Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lssons of somali piracy: time for UAV carriers!

An underlying issue the Somali pirate situation highlights is the fact that there's a growing sector of behavior that's more than criminal but less than war--or, to put it more practically, behavior that local law enforcement authorities can't handle (spectacularly true in terms of Somalia's "government"), but which our conventional warfighting military is overkill for.

And then the legalistic type keep duking it out with the shoot on sight types over these issues, trying to cram them into the good old boxes (crime / war).

We've got the "unlawful combatant" category but it hasn't kept this "old box" debate from continuing. Nothing will, I suppose. Nevertheless this is a problem all advanced countries have to deal with, since it includes terrorism by non-state actors.

And it remains fuzzy because states may sponsor non-state actors. And then you can get state-sponsored non-state actors who are practically a state, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, or who may not always do what the state sponsor wants them to do, as with Hamas in Gaza.

The Somali piracy situation, then, provides a way to tackle this larger issue by acknowledging that the old crime/war categories aren't sufficient any more. Law enforcement authorities in East Africa aren't remotely up to dealing with this situation, and helping them by advanced nation navies capturing a few of the pirates hasn't done anything about the situation as a whole--that is, it hasn't reduced the number of ships being taken and crews kidnapped and held for ransom. Especially since the shipping lines have always paid the ransoms except for the tiny number of ships that have been retaken by advanced navies.

But the advanced navy vessels, crews and training haven't worked either. The targets aren't concentrated enough to leverage these navies' firepower, and no one's up for invading the pirates' nests on land. And the different navies' vessels aren't operating under a coordinated central command structure. So it comes across as very ad hoc, without the capability to actually blockade the coasts or to reliably find pirates at sea, operating across such a huge volume of ocean. So despite capturing a few pirates (like the pinheads who fired on one of these naval vessels mistakenly), the Western naval response has been a failure, judged by the number of vessels/crews captured and ransoms paid.

Hence my own proposal, which combines new technology (UAVs and UAV carriers) with new law (empowering our vessels' commanders to call the shots--literally--at sea, including in a country's territorial waters if that country is unable to patrol its own waters.

We can, as some here advocate, basically shrug our shoulders, say well, our decimated merchant marine isn't really involved here anyhoo, so not our prob.

Or we can use this to advance international law and assymetrical warfare tools and techniques so that we're better equipped legally, technologically and tactically to deal with situations that fall in the crack between crime and war.

The part that's hardest for civilized country dwellers is the need to kill the pirates on sight, once they're determined to be pirates--which, as I've said, isn't hard once you're using the right surveillance technology. But you have to kill them because we (neither America alone nor the UN nor the various navies with ships deployed there) are unable to capture them cost effectively. To do that we'd have to flood the area with warships, which ain't gonna happen.

UAVs can find them but they can't capture them. They can, however, combine surveillance drones with kill vehicles to stop the piracy cost effectively.

And lest anyone bring this up, no, my solution does nothing about the problem of Somalia being a failed state that has come more and more under the control of an Islamofascist organization.

Nor does it solve the qualms of those who quail at the idea of killing people who have not, generally, killed their captives.

Philosophically that pits two groups against each other: those who put individual human rights at the top of their priority stack--generally political liberals--against those who put social order at the top of theirs--generally conservatives.

I don't belong to either faction, but rather to the pragmatic middle--who doesn't want to spend the vast fortune that would be required for a complete Law & Order solution, but who also doesn't value the lives of the pirates over their threat to civilized law & order over a very large span of ocean and a lot of land as well.

I think the human rights prioritizers are inclined to side with the shipping companies and just say the status quo is acceptable, given that people (people who are not the ones proposing this) haven't been killed or tortured--just deprived of liberty and peace of mind for an average of half a year to 3/4 of a year as I recall.

They need to speak to the challenge that their devotion to individual rights appears to be limited to the rights of pirates at the expense of the rights of sailors.

Lastly, as I said before, all situations like this have a political dimention. And there will be an uproar from the US=Great Shaitan crowd as soon as we start killing pirates, who are pretty much all Muslims. That's one reason why, besides simple justice, I advocate patrolling for illegal fishermen and waste dumpers as well as for pirates.

1 comment:

n1ck said...

Well, I think allowing a private contractors to kill people who are threats could have some unforeseen results.

Ultimately, I think the problem with piracy is that it is sudden. So, using your UAV idea, I'd have to ask.

How expensive would the UAV technology cost? Because just implementing a UAV would allow a ships crew to have enough of an advanced warning to either,

1. Dissuade the pirates.
2. Lock up the ship and call whomever.

IMHO, this whole problem should be addressed by the UN. International waters or coastlines of failed states shouldn't be inherently dangerous.