Sunday, November 23, 2008


16th Century Pirate Attack

Incidents of Piracy, 2007

U.S. Navy Group

Earlier this week I wrote a post entitled Should We Hang Them From The Highest Yardarm in The Fleet?. I commented that the U.S. Navy needed to adjust it's forward thinking to encompass the changing dynamics of naval strategy in the 21st century. In my final comments I noted that I was no expert in naval strategy, proof of that statement is this post by Galrahn, the grand scribe of Information Dissemination, who in my opinion, understands naval strategy better than anyone outside the Navy.
His post today, answers all who questioned why the U.S. Navy does not do what the Russians propose, MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia, which sent a warship to Somalia's coast to combat pirates, has asked the African country for carte blanche to use force in its territorial waters.

Galrahn in his wisdom, addresses the concerns voiced by some of his readers this way.

This has been an incredible week for the United States strategic goals for fighting piracy, indeed this might have been the best week the United States has had in its strategic goals of curbing piracy this year. I got about 50 emails from a number of folks highlighting various news articles regarding the actions off Somalia, and I thank everyone who sent an email, but if you an American observing events unfolding and thinking these events represent a bad thing, I hate to be the one to tell you but you are completely missing the point when it comes to the strategic goals of the United States. Every American should be fist pumping the good news, and should avoid being misled by the media spin.

....What do you mean you don't understand? If you read this blog for any reason at all, hopefully it is so you can see the big picture and that when big events occur, you can properly place context to the event in strategic terms towards our national goals. The US policy for Somali piracy is well articulated in the maritime strategy, and is working exactly as defined. The US Navy, and the DoD at large, does not define policy, the Navy's job is to enforce national policy.

The logic of our maritime strategy becomes clear. The U.S. by holding back, is using a little reverse psychology on the rest of the World, to encourage them to take part in policing the seas. The cost of the United States maintaining a 1000 ship fleet would break our treasury. But, using our ships as the primary kinetic energy sea control system and enlisting via diplomacy, other nations with an interest in maritime security, we will achieve one of our 21st century strategy goals.

Galrahan' s post:

And by good fortune, Thomas Barnett in his column this week addresses the piracy problem and throws his considerable strategic vision behind what Galrahn has written. Barnett's column was posted the same day as Galrahn's, showing how great minds can independently come to the same conclusion.
Barnett opens with this observation:

When piracy threatens global commerce, great powers need to fight back --collectively.

Nothing better signals the lack of -- and thus opportunity for -- comprehensive maritime security cooperation among the world's great powers than their collective inability to stem piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf, not to mention the Straits of Malacca -- chokepoint for Asia's energy imports from the Middle East. Add it all up and we're talking $15 billion of losses every year.

And this about how a "thousand ship navy" can be had.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has long promoted a "thousand ship navy" that would render the world's oceans transparent and safe. Since we can barely afford the 200-odd ships we currently deploy, Mullen's vision necessarily encompasses all great-power navies. I constantly advocate a security dialogue with Iran, and there would be no better place to start than counter piracy.

For now, American naval cooperation with the world's cluster of rising great powers remains far below what it could be, reflecting the Pentagon's preference for planning against future "near peers." Today's global piracy shows this strategic reticence needs to end.

The column:

And for a view from the other side. From Reuters, this report.

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) – As dawn breaks over the Indian Ocean each morning, elders in Somali pirate bases sip strong coffee and clutch mobile phones to their ears, eager to hear the latest from the gunmen out at sea.

Have any more ships been hijacked or ransom talks concluded? Any news of the Western warships hunting them?
Stepping back into my historian mode, piracy is as old as seafaring, and the need to control it is a measure of the financial pain endured before the trading partners affected will react. I am reminded of a passage in The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell. They have this to say about piracy in antiquity.
Raiders need traders upon which to prey, then. But those raiders are also, in a stronger sense, part of the world of trade; they are not just parasites. Like the transfer of goods between aristocratic estates or like government requisitions, piracy is simply another form of redistribution in an economic environment where other markets are often scarce. Aristotle rightly listed piracy as a mode of production alongside the more usual forms, such as hunting, fishing and agriculture.
Horden and Purcell's study of the history of the pre-industrial Mediterranean, is rich with examples of piracy and it's untended role in advancing trade and security. As they note, it was Pliny the Elder, who alleges that it was fear of pirates that encouraged winter sailing.
The result of this latest round of piracy is leading to better cooperation between nations, that in turn leads to relationships that help to dissolve mistrust.

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