The recent increase in piracy off the Horn of Africa has gained an enormous amount of media attention, including the essay printed Tuesday by Mustang Daily reporter Mikaela Akuna. There is an obvious consensus that the pirates are a problem for commerce, yet few seem to propose a solution to the problem. Congressional leaders, not the president, need to work towards a strategy to control piracy against American vessels.
The U.S. Constitution specifically mentions piracy on the high seas in Article I, Section 8. “The Congress shall have the Power… To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas; and Offenses against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”
Jumping into another interventionist conflict in Somalia must be avoided, and synthesizing the most effective approach takes time. Somalians fiercely resist meddling in their civil strifes, as demonstrated by the U.S.-led “humanitarian” invasion of 1992 and 1993. “Operation Restore Hope” resulted in not only failure, but also the deaths of 43 and wounding of 153 Americans. While some propose controlling the ports of the pirates, this strategy is not practically viable. Another full-scale war leading to an occupation similar to Iraq and Afghanistan is not the answer.
A naval blockade along the coast of the Gulf of Aden is not a practical solution either. Currently the navies of several nations are patrolling the waters, but with limited success in finding pirates. The areas of pirate attacks span thousands of square kilometers. Yes, this is the technologically-advanced 21st century, but the ability to respond quickly enough to any point under attack remains impossible. Blockading coastlines historically has been shown to be largely ineffective. While it helped win the American Civil War to a limited extent, the naval blockade of the South still let three-quarters of blockade runners through. The financial burden of a continued government-provided enormous naval force also eliminates this strategy as a solution.
Congress needs to work with other states throughout the world to permit merchant vessels to arm themselves for defense against pirates. Currently many ports forbid merchant ship from being armed with firearms, leaving merchantmen to ward off attacks with firehoses and axes. Most pirates are untrained teenagers toting inexpensive AK-47 rifles riding on flimsy boats. If shipping companies place a value higher than ransom payments or insurance upon the value of the cargo, then the company should train and arm the crewman to defend it. If shipping companies are worried about damaging the cargo, they should provide a small escort vessel for the ship or ship in convoys through dangerous waters. It wouldn’t take much of an armament to blow the lightweight pirate boats out of the water. Permitting armament would also allowing crewman to protect themselves from being kidnapped, a fundamental right of an individual. Government restrictions on doing this are the main problem. Letters of marque (to capture pirate ships) and reprisal (revenge for attacks) should be made available to shipping companies from Congress for defense of their ships and cargo, should they choose to do so via private security firms.
The greatest threat of piracy along the coast of Somalia is that it will be used as an excuse for another interventionist war. The cries for instant revenge that suckered us into Afghanistan and Iraq must be ignored, and private solutions embraced. It is up to shipping companies to deliver their cargo, and any restrictions placed upon them by governments that prevent them from doing so need to be questioned.
Colin McKim is an environmental management and protection junior and a Mustang Daily political columnist.