Thursday, November 20, 2008

Piracy watch: The law as an excuse to do nothing 

Regular readers know that we have been complaining loudly about the legal constraints on taking practical action against pirates. The West, at least, is so caught up in figuring out what process is due to these barbaric thugs that it cannot come up with any solution other than paying the ransom. See, for example, this story about Germany's internal confusion about whether it can do a damned thing:

Just a few weeks before the EU anti-pirate mission is set to deploy, German officials are still unsure how much military force they are allowed to use against Somali raiders....

On Wednesday, the Indian navy engaged in firefights with Somali pirate ships, sinking one. That approach was given a hearty endorsement by the Saudi newspaper Arab News, which has called for an all-out declaration of war against the bandits. For its part, the EU will begin its own military mission, dubbed "Atalanta," in early December, designed to protect UN aid shipments set for Somalia.

German ships are slated to take part in that mission, but the extent of their participation is a hot topic of dispute in Berlin. While UN diplomats have said that "Atalanta" is an unambiguously military operation with rules of engagement that allow for the chasing and attacking of pirate ships, the German government claims that it is bound by a treaty it signed in 1994 that strictly defines the scope of military encounters on the high seas. According to the terms of that convention, German ships may have to wait until pirates openly demonstrate aggression before they're permitted to act in self-defense; and they may be required to cease their attacks as soon as pirates have gained control of another ship.

It sounds as though the Germans signed a really stupid treaty. Then again, maybe this is not about international law at all. After all, these limits sound a lot like the German rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

MORE (Saturday morning): Michael Oren, author of, for my money, the most enthralling book about the Arab-Israeli conflict, has an outstanding article in this morning's WSJ on "how to deal with pirates." Yes, he mentions William Eaton. Who does not wish that we had a few dozen of him here in 2008?

CWCID: Jungle Trader.


By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Thu Nov 20, 10:13:00 PM:

TH: "barbaric thugs"

You're on the wrong side, TH.


"Americans are fascinated by pirates: swashbuckling, salt-soaked seafarers who sport blousy shirts, spiffy vests, leather boots, eye patches, peg legs and the occasional parrot on the shoulder. There is romance in burying booty marked by a bloody X on a map and in making enemies walk the plank.

"There is something so timeless about piratical behavior — living the lawless life, stealing from the rich, sticking it to 'The Man.' "

NPR link:

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Thu Nov 20, 10:33:00 PM:

P.S. Write nice things about the pirates. You're gonna need these guys when the Islamic insurgents take over the rest of Somalia (just like the U.S. found the Mafia useful in Italy during World War II).  

By Blogger Anthony, at Thu Nov 20, 10:45:00 PM:

The pirates are Islamic insurgents. Bin Laden has been talking about seaborne jihad for years, now, and the pirates are connected to al-Shabaab, an al Qaeada affiliate. You can bet a portion of the money the pirates get in ransom is going to al Qaeda. (The Qur'an, or perhaps the hadith, call for a one-fifth portion as Muhammad's "cut.")  

By Blogger Andrew Morriss, at Thu Nov 20, 11:01:00 PM:

Julius Caesar was captured by pirates as a young man and had a solution to the pirate problem - as Plutarch put it:

As soon as his ransom was come from Miletus, he paid it, and was discharged, and proceeded at once to man some ships at the port of Miletus, and went in pursuit of the pirates, whom he surprised with their ships still stationed at the island, and took most of them. Their money he made his prize, and the men he secured in prison at Pergamus, and he made application to Junius, who was then governor of Asia, to whose office it belonged, as praetor, to determine their punishment. Junius, having his eye upon the money, for the sum was considerable, said he would think at his leisure what to do with the prisoners, upon which Caesar took his leave of him, and went off to Pergamus, where he ordered the pirates to be brought forth and crucified; the punishment he had often threatened them with whilst he was in their hands, and they little dreamt he was in earnest.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Thu Nov 20, 11:08:00 PM:

Eh, with respect to the Germans, I think I'm OK with them remaining on a relatively pacifist footing for the next five or ten years or so. My father, who turns 93 years old on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), spent the better part of three years in hunter/killer groups in the North Atlantic trying to blow the Wolf Pack out of the water. The U-boats were still trying to interdict Allied shipping as late as February 1945, when the Destroyer Escort he served aboard got one of its credited kills near Gilbralter.

There used to be a element on the German national character -- well, there's no better way of saying it that in the rather salty U.S. Navy language my father put it in years ago -- "they would rather fight than fuck." The Greatest Generation purged that element, and no easy feat, that. Out of respect for that generation, let's wait until they go on to meet their reward until Germany is unleashed.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Thu Nov 20, 11:58:00 PM:

"The pirates are Islamic insurgents"

Who told you that, Anthony (L.A.)? The same guys who told you about Saddam's massive WMD program?

Please give me an official source--for example, a statement by the Director of National Intelligence or the Director of the CIA before Congress. I'm not interested in the opinions of writers, professors, and freelance "analysts."

You may find this interesting:

BBC: "Somali pirates living the high life"


You of all people should appreciate pirates. Westwood, Beverly Hills, and Century City are full of them.  

By Blogger Anthony, at Fri Nov 21, 12:12:00 AM:

I'm afraid* I can't meet your high standards, O Exalted One, but here are two sources:



*(Actually, I can't be arsed to look.)  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Fri Nov 21, 12:51:00 AM:

If the pirates had Al-Qaeda ties, the U.S. Navy wouldn't be sitting nearby, watching them (as the U.S. Navy is doing right now in the case of the hijacked Ukrainian arms ship).

A quote from the BBC story I mentioned: "Most of them (pirates) are aged between 20 and 35 years - in it for the money." (My business friends in the region tell me the same thing.)

I know about the principal source in the Reuters story. I am not impressed.

The blog? Give me a break.

Remember: The Islamist alliance, the Union of Islamic Courts, shut down the Somali pirates. Then the Ethiopians sent troops into Somalia, the UIC fled, and the pirates went back into business.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Fri Nov 21, 01:16:00 AM:

P.S. Think this thing through. The U.S. government and its allies would freeze bank accounts before they would allow Western insurance companies to pay ransom money to Al-Qaeda.  

By Blogger Anthony, at Fri Nov 21, 01:27:00 AM:

I am not impressed.

And that breaks my heart.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Fri Nov 21, 03:57:00 AM:

The Reuters source, Anthony, works part-time as a freelance writer. He reportedly lives in a two-room shack and uses Internet cafes to communicate.


All too often, American conservatives attack the MSM, then believe everything they read in it. You have to be careful with African stories. You frequently have to peel back layers and layers to reach the truth. Sometimes you never find it. In Africa everybody's looking for something. Great continent. Never dull.  

By Blogger smitty1e, at Fri Nov 21, 07:27:00 AM:

Ah, yes, The Law of Obstructive Conformity:
Given a sufficiently large body of law, a reason not to undertake any particular action is readily available.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Nov 21, 09:18:00 AM:

'They're in it for the money.'

Which means that they can be hired, including by terrorist organizations. In fact, they're more likely to work for fellow scumbags like that than with governments.

And I can guarantee that some of them are, in fact, Islamists sympathetic to al-Qaeda. Aside from the record of seaborne al-Qaeda suicide attacks in the area, simple statistics demand it.

But regardless of allegiances, having a nest of pirates sitting so near one of the world's most important shipping areas is a bad thing for just about everyone except the pirates.

"Write nice things about the pirates. You're gonna need..."

I'll bet dollars to donuts that most of them can't read.

"Who told you that, Anthony (L.A.)? The same guys who told you about Saddam's massive WMD program?"

I like you, DEC, but sometimes your smug arrogance is positively Liberal in character.

I hope you live long enough to see that little saga declassified. It would make an interesting move.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Nov 21, 10:00:00 AM:

I see that Blackwater is getting ready to cash in on this with an armed escort and convoy service through the area.


By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Fri Nov 21, 10:13:00 AM:

DF82: "smug arrogance"

I do like to provoke lazy minds into thinking, DF82. And I do challenge weak evidence that someone uses to attack another comment. Bottom line: Don't bring spitballs to a gunfight.

I seldom criticize opinions backed by solid evidence (except in the case of some of TH's posts, simply to get a discussion going).

Get used to me, DF. I am a rather typical top executive in the global marketplace. People like me will make or break you in life unless you plan to spend your days at the public trough.

As I told you before, if you want to run with the big dogs in life, you can't act like a puppy.

Arrogant? Not me. That's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another successful entrepreneur.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Nov 21, 10:13:00 AM:

Commentary agrees with me. Issue Letters of Marque.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Fri Nov 21, 12:53:00 PM:

"People like me will make or break you in life." Perhaps some inartful language there.

I have a nice t-shirt here for you, DEC.

How about, "people like me will evaluate your judgment and the quality of your thought process and then choose to hire or do business with you or not." I am pretty sure that is the extent of any top executive's power over a particular person. Cut DF some slack, he's just out of the service, which is, frankly, a superior force to your era's service.

Oh, and Saddam did have a significant WMD program -- it just turned out that UNSCOM did in fact get 100% of it in the 1990s, which of course wasn't knowable until Saddam was taken down in 2003 and Iraq was fully open to inspections. So, there were no massive caches to be discovered. As to whether one was willing to live with Saddam staying in power with the ability to reconstitute WMDs, there was probably a realpolitik debate to be had on that topic.

I agree with you, DEC, the Somali pirates are not Islamic insurgents. They are frickin' pirates, high on khat. There is likely an AQ presence of some sort in Somalia, as there was at the time of the Black Hawk Down incident (there is some evidence, according to Mark Bowden, that AQ advisors showed members of the Aidid clan how to modify RPGs to enhance their ability to take down choppers).

Re: Letters of Marque -- there was actually a moderately good novel written about Congress (controlled by one party) issuing
a Letter when the quasi-pacifist president of the other party declined to do anything about the seizing of an American supercargo ship by Indonesian pirates.

Not gonna happen under this Congress!  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Fri Nov 21, 01:02:00 PM:

Thanks for the link, Escort81. But I wear long-sleeved shirts, even on the equator.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 22, 07:36:00 AM:

The Somali pirates are the ones in the news nowadays, but there is another active piratical movement as well, also in a highly trafficked sea lane, namely the straits between Indonesia and Singapore/Malaysia; it was 'in the news' not too long ago. The main difference between the two areas is, I guess, that the Somalis are taking high profile ships and holding them for ransom and are working in an area that is also very much in the news and has been so since 9/11 and especially since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Frankly, I cannot understand why the various nations with navies in the area don't just do as they once did in the old days and sink all of the bad guys they see. After all, most modern navies have such things as helicopters, not to mention marines and/or outfits like the US Navy Seals that can take back ships that have already been taken over by the bad guys, if they are allowed to do so by their government. Armed response is, to my mind, the only real deterrent to the problem.  

By Blogger Hucbald, at Sat Nov 22, 08:19:00 AM:

"International law." LOL! What a joke. To see what I mean, just try saying, "International Lawyer" to yourself 100 times. The sooner you burst out into uncontrollable, crying laughter, the more intelligent you are.

The cool thing about being a nation state is that you can wage war on whoever the hell pisses you off.

Isn't it sad that the west can be flustered by a bunch of mere flea-bitten dogs like this.  

By Blogger Pat, at Sat Nov 22, 08:39:00 AM:

Oh, for heaven's sake. This sort of situation is why we have ninjas. Send them to deal with the pirates and the problem will cease to exist by lunchtime.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 22, 08:50:00 AM:

Andy, thanks so much for the Caesar reference. As a kid once asked me, them Romans have been dead for centuries--how the heck would you know what they said?

Escort, I'm reminded of what another Roman said about the Germans. Something about your foot on their neck.

In talking with younger Germans, I was struck by their pacifist ideal that war is a dog unleashed: All war must be illegalized, since any military action must result in atrocity. After a few days of that, I found the attitude of some Volksgrenadier veterans refreshing: unashamed of their motivation, accepting of consequence, gracious in defeat, and they bought lunch. Must have been George Marshall's foot on their neck.

It's telling that the Japanese, who had an even crueler and more thoroughgoing "militarist" culture, are closer to a sense of balance in this regard than the Europeans.

Call me an old softy, but I get a warm feeling any time I see the Chrystanthemum Fleet or German armor on our side of the trenches.  

By Blogger M. Simon, at Sat Nov 22, 09:30:00 AM:

I believe the Us position is a sound one: let the problem fester and let the rest of the world have a go at it.

Wait until it gets so bad that ships start reflagging as US vessels - which will in effect pay for the US to do the job.

Another possibility is to wait until the rest of the world begs for our help. Make them grovel.

Always nice to see clients on their knees with mouths open asking for an at sea refueling.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 22, 11:09:00 AM:

The German rules of engagement sound like the French rules of engagement in 1940. The French could defend itself from Nazi Germany, until Nazis crossed into France proper, once that was done, surrender was the only option. I'd bet that traitorous Gerhard Schröder was behind that treaty. Ms. Merkel should do her best to amend that treaty, because it makes her country a laughingstock. It's like saying, we can only deter burglars if they're outside a building/dwelling, but once they get inside the building/dwelling belongs to them and nothing more could be done.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Sat Nov 22, 01:48:00 PM:

How another Roman dealt with pirates.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 22, 05:38:00 PM:

It seems that the Saudis are now calling in their auxiliaries to rein in piracy against THEIR ships.


By Blogger RightWingNutter, at Sat Nov 22, 11:27:00 PM:

The German rules of engagement in 2008 leave much to be desired. Their tactics and ROE in 1941 seem much more to the point.


Take a modern middle size freighter. Equip with false deck cargo containers rigged to fold down quickly revealing...

Updated armament:
4 to 8 M61s, laser tracking.

A 5" gun.

A platoon or so of Marines with small arms, light machine guns, and perhaps a few Barrett .50 cal.

Ample plywood and paint to enable the ship to change its outline and markings fairly frequently.

Some subterfuge would be helpful, like letting a particularly valuable cargo becoming known, on a ship that one of our anti-pirate raiders could be disguised as.

Also useful would be a Presidential finding that any pirates captured on the high seas would be returned to the U.S. for trial under U.S. law. Any conflicting treaties would have to be withdrawn from after giving due notice.

Given such legal avoidance of a revolving door for pirates, our ship(s) could be equipped with cages to hold the surviving pirates (if any) captured upon their attacking the ship.

Various size freighters and tankers could be used. The seafaring nations could be tapped to provide hulls and pay for the modifications. We would provide crews and firepower. If the 2008 edition Germans (for example) don't want to pay, we won't imitate their ships. Which would tend to make them preferable targets to the pirates.  

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