My colleague, Ben Domenech, has penned a very nice examination of Ron Paul’s very good idea to use letters of marque and reprisal to create a new class of privateers that can take on pirates abroad:
Deploying the New Privateers as a blunt instrument against the Somali pirates has some downsides. But I’m unconvinced that these enemies can be negotiated with or stopped without the deployment of an innovative solution — in this case, one that’s a throwback to the era these thieves come from. The cost, difficulty, and risk of a dozen more Maersk standoffs has to be weighed. We shouldn’t be satisfied with better protections for ships, hoping that the pirates will grow bored of their revenge streak, and reorienting our naval force in the region to combat this enemy will take time. Instead, President Obama and the Congress might consider encouraging those individuals who can to solve the problem in their own way — as messy as it may be — so that these seaborne brigands wake up on a morning soon to find their sands are run.
Click on the link above and read the whole thing.
Update: A friend of the New Ledger sends along the following note, which makes a fascinating point:
There is another dimension to this which is often not mentioned. Piracy is a business. Piracy thrives now, as it did in the early 19th century, because it is profitable. It takes only a few adverse market incidents (e.g. a robust armed response from a warranted combat team) to make piracy unprofitable.
Tactically, to make this work we must must turn what looks like pirate prey into pirate predators. Pirates will seek out unarmed and unescorted fat merchant vessels. They elude at all hazard big gray warships. So we must disguise certain merchant ships or camouflage their offensive capabilities. (“Q-ships” from the British WWI and II vernacular)
For the most part, I believe “offensive capabilities” amounts to putting aboard a small but well trained force of naval infantry. I do not think we need to deploy heavy weapons.
This is why the letters of marque worked. They warranted vessels where armed merchantmen not purpose-built warships. They were decoys that attracted unwary pirates. I don’t know the exact numbers of course but we may find that arming only one ship in ten or less is sufficient to make piracy unattractive in this region.
We are actually facing a more easily solved problem than Jefferson. We are not (yet) facing whole nations built on the financial foundations of piracy, ransom and tribute (e.g.the Barbary Coast). For the time being, it is a private affair. (Although certainly there is some level of state collusion in providing havens for the pirates.)
We can with remarkably little national treasure solve this problem.