American Elephants

Pirates and Terrorists and What to Do About Them. by The Elephant's Child
December 11, 2008, 12:40 am
Filed under: Africa, Foreign Policy, Terrorism | Tags: , , ,

In the news today, a cruise line disembarked its passengers in Yemen, and flew them farther down the African coast to avoid encountering Somali pirates. Last week pirates fired on a US cruise ship carrying hundreds of passengers as it steamed across the Gulf of Aden on a 32 day cruise from Rome to Singapore. This is serious trouble.

The International Maritime Bureau has estimated that more than 100 ships have been attacked off Somalia by seagoing pirates since January.  At least 14 ships and 250 crew members are still being held for ransom.  I wrote about the attack on the Saudi oil tanker on November 18, here. There was another attack the next day, on another ship.

So why are we letting them get away with it?  How can we allow them to hold 250 crew members prisoner, for ransom?  Bret Stephens explained in the Wall Street Journal, in a splendid essay called “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?Mr. Stephens explains how we got to the point where there is, as  senior U.S. military officials indicate “no controlling legal authority”.  We have, evolved perhaps, beyond the 18th century when we could just hang them from the yardarm.  And this is not entirely a positive development.  It is a lot more complicated to be “humane warriors”, as we are, and it makes the world less secure.

Max Boot takes up the problem of pirates and terrorism and failed states, also in the Wall Street Journal.  How do we bring the rule of law to lawless states with no real governance?  There is a vast difference between a war on another state, if it comes to that, and a war against a terrorist enemy that minds no rules of engagement, no international conventions, and is just a menace to international security.

The African Union peacekeepers have been ineffective in dealing with the genocide in Darfur, nor has NATO been effective in trying to get member states to live up to their commitments in Afghanistan.  As Mr. Boot says “If NATO won’t do enough to win the war in Afghanistan, its highest priority, there is scant chance that it will commit troops to police Pakistan’s tribal areas or Somalia’s coast.  And if NATO members won’t act, who will?”

These latter two essays address the essence of some of our problems in the Middle East that are poorly understood here at home.  The alert attention that we paid to international terrorism has faded as news from the Middle East has tapered off, and we have been safe for the past seven years in America.  We forget that our safety has been the result of a lot of hard work by our security forces, as other portions of the world come under attack.  We ignore the threat, which is real, and pick at the niggling details of the security that protects us.

In the absence of other solutions, shipping companies are turning to security firms like Blackwater to cope with the Somali pirates.  Blackwater said that their 183-foot ship McArthur stands ready to assist the shipping industry as it struggles with the problem of piracy.  The ship has state-of-the-art navigation systems, full Global Maritime Distress and Safety System communications, command and control battlefield air support, helicopter decks, a hospital, multiple support vessel capabilities, and a crew of 45 highly trained professionals.

Bret Stephens said in his article: “All this legal exquisiteness stands in contrast to what was once a more robust attitude.” That sums up the situation nicely.  We need to think seriously about what it means.

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