Monday, April 13, 2009

Pirates of the Somalian Coast

Okay, now I know this is treading dangerously close to Chris Nakashima-Brown turf, but this Somalian piracy plague is becoming quite the melodrama, what with all the hand-wringing in the aftermath of Captain Richard Phillips' rescue. Piracy always seemed cut-and-dried to me, so imagine my surprise to come across this particularly juicy quote:
One official said bluntly that piracy is a crime, not an act of war or even terrorism. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made, including about whether to expand or change the military's current role in fighting piracy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the seafaring nations of the world have always classified piracy as a particularly heinous act that transcends mere criminality or acts-of-war. Historically, the military might of afflicted nations has served as the front line in the fight against piracy on the high seas, not the FBI, not Scotland Yard and not Interpol. Methinks the unnamed official hasn't ever listened all that closely to the Marines' Hymn-- the "Shores of Tripoli" ain't included simply because the lyrics fit. You know, the infamous Barbary pirates that plagued U.S. shipping and prompted the two Barbary Wars in the 19th century. Unless my reading of history is in error and repeated viewings of Pirates of the Caribbean have led me astray, this problem is very much a military issue.

Listening to the talking heads on NPR, CNN or MSNBC (and presumably Fox News, although for all I know Bill O'Reilly could be advocating a blanket nuclear barrage) you'll likely hear someone--possibly trying to start a drinking game among college students--repeat that the Somali coastline is almost as long as the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and impossible to fully guard against pirates. Which is patently bullshit. The second part, not the first. The U.S. Navy has close to 300 ships operating, which includes roughly 11 carriers, 22 cruisers, 52 destroyers and 30 frigates. We could lock the Somali coast down if we chose to. And that doesn't count the British, French and other navies. The real issue here is that, from a cost-benefits standpoint, it's not particularly attractive to commit the resources necessary to do so. In short, the shipping nations of the world want to stop the pirates, but they want to do it on the cheap. In this particular scenario, the long-neglected Corvette class of small fighting ships, so effective in World War II against the Nazi U-boat menace in the north Atlantic, would seem to be particularly suited for anti-pirate duty. While the U.S. has only the Littoral combat ship on the drawing boards, the stealthy, fast German Braunschweig seem ideally suited for this kind of anti-pirate work. Pair a handful of these small, fast warships with this little bit of musical wisdom dating back to the '70s, and I'd wager dollars to donuts that the incidence of successful pirate attacks around the Horn of Africa dropped precipitously in a matter of months.

I wonder if President Obama is familiar with the works of C.W. McCall?


Roper said...
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Roper said...

One thing you fail to acknowledge is the circumstances that lead to such high incidents of Somali piracy. Considering the atrocities Western nations have committed in Somali waters in the absence of a functioning government, (dumping of waste and illegal fishing to the brink of ecological collapse) many Somali fisherman were given no choice but to look at alternative methods of providing for their families and protecting their waters. Military action isn't a permanent solution and would be costly. Humanitarian aid and development of a functioning government/economy would help address the underlying issues of Somali piracy.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

There are always reasons why situations develop as they do. The U.S. tried to bring stability to Somalia nearly two decades ago now (and failed miserably) and in the interim there's been no shortage of folks lining up to take advantage of the lawless situation. It's only now reached the point where costs are outweighing the benefits for pretty much everyone involved.