Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dealing with Pirates

Strategy Page offers an interesting explanation as to why the world seems slow to do anything about the Somali pirates:

While ten percent of world shipping traffic goes through the Gulf of Aden each year, most of it is in ships too fast for the pirates to catch, and too large for them to easily get aboard. These ships pay higher fuel costs (for the high speed transit), higher insurance premiums, and two days of "danger pay" for their unionized crews, and that's it. This increases the annual operating costs of these ships by a fraction of one percent. But for smaller, and slower, freighters, mostly serving local customers, the pirates remain a problem. These ships tend to be owned by African and Arab companies, and manned by African and Arab crews.

In other words, in financial terms piracy is just not much of a problem. The article goes on to lay out the pros and cons of the various options for ending it:

In dealing with a piracy problem like this, you have three main choices. You can do what is currently being done, which is patrolling the Gulf of Aden and shooting only when you see speedboats full of gunmen threatening a merchant ship. The rule appears to be that you fire lots of warning shots, and rarely fire at the pirates themselves. This approach has saved a few ships from capture, and the more warships you get into the Gulf, the more pirate attacks you can foil. But it won't stop the pirates from capturing ships. Establishing a similar anti-piracy patrol off the east coast of Africa would cost over half a billion dollars a year, at least.

A second approach is to be more aggressive. That is, your ships and helicopters shoot (pirates) on sight and shoot to kill. Naturally, the pirates will hide their weapons (until they are in the act of taking a ship), but it will still be obvious what a speedboat full of "unarmed" men are up to. You could take a chance (of dead civilians and bad publicity) and shoot up any suspicious speedboat. Some of the pirates would probably resort to taking some women and children with them. Using human shields is an old custom, and usually works against Westerners. More pirate attacks will be thwarted with this approach, but the attacks will continue, and NATO will be painted as murderous bullies in the media.

The third option is to go ashore and kill or capture all the pirates, or at least as many as you can identify. Destroy pirate boats and weapons. This is very dangerous, because innocent civilians will be killed or injured, and the property of non-pirates will be damaged. The anti-piracy forces will be condemned in some quarters for committing atrocities. There might even be indictments for war crimes. There will be bad publicity. NATO will most likely avoid this option too. The bottom line is that the pirate attacks, even if they took two or three times as many ships as last year, would not have a meaningful economic impact on world shipping. For example, the international anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden costs $300 million a year, a fraction of a percent of the defense budgets of the nations involved. Politicians and bureaucrats can stand that kind of pain, and will likely do so and refrain from doing anything bold in Somalia.

It seems to me that the best option is to amend the Law of the Sea treaty to allow shipping companies to employ trained private security contractors, such as we used in Iraq, to fend off attacks. Once word gets out that ships are manned by security teams and that a lot of pirates are going to get killed if they try to hijack a ship, a lot of them would see their enthusiasm for piracy evaporate rather quickly.

Ron Paul offers a somewhat similar plan. He thinks the U.S. should employ bounty hunters.


Three Months In

Today protesters across the country are having "Tea Parties" to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the economic policies of the current administration. The fear is that the enormous spending undertaken by the Obama administration is going to strap us with debt that will only be paid by inflating the currency or raising taxes, both of which will suffocate the hopes we have for our childrens' future.

But it's not just the government's economic nostrums that have people alarmed.

Just before the election last November we noted that most conservatives and many libertarians opposed Barack Obama because they foresaw an Obama administration, supported and abetted by a Democratic congress, eager to implement a number of measures that would erode our freedoms and be detrimental to our national health. Here's the listwe posted back then:

  1. Remove all restrictions on abortion, including partial birth abortion.
  2. Alter the meaning of marriage so that it's no longer the union of one man and one woman.
  3. Appoint judges and Supreme Court Justices whose decisions will be based on political fashion rather than on the text of the constitution.
  4. Redistribute wealth from the middle and upper classes to the underclass.
  5. Treat terrorism as a police matter rather than as a global war on Western civilization.
  6. Pile onto American business onerous regulations and taxes that will make it impossible to compete in the global market and which will result in higher unemployment and higher costs. (Cap and Trade, minimum wage, capital gains tax, health insurance)
  7. Continue the accelerating secularization of our society.
  8. Open our borders to anyone who wants to take up residence in our country and give illegal aliens the right to a driver's license, health care, and welfare.
  9. Nationalize health care.
  10. Deny to parents any choice in where they send their children to school.
  11. Push fuel costs back up so as to force us to conserve and develop alternative energy sources.
  12. Quell freedom of speech, particularly when it's conservative and/or religious, through vehicles like the Fairness Doctrine or "Localism."
  13. Downgrade our military preparedness and end the program that would enable us to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles.
  14. Take away the right to own or buy most types of firearms or to acquire a license to carry them on one's person.
  15. Strip union workers of the right to a secret ballot in union elections by implementing card check.

We're now three months into the new administration and it's clear that the list above failed to do justice to Democrat ambitions. Already the President, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their minions in Congress have taken steps toward implementing most, if not all, of the above goals. The Democrats are anxious to fundamentally reshape the contours of our society, and there's very little that can be done to dissuade them until the elections of 2010.

To be sure, there's much about our society that's in need of reshaping, but none of the changes listed above are among them. In my opinion, at least, achieving any of the items on the list would be at best harmful and at worst calamitous.