Addendum, 15 April 2009


I seem to have missed the point I at which I was aiming by contrasting the current situation off the Horn of Africa with the Barbary Wars. The point is this: during the Barbary Wars, the pirates involved were often privateers [1] authorized by the various nations along the Barbary Coast; as such, there was a government entity behind the attacks with whom we could negotiate a truce. Fighting a handful of land battles provided hard evidence that we could (and would) strike at the nations themselves, and not just their maritime assets. As Clausewitz points out, this sort of activity in war is merely an extension of political action, and was intended to coerce our enemy to see matters our way (successfully so, mind you). [2] The situation is not the same with the nations on the Horn of Africa, as, first of all, the pirates are probably not authorized to act on behalf of a specific nation. Secondly, and more importantly, since this is the case, we have no authorities with whom we can negotiate for a cessation of hostilities; even if we did negotiate with the extant governments and received some promise that they would curtail the pirate activity, I sincerely doubt that we could count on such assurances to have any substance behind them. As such, landing troops to destroy the pirate bases of operations would do little more than reduce the frequency of pirate attacks in the region; it would not eliminate them without having a competent government in the area that could police the shores itself. Unless we are willing to take on the police role ourselves (I do not recommend this), landing troops and burning down bases would accomplish little in the long run, apart from, of course, inciting further acts of violence in the area. If we will have to contend with such escalation, regardless of our activities (already, pirates in the region are vowing to do just that [3]), I prefer that we handle such matters at sea, and avoid entangling ourselves in the volatile politics of the region. I suggest we declare open season on any ship that does not sail under the flag of a specific nation, refuses to obey commands from our naval vessels, and/or refuses to submit to search and seizure in the event of dispute WRT their origins and intentions. We need not eliminate the sentiment that encourages these criminals to take to sea; we simply need to make the latter far more expensive and dangerous than the potential payoff is worth in blood and treasure. People have a predictable habit of abandoning their ideological positions when their own lives are on the line. It is likely that we will not stop them all, but we may very well substantially deter such operations in the future.

Finally, a brief note regarding Peace For Our Time and the practice of appeasement. Recall, if you will, the (in)famous words of Patrick Henry during the early days of the American Revolution: “…is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” [4] We should be wary, lest we pay too high a price for the peace we seem to so desperately crave. Peace through coercion and servile concession is not the kind of peace we should be willing to accept.


[1]: The distinction between pirate and privateer was often a very subtle one, as both engaged in the same kinds of activity, i.e. commerce raiding (though the term itself is relatively recent, from WWI, if I remember correctly). The primary distinction is that privateers carried what were known as Letters of Marque and Reprisal, written by a specific government, and authorizing the bearer to attack, seize, and/or destroy ships belonging to a named foreign power; i.e., privateers officially could not attack foreign ships at will, but were limited to attacking ships as authorized in the letter of marque that they carried (note that this limitation was not always observed by the bearers). Piracy is more broadly defined, as they operated without the authorization of a specific nation, and targeted any ship they believed they could take, regardless of the latter’s origins. Note also that Congress retains the authority to issue letters of marque and reprisal as one of its delegated powers in the Constitution; see Article I, Section 8, Clause 11: “[Congress shall have the authority] to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.” I doubt we could use these to deter piracy off the Horn of Africa, but it does raise some interesting prospects WRT domestic coastal defense…

[2]: See On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, Book I, Chapter I, Section 2: “War, therefore, is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will”; and Book I, Chapter I, Section 24: “…war is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to war relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses…” This is clearly evident in our actions during the Barbary Wars, as our military actions eventually led to a peace treaty between ourselves and the Barbary Coast nations.

[3]: CNN article, 13 April 2009.

[4]: Patrick Henry, Speech to the Second Virginia Convention, 23 March 1775.


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