargo is similarly constrained.

Such vessel are much more expensive to operate compared with foreign flagged vessels due to the higher salaries earned by U.S. merchant mariners and larger manning requirements. Our government subsidizes American flag vessels - the Maersk Alabama and its sister ships receive in excess of $2M per year.

The major benefit of being American flagged is eligibility for government cash.
4.12.2009 2:53pm
DennisN (mail):


Wouldn't it be simpler to lay waste to the somali coast than attempting to catch the pirates in the act? Just bomb/shell the shoreline back 10 miles, repeat as necessary.




Because the lives of innocents are clearly less valuable than a mere 1% surcharge on shipping?


There are no innocents. If we burn a few villages and sink their fishing fleets, they will stop promoting and benefiting from piracy.

Yes, property is worth more than their lives.
4.12.2009 2:55pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
ReaderY:

It's an alusion to the recent federal district court holding that detainees in Afghanistan can petition for a writ of habeas corpus and have various constitutional rights.


I think it is entirely reasonable to rule that detainees in Afghanistan can have review be federal judges. I think that such individuals should be presumed to be prisoners of war (as they are under the Hamdi precedent) in such a hearing. And for capturing pirates this leads to a number of problems (how long do you detain them for? Where are they detained? etc) and these do seem to limit the military. However, I wasn't able to find any laws per se in the US Code against piracy.

I honestly think pirates ought to fall into and be tried in two categories. The first category (including the Barbary War pirates so there is precedent here) includes those who have valid privateer status from other countries. These should be treated as prisoners of war.

The second category are those operating from lawless zones wholely as a private affair. I think the simple solution is for Congress to pass a law making such actions a crime and therefore prosecutable in the US (and in front of an American jury).
4.12.2009 2:56pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
DennisN:

There are no innocents. If we burn a few villages and sink their fishing fleets, they will stop promoting and benefiting from piracy.


Thank you. Mr Al'Zawahiri, is that you? I seem to recall him making similar arguments in favor of the 9/11 attacks.
4.12.2009 2:57pm
Jon35:

Thank you. Mr Al'Zawahiri, is that you? I seem to recall him making similar arguments in favor of the 9/11 attacks.


No, no, it's me, Prof. Dr. Ward Churchill.
4.12.2009 3:01pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Also, if there are no innocents, then presumably you think it was entirely unfair to sentence Admiral Karl Doenitz to any time in prison after WWII?

The basic charges against him involved unrestricted submarine warfare directed at enemy ships in alleged contravention of international rules, and violations of the Geneva Conventions regarding the reluctance to rescue non-combatants on ships sunk by German subs after the Laconia Incident (where a French oceanliner was sunk by mistake, and American bombers attacked German subs trying to rescue survivors). In this case, the idea was that even if attacked, the German navy had an obligation to rescue survivors and hence they sent Doenitz to prison for 10 years.

International humanitarian law makes a clear distinction between combatants and noncombatants. I am sure that folks who do want to see Somali pirates treated as patriots would LOVE to get photos of destroyed fishing villages!
4.12.2009 3:07pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

However, I wasn't able to find any laws per se in the US Code against piracy.

18 USC Sec. 1653
4.12.2009 3:23pm
Bart (mail):

The Stick. If the United States and other countries simply blew up any ship captured by pirates, including the crew and the pirates themselves, then, after a few demonstrations, piracy would no longer be a profitable activity. The pirates, rational profit-maximizing agents that they appear to be, would conduct backward induction and then find something else to do with their time. After the short term costs are incurred, the sea lanes would be safe until memories faded.

Ummm... The stick is to destroy the pirates, their bases and their ships - not our shipping or its crews.

Everyone thinks that President Obama will put together an international coalition that will solve the piracy problems.

Like he obtained international combat troops for Afghanistan? Right. The EU is hardly about ready to take military action in Somalia and the UK has tied themselves into knots worrying about the pirates' human rights. If this job is going to be done, the US will again have to do it.

So far skeptics have emphasize the costs of patrolling, which are extremely high.

Most static defensive measures are expensive and cost ineffective. The solution here - as it was with other forms of terrorism - is to take the fight to the enemy, not to wait for the enemy to run into a patrol.
4.12.2009 3:44pm
ChrisTS (mail):
There are no innocents.

Assuming you are not following the 'reasoning' of Ward Churchill, how do you define 'innocents'?

I would like to know if there are rules against merchant ships' being armed or carrying their own security forces? If we want to blow somebody up, let's blow up the pirates as they attack.
4.12.2009 3:49pm
SirBillsalot (mail):
Does anyone know why the shipping lines don't simply arm their crews?
4.12.2009 3:55pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Ah, I see on the earlier thread that the arming of merchant vessels has been discussed.

Apparently some ports frown on having armed boats coming and going. I can see the problem, but couldn't we arrange a (perhaps, temporary) compromise to fight off the growing problem of piracy?
4.12.2009 4:06pm
T A (mail):
Posner's take is pretty realistic. Obama got lucky, this time.
4.12.2009 4:07pm
Oren:

There are no innocents. If we burn a few villages and sink their fishing fleets, they will stop promoting and benefiting from piracy.

I'll remember that next time I see a drug arrest reported in your zipcode.
4.12.2009 4:24pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Another problem with the stick of shelling any ship taken by pirates is the nature of the cargo. Sinking your average freighter may not be a problem, but do you really want to dump the contents of an oil tanker into the Red Sea? The environmental consequences would be horrible and long term.
4.12.2009 4:28pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
Another stick option would be a naval blockade of the Somali coast. Prevent all ships from entering or leaving ports. At the same time sink the boats and ships in the harbors, largest to smallest. Eventually the remaining boats are small and cannot get to the shipping lanes. Would probably be more efficient than patrolling the shipping lanes.

Apparently the Pirates depend on outside "businessmen" to negotiate or process ransom payments. Perhaps there is a way to cut off this resource.
4.12.2009 4:30pm
Ben S. (mail):

There's no dishonor in deciding that a foe is simply too small and his harm too insignificant to merit devoting our efforts to squashing him. If anything, it's a sign of strength that we are so powerful we can afford to ignore sure trifles.


Was it not barbarians, as opposed to an organized army, that brought down Rome? We create a market by paying ransoms. Your short-sightedness leads you to assume that others across the world won't tap it in their own unique way(s). And lest you doubt the impact of a thousand tiny cuts on a massive force, I recommend you slather yourself in syrup and sit on an ant hill.
4.12.2009 5:00pm
Sagar:
Prof. Posner:

i don't get your version of the "stick" - is that the best you could think of? why intentionally blow up the ship and the crew? why not rescue it and kill the pirates along the way and save as many of the crew as possible?
4.12.2009 5:03pm
Careless:

The Stick. If the United States and other countries simply blew up any ship captured by pirates, including the crew and the pirates themselves, then, after a few demonstrations, piracy would no longer be a profitable activity. The pirates, rational profit-maximizing agents that they appear to be, would conduct backward induction and then find something else to do with their time. After the short term costs are incurred, the sea lanes would be safe until memories faded.

It might stop some forms of piracy. It certainly wouldn't stop them all. Not all pirates try to take over large freighters and then sit on them until the military shows up.
4.12.2009 5:09pm
CLS (mail) (www):
Is there a particular reason that decoy ships aren't sent through the area, well armed (but hidden from view) manned by experienced military people? It would seem to me that pirates periodically tried to board a shipped manned by military personnel, and got blown out of the water doing so, it would give other pirates pause and put an end to the careers of those blown out of the waters.

Another option is simply to leave the normal crews but supplement every so many ships with a crew of military people who will fight back. The crew retreats to safer quarters and the military fight the pirates during an attack. I would think that after a few such battles the pirates would need to reconsider. I don't like bombing the shore because, contrary to the rabid types, there are innocent people there. There are no innocent people on the pirate boats so blow them to hell.
4.12.2009 5:10pm
wagnert in atlanta (mail):
I just looked up 18 USC Sec. 1653, referred to by Mr. Tutins, above:

Whoever, being a citizen or subject of any foreign state, is found and taken on the sea making war upon the United States, or cruising against the vessels and property thereof, or of the citizens of the same, contrary to the provisions of any treaty existing between the United States and the state of which the offender is a citizen or subject, when by such treaty such acts are declared to be piracy, is a pirate, and shall be imprisoned for life.
Please don't tell me the fourth pirate will get off because we don't have a piracy treaty with Somilia (or worse, because we did have a treaty but it lapsed because they have no government.)
4.12.2009 5:54pm
DennisN (mail):


There are no innocents. If we burn a few villages and sink their fishing fleets, they will stop promoting and benefiting from piracy.


I'll remember that next time I see a drug arrest reported in your zipcode.


There is no comparison. Piracy is a form of unlawful warfare. Their infrastructure is a valid target. If they were a civilized country and suppressed and prosecuted pirates, the position would be different.

Napalm them. Sink their boats.
4.12.2009 6:03pm
New Pseudonym:
EP, do you have a cite for "tribute" continuing past the Jefferson administration? As I recall, both the USA and the UK had adopted a "stick" strategy by the early 19th century, although other European maritime powers continued to pay for the privilege of sailing in the Med. (hmmm, sounds familiar).

Ein, I don't understand how the Barbary Pirates can be distinguished from other pirates. Are you suggesting they had valid privateer papers from the Sultan of Turkey (recognized as the sovereign over these territories at the time)? Certainly they had the support of the Beys who exercised actual control of the Barbary Coast, but it seems to me that is nearly analogous to the situation in Somalia, where those who control the ports encourage the pirates and reap the rewards of their piracy. In any case, if the Barbary Pirates were valid privateers, they were not pirates.

Bombardment may not be the answer is a ridiculous response, but attacking the land bases of the pirates is probably the best response, and it worked in the past. Not only the guys with RPGs, but the folks who are selling fuel and chandler's supplies to the mother ships are complicit in this piracy, and are legitimate targets for the stick.

I am no Obama fan, but anyone who believes that in a high profile action like this, the CinC does not get overly involved is naive. I am not sure what I may say, but I am sure there are unclassified sources (probably even out there on those internet thingys) that address not only Carter and Desert 1, but Nixon and the Mayaguez -- check out USS Pueblo and USS Liberty as well (the last didn't involved hostages, but did involve an attack by a hostile nation on a US ship). I say that if his idiot of a press secretary doesn't try to puff up his role, he deserves a good deal of credit.

Finally, let me be the first to suggest that the US issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal. Perhaps Blackwater (I can't remember its new name) could apply for them?
4.12.2009 6:08pm
DennisN (mail):

Is there a particular reason that decoy ships aren't sent through the area,



Q Ships would be a lot of fun, but the probability of any particular merchie actually encountering pirates is quite small. The ships would soon be identified and avoided. The crew would have great sun-tans, though.

An alternative, though, might be to put a Q Crew on random merchies. The protective crew could be put on board far at sea by helicopter. A squad of Marines with night visioon devices, machineguns and perhaps ATGMs would be sufficient.

The biggest contribution would be improved watchkeeping. These mopes don't beam aboard from space, they must approach in boats. If the boats are observed approaching, then they are lunch. Pop a 40mm grenade aboard and they are fish food. If they are seen launching from a mother ship, well, an ATGM hit should slow it down and make it identifiable to a follow on airstrike to destroy it.

I see no particular downside to shipping a small Marine detachment aboard US flagged vessels. Other nations should have the responsibility of protecting their own vessels if they wish to. Or the shipowners could sub the work out to Blackwater or some such. They won't because the cost of piracy is relatively small.
4.12.2009 6:11pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Apparently some ports frown on having armed boats coming and going.

Yup. I heard about this years ago, from the mother of a yacht delivery skipper, who took yachts from the West Coast/Hawaii to the Gulf/Caribbean, and back again. You wanted to be armed, to repel pirates, but many ports would not accept boats with arms. Here's the first such story I googled, from February:

Peerson, 48, captaining the private yacht Reel Screamer, was returning to Florida from a fishing trip in Costa Rica when he was detained Jan. 20 during a fuel stop in the Port of Isla Mujeres. Mexican lawmen searched his boat for drugs but instead found weapons - a Colt pistol, a Ruger Mini and a 12-gauge shotgun - with ammunition.

Days later, a judge declared him formally incarcerated near Cancun. Sunday will be his 18th day in jail.

At first, Peerson's family hoped pressure from media and lawmakers would speed up his release. But recently they've quieted, and attorneys have been collecting character references from people who know Peerson and can vouch for him.

Meanwhile, the Mexican Navy still has the 74-foot yacht. And while others on the boat were released, including Destin boat captain Brant Kelly, Peerson could face 5 to 30 years in federal Mexican prison for introducing guns to Mexico without the proper permits.


Now, especially, I suspect Mexico will continue their zero tolerance policy of unauthorized (by them) firearms in Mexico.
4.12.2009 6:14pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Also, if there are no innocents, then presumably you think it was entirely unfair to sentence Admiral Karl Doenitz to any time in prison after WWII?


Yes, it was unfair. His behavior was not much different from our sub commanders, if at all.

I would have approved shooting, hanging or imprisoning all high ranking Germans officers after the war. Because it was an evil regime that did unspeakable things.

But once we decided to use the forms of law, we should have went all the way.

Not invent ex post facto crimes like "aggressive war" nor let Russian "judges" in the courtroom (except as co-defendants). Not punish commanders for doing what we did or because Hitler appointed him as successor, the likely real reason for his sentence.

Doenitz and Raeder were certainly the least culpable of the convicted Nuremberg defendants.
4.12.2009 6:34pm
ReaderY:
Ransoms are perhaps the classic case where using a market approach is short-sighted -- a purely (or at least a classical) economic analysis may appear to work over the very short term, but the behavior has collateral effects which tend to feed back.

Pirates are trolls. Feed the trolls and they grow. If they grow too big they stop being content with catching the odd ship and start looking for bigger game. First they start raiding your coasts, then they start out-and-out invading. Even well short of that, a territory of pirates becomes a haven for all sorts of collateral lawlessness that can wreck all sorts of havoc.

The Navy Seals may have been merely lucky, but then again they said General Grant was a mere drunkard. I wish we could send a case of their luck to the next set of Seals.
4.12.2009 7:03pm

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