Non-Govt Solution to Pirates: Use a Letter of Marque

nopiratesObama is being tested with his decisions about Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and now pirates.  Obama believes in Government as the grand solution-maker and will probably deal with pirates with the military (yes, yes, Bush was even worse).  But a non-government solution has been offered by several congressmen including Obama’s most realistic opponent in the Presidential Race, Ron Paul of Texas.  These congressman are proposing that letters of marque and reprisal be used to reduce piracy.

Piracy was a large problem in the beginning years of US history.  The constitution addresses it here:

[The Congress shall have power] To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, paragraph

“Marque” comes from the french work for “frontier”.  And thus, a letter of marque is issued by a nation to a mercenary to act on behalf of that nation and pass beyond the border (“marque”) of our nation for the purpose of retaliating against another nation for some wrong, such as a border incursion or seizure.  It was considered a retaliatory measure just short of a full declaration of war.

National security experts estimate that this week’s ship captain rescued by Navy SEALs cost tens of millions whereas granting letters of marque and reprisal–hiring bounty hunters–would be a lot cheaper than any organized U.S. military response.  Small, flexible teams to hunt the pirates using their own creativity and initiative would be in keeping with the constitution, a more efficient solution and a better use of your tax money.  Ron Paul is still working for us even if he is not the President — now, if only our President will listen.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Non-Govt Solution to Pirates: Use a Letter of Marque

  1. But couldn’t this lead to more Blackwater type situations? It’s hard to enforce Rules of Engagement in hostile situations even within the Government military.

    Private armies can be even harder to regulate. Breaches of regulation would be hard to monitor and investigate.

    The agents within the private units have little incentive to cooperate with inquiries, and greater incentive to cover up mistakes and protect their employees and the agencies.

    I’ve got no issue with pirates being killed. But mercenaries are primarily motivated by profit, not exactly the most ethical bunch of people on the planet. They might cut a lot of corners in order to get results.

  2. When it comes to pirates, why do cut corners matter? After all, they are not a village floating on a platform–no collateral damage.

  3. That’s true as long as there is no scope creep. If it’s just rescue operations at sea then collateral is minimised. Even then you worry about the hostages being killed.

    How do we account for whether they took all necessary measures to ensure the safety of hostages if some of the hostages are killed? Do we pay them depending on how many hostage were rescued in proportion to how many pirates were killed/captured? How much do we penalise for each hostage killed? How do we verify whether it was under their control or not? Can we assign monetary value when there is no established market and prior track records of competing agencies? Also consider the political aspect of putting a monetary value on human life.

    If they are not limited to rescue operations but also investigating and hunting for these individuals there are additional opportunities for cutting corners. Inevitably the process would involve interrogations and negotiating with people on land. Can we be sure they behave ethically in these matters?

  4. @Rene: First, I think we send them out BEFORE hostages are taken. Second, if private businesses are willing to take the chances for profit to sail those waters, taxpayers don’t have the responsibility to supply an army to protect them over there. Finally, I agree there can be some ethical issues, but even the military has issues there. Any solution will involve compromises, no?

  5. Rene

    yes any use of government intervention is a compromise on the ideal. I suspect that although we agree on the advantages and disadvantages of either solution, we probably weigh their costs differently.

    Pirates are breaking the rules that are necessary for trade to happen. The job of the government is to ensure trade continues as freely as possible. Of course they can’t do this all the time, but if the costs arising due to the contraction of trade is greater than the costs involved in protecting the routes then the government has a reason to intervene.

    As for the ethical thing, I think the chances and incentives for wrongdoing is much greater if you are a mercenary with no real oversight.

    When you said we should take out pirates before they take hostages, do you mean that the security forces should be manned on vessels they are to protect, or that they should actively go hunting for the criminals on land?

  6. Good point, as always, Rene.

    1) I am not totally sure the the government’s job is to maintain trade — but trust me, I have not thought this through at all. (Not that thinking it through makes my thoughts any closer to right, smile).

    So, if a company want to set up in a dangerous place because of tremendous profit potential, is the the govt’s job to supply protection if it is outside the country’s domain? Certainly you can see the problem here. Even if benefit of trade outweighs cost of protect by govt, it is still corporate welfarism. The trade benefit does not go to the same people paying for the protection.

    2) Nah, I’d only have the mercenaries do the fighting on the sea, not inside Somalia. Again, I haven’t thought it through. A lot of order evolves spontaneously and many of these questions may have to be answered after the thing is started. Sloppy, I know. But I am typing after work and tired. Smile !

    Thanx for writing

  7. yes I see the problem re: coporate welfarism. That’s a good point.

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