Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hold Those Fireworks

The WaPo on the end to the Somali pirate standoff:
Three deft sniper shots ended a drama that appeared initially as another example of a muscle-bound U.S. military unable to adapt to today's unpredictable security threats. In the end, U.S. Special Operations Forces easily defeated lightly armed, untrained men in a battle that U.S. officials say will not end piracy.

I'm not sure I've ever seen more pessimism crammed into a paragraph nominally about a positive happenstance.


Jenny said...

There's the latest article here too: http://chris-floyd.com/

The Gaucho Politico said...

i am the only one who desnt find this situation to be incredibly daring and bold or even especially interesting? Hostage crisis occur all over the world everyday. If there hadnt been pirates would this even have made national news? It seems like it ended in the common resolution of hostage situations with a tactical response from highly trained and well armed government officials.

David Schraub said...

Well, there are a couple of intensifying factors. This was an international incident -- halfway between "hostage situation featuring a too drunk bar patron" and "Iranians take the embassy". Similarly, most hostage situations don't involve the Navy SEALS (much less the SEALS taking three perfectly sync'd obscenely difficult shots to take down the pirates). And the uptick in piracy has more systematic impacts on international commerce than your run of the mill hostage situation.

Incidentally, I do find it interesting all this new found love we're seeing on the fringes for the ICU. It's not that I think the US was wise to support the Ethiopian invasion, but I can't help but note the selfishness of the rhetoric here. The ICU managed to provide stability by imposing brutally repressive Islamic law (much like the Taliban). This might have made shipping routes safer, but (a) I'm confused why all these nominal anti-capitalist find that a feature (b) I'm confused how dislodging the government fits into to the imperialist/capitalist conspiracy theories, and (c) I'm confused why it's considered legitimate to support said oppression on the grounds that it makes our lives more convenient (as opposed to, it is better for the Somalis than the alternative anarchy).

PG said...

The international law aspect is what makes this really fascinating. If some nutjob in Manhattan takes hostages and survives to be taken into custody, he has Constitutional rights to due process. In contrast, what's the captured 4th pirate's status? Even I don't think he's supposed to get a full-bore trial on American soil -- I don't think our domestic courts have clear jurisdiction -- but a tribunal of the type that American sailors get under admiralty law seems appropriate. Conservatives, on the other hand, are clamoring for us to kick it old-school on pirates and execute them on sight, or at least once we've tortured any useful information out of them.

chingona said...

This article about alternative motivations for the pirates and depredations visited on Somalia, mostly by European business and government interests, was kind of interesting. Probably a little romantic, but a perspective I haven't seen elsewhere.

PG said...

Hari's article sounds plausible and is corroborated by reports of toxic dumping since the Somali government collapsed in 1991 and local warlords began taking payoffs from European companies to allow them to dump.

However, has the United States been part of the dumping or illegal fishing? If not, why should a U.S.-flagged ship be the target of an attack?

I would think that people who are just trying to drive away illegal fishers and dumpers would be able to identify over time which are engaged in such a practice (seems to be mostly Italian and Swiss), and which are doing things like carrying aid and would make useful targets for robbery and kidnapping. Indeed, I don't think a boat that just tries to "shoo" away another vessel, even if it fires on that vessel to do so, necessarily qualifies as a pirate. I haven't studied the subject, but my understanding is that piracy usually involves hijacking ships, stealing cargo and holding crews for ransom. This certainly was the case with America's prior big experience with pirates in the Barbary Wars.

The UN convention on the law of the sea says,
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State
If the dumpers or fishers are committing illegal acts themselves, then driving them away may not be illegal, but boarding ships, stealing cargo and kidnapping crew/ passengers certainly is.

In short, I think Hari might be confusing his terms. There may well be Somalis in boats who are acting aggressively toward foreign vessels, but they aren't necessarily pirates. The pirates, on the other hand, are a bad lot.

chingona said...

I think what Hari is suggesting that others are intentionally confusing the terms. He does also describe some of these "coast guard" types as attempting to "tax" passing vehicles, which almost certainly would be interpreted as piracy. No word on how that tax money is distributed.

And he does say some of the pirates really are pirates, thugs, etc.

I didn't share it to say "Oh, the pirates are really good guys!" but more because I thought some of the things he describes sound plausible, and it muddies the waters in a way I find interesting in terms of overlapping motivations, different perspectives, and the means that people will reach for when they lack even the most basic or despotic of states to look out for their interests.

Like I said, I think he's a little too romantic about it, but I still thought it was interesting.

PG said...

He does also describe some of these "coast guard" types as attempting to "tax" passing vehicles, which almost certainly would be interpreted as piracy. No word on how that tax money is distributed.Sure, and the Barbary pirates demanded "tribute." They didn't lack for organized government; heck, they could send ambassadors and sign treaties.

For some people, a lack of government is a burden that allows them to be victimized by others, as is the case with the illegal fishing and dumping, and that requires them to defend themselves. For others, lack of government is an opportunity to grab what one can through force. Hari doesn't give an example of anyone who is confusing the two types.

If foreign ships are going into Somali waters without a legitimate purpse such as carrying aid or passing on their way elsehwere, I'd say Somalis are perfectly within their rights to use force to push out those ships that have no business in Somali waters. It's self-defense and the proper role of a "coast guard."

Boarding a foreign ship at all, much less demanding that it turn over tribute, cannot reasonably be construed as self-defense. People who claim that their purpose in doing so is to restore Somali sovereignty or prevent environmental depradation aren't making a plausible argument. It'd be like a homeowner's robbing an intruder -- the intruder shouldn't be there, but self-defense isn't a "two wrongs make a right."