The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


As we move just a bit further into the 21st century, it seems that the international shipping community has become terrorized by an artifact of the 17th and 18th centuries—seaborne piracy. During 2009, Somali pirates have attacked more than 90 vessels and have commandeered 35. They are currently in possession of 17. Hundreds of crew members and billions of dollars in cargo have been have been held hostage.

Somalia is a failed state—lawless, chaotic, corrupt, and totally broken. And yet, pirates from this failed state terrorize shipping lanes that account for more than 10 percent of the world’s shipping traffic.

Obviously, piracy is a violation of international law, and yet, the pirates seem to be operating with impunity. Actually, it’s a 21 century thing. The West is compelled by its own sense of moral superiority to avoid direct and violent action against these scum, relying instead on a corrupt and ineffective U.N. that seems paralyzed when it faces a problem that requires more than talk or resolutions. Bret Stephens comments:
What about international law? Article 110 of the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Convention -- ratified by most nations, but not by the U.S. -- enjoins naval ships from simply firing on suspected pirates. Instead, they are required first to send over a boarding party to inquire of the pirates whether they are, in fact, pirates. A recent U.N. Security Council resolution allows foreign navies to pursue pirates into Somali waters -- provided Somalia's tottering government agrees -- but the resolution expires next week. As for the idea of laying waste, Stephen Decatur-like, to the pirate's prospering capital port city of Eyl, this too would require U.N. authorization. Yesterday, a shippers' organization asked NATO to blockade the Somali coast. NATO promptly declined.

Then there is the problem of what to do with captured pirates. No international body similar to the old Admiralty Courts is currently empowered to try pirates and imprison them. The British foreign office recently produced a legal opinion warning Royal Navy ships not to take pirates captive, lest they seek asylum in the U.K. or otherwise face repatriation in jurisdictions where they might be dealt with harshly, in violation of the British Human Rights Act.

When piracy was at its zenith during the 19 century, the British navy would summarily hang any pirate captured on the high seas. Barbaric? Well, the number of piracy incidents dropped dramatically once this policy was instituted.

But today, we must protect the human rights of the pirates. Again from Stephen’s article:
Today, by contrast, a Navy captain who takes captured pirates aboard his state-of-the-art warship will have a brig in which to keep them securely detained, and instantaneous communications through which he can obtain higher guidance and observe the rule of law.

Yet what ought to be a triumph for both justice and security has turned out closer to the opposite. Instead of greater security, we get the deteriorating situation described above. And in pursuit of a better form of justice -- chiefly defined nowadays as keeping a clear conscience -- we get (at best) a Kenyan jail. "We're humane warriors," says one U.S. Navy officer. "When the pirates put down their RPGs and raise their hands, we take them alive. And that's a lot tougher than taking bodies."

Like international terrorism, international piracy uses our own humanity against us, and as a consequence, the world becomes incrementally more chaotic every day. We can feel very smug as we use human rights excuses as a reason for refusing to stop thugs who commit piracy on the high seas. But in the end, all of us pay.