Monday, April 13, 2009

Somali piracy

1. Right now Secretary of Defense Gates is talking about reconfiguring our military to be able to prosecute asymetrical war more effectively. In the case of the Navy, we need more small fighting vessels and not so many WWIII-appropriate giant multibillion dollar task forces.'

For operations like the one in Somalia we need a new class of very small aircraft carriers that only carry helicopters and UAVs (drones). They don't even need UAV pilots on board. They can be based anywhere in the US.

And we need Coast Guard-type military vessels. Even destroyers like the Bainbridge are overkill for situations like Somalia. Small, fast, seaworthy fighting boats with a couple of chain guns and ship to ship missile launchers (for motherships) would be perfect. We have to make it more cost effective to guard shipping lanes around the world, and the only block today is hidebound career officers in love with big airplanes and big boats and fighting other superpowers. We shake our heads at the Pakistani military's obsession with India while their own Taliban slowly take over their country. We're only a little better. Fortunately, Gates and Obama seem to have their eyes on the ball.

2. The pirates' claims to be be protecting Somali fishing from foreign trawlers is nonsense, since they're mainly taking nonfishing ships. However, it is true that foreign trawlers from Europe and Asia have virtually destroyed Somali fishing--as they've done off the coasts of every country with good fishing and no effective coast guard. We should demand a Law of the Sea that forbids nations from letting their ships pillage defenseless nations' waters, and also empowers UN-authorized naval forces to grab poachers, confiscate their boats, and try their crews in an international court.

We could kill two birds with one stone: interdict both pirates and poachers.

Another plus to patrolling with drones: they can't negotiate with pirates--just sink their boats. The best deterrent to piracy is darkness: pirate boats go out and they don't come back and no one (in Somalia) knows what happened. That's far more effective than warnings.

3. We have to forbid shippers from paying ransoms, and severely fine ones that succeed in doing so. This requires multinational cooperation, but we have to cut off the flow of money to Somali warlord coffers. Ditto arms, most of which are coming from Europe and China, not America, I'll wager.

— Ehkzu, Palo Alto, California

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