January 22, 2011

The South Koreans Respond to Pirates the Right Way

The South Koreans respond to piracy the right way; by killing the pirates. The Somali pirates, at least, will have second thoughts before seizing any more ROK (Republic of Korea) flagged ships, or in seizing any ships at all when the South Korean military is in the area.

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SKorea storms Somali pirates to rescue ship crew
January 21, 2011
Fox News/Associated Press

South Korean special forces stormed a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea on Friday, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight assailants in a rare and bold raid on Somali pirates, South Korea said.

The military operation in waters between Oman and Africa, which also captured five pirates and left one crew member wounded, came a week after the Somali attackers seized the South Korean freighter and held hostage eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 citizens from Myanmar.

"We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a brief televised statement, adding that the rescue was a "perfect operation."

The successful raid is a triumph for Lee, whose government suffered harsh criticism at home in the weeks following a North Korean attack in November on a South Korean island near disputed waters. Critics said Lee's military was too slow and weak in its response to the attack, which killed two marines and two civilians.

With a South Korean destroyer and a Lynx helicopter providing covering fire, South Korea's special navy forces stormed the hijacked vessel in a pre-dawn rescue operation that left eight of the pirates dead and five captured, Lt. Gen. Lee Sung-ho told reporters.

The captain of the ship was shot by a pirate and taken by a U.S. helicopter to a nearby country for treatment, but the wound is not life-threatening, Lt. Gen. Lee said. The 20 other crew members were rescued unharmed, he said.

"This operation demonstrated our government's strong will to never negotiate with pirates," the general said.

Storming a ship held by pirates is rare and navies tend to avoid it because of the risk of harming hostages, who are usually kept below decks out of sight. So rescues are not normally attempted once the pirates are onboard the ship unless the crew is locked in a safe room -- often called a "citadel" -- with two way communications.

Authorities did not immediately give details on the location of crew members during the rescue.

The 11,500-ton chemical carrier Samho Jewelry was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka when it was hijacked. It was the second vessel from South Korea-based Samho Shipping to be hijacked in the past several months.

In November, Somali pirates freed the supertanker Samho Dream and its 24 crew -- five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos -- after seven months of captivity.

It's tempting to say that they only responded with force this time because South Korean President Lee Myung-bak felt he needed to look tough to his constituents after the North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyong Island last November. And that was probably part of it. They may also have been embarrassed over the seizure of the other South Korean ship alluded to above.

More, as the article relates, the South Koreans did not just up and respond in knee-jerk fashion to the seizure of the Samho Jewelry, risking the killing of the hostages, but apparently made sure that the situation on the ship was favorable before proceeding with the rescue.

The Israel Analogy

Just recently, Malaysian naval commandos also freed a ship seized by Somali pirates. As Richard Fenandez quips that the Malaysians and Koreans had a secret "wonder weapon" that led to their success was that "they were neither European nor American."

Its the same mentality that leads the international left to want George W Bush in the dock at the International Criminal Court than Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe.

Sad but true. If we'd carried out such an attack our press would have fretted for months over whether we'd given negotiations long enough to succeed, and if a Republican was in the White House you can guess that the more leftist members of Congress would talk of possible war crimes. On our part, that is.

People who live in tough neighborhoods tend to become tough themselves. It's a matter of sheer survival. Likewise, when an otherwise peaceful country has militarily aggressive or terrorist neighbors, it tends to take far tougher actions than do countries what are far away from the danger.

South Korea has been the victim of dozens of attacks by the communist North Koreans for over 60 years. The list of border incidents precipitated by the North is staggering.

It's therefore easy for Americans or Europeans to say that the Koreans or Israelis are "overreacting." Other than 9/11, our homeland has never really been attacked. Western Europe hasn't seen serious military action since World War II. While these are very good things, they do seem to breed a softness in dealing with threats.

The Somali Piracy Situation

The map on Somali Piracy from the Wikipedia:

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Googling around, it's hard to say exactly if the situation is getting worse or at a plateau. The Wikipedia article is extensive but doesn't directly answer the question.

Certainly the long-term solution is a single, stable, government in Somalia that is perceived as legitimate by the majority of the people there. But the Somalians don't seem to have the desire or wherewithal to come to their senses, and the "international community" isn't about to take any serious action to install one either.

Using naval ships is for the most part like using a sledgehammer to swat flies. Most modern ships were built to deal with more sophisticated threats, and so most of their weapons are not even applicable. More, since the end of the Cold War the combined navies of the world are a lot smaller. What is needed off Somalia is a lot of low-tech ships that can provide something as simple as gunfire and a floating base for a small team of commandos, not a handful high-tech ships capable of sinking nuclear subs or shooting down supersonic anti-ship missiles.

In Piracy - The Simple Yet Impossible Solution and Piracy - The Simple Yet Impossible Solution Part II I wrote that Steve Shippert's idea of arming the merchant ships themselves with .50 cal machine guns would solve the problem in short order. And indeed I believe it would. But it'll never happen because right now it's cheaper for the shipping companies to pay the ransom, the sailors would for some reason I don't get rather run the risk of being taken hostage or killed rather than train for their own self-defense (the anti-gun mentality, as near I can tell), and everyone knows that the so-called human rights groups would much rather have Western capitalists and politicians in the dock than the pirates themselves.

So we'll stumble along as we are now, with everyone acknowledging that piracy, from Somalia and elsewhere, is a problem, but with no one doing much of anything about it. In the meantime, hats off to the Malaysians and South Koreans for showing us the way, even if we do not follow.

Posted by Tom at 12:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2009

Somali Pirates Not Deterred

Big surprise, but the Somali pirates have not been deterred. This from the AP at 9:15 PM EST tonight

Somali pirates were back to business as usual Tuesday, defiantly seizing four more ships with 60 hostages after U.S. sharpshooters rescued an American freighter captain....

The brigands grabbed more ships and hostages to show they would not be intimidated by President Barack Obama's pledge to confront the high-seas bandits, according to a pirate based in the Somali coastal town of Harardhere.

"Our latest hijackings are meant to show that no one can deter us from protecting our waters from the enemy because we believe in dying for our land," Omar Dahir Idle told The Associated Press by telephone. "Our guns do not fire water. I am sure we will avenge."

On Monday, Obama vowed to "halt the rise of piracy" without saying exactly how the U.S. and allies would do it.

Over the past few days I've presented several ideas. Steve Shippert says hire private security companies to put ex-military types aboard armed with up to .50 cal machine guns. Charles Krauthammer suggested something pretty similar. The New York Daily News cites unnamed sources saying that our Special Ops guys are ready to hit them ashore. Yesterday I threw out everything from sinking their "mother ships" to nation building lite.

Writing in the New York Post earlier today, Ralph Peters argues for a more muscular approach:

* Attack their harbors with land, sea and air power. Kill pirates, sink their vessels (including those dual-use fishing boats) and wreck their support infrastructure. The clans behind the pirates must feel sufficient pain to rein in their young thugs. The price for piracy should be stunning.

And we don't need to stay to rebuild Somalia. End the fix-it fetish now. We need to leave while their boats are still burning down to the waterline.

* Congress must forbid any shipping company or maritime insurer that pays pirates a ransom from doing business in American ports.

Our cargo trade is the most lucrative in the world. Force shippers to choose between us and the pirates. In the short term, it may make life uncomfortable for a few foreign crews. In the long term, a hard line will save money and lives.

Surely, if Congress can sanction those who do business with North Korea or Iran, we can punish those who fund pirates with millions of dollars in US currency.

* Train and arm crews. This would help somewhat, but we need to have realistic expectations. An armed crew can deter or defeat amateurs of the sort who attacked the Maersk Alabama last week. But skilled pirates will simply upgrade to rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine-guns and other weapons that can do severe damage to ships and create carnage.

We can't fix this problem on the cheap by giving merchant sailors a few shotguns and rifles -- although they need such arms for self-defense. Again, this is a military problem. Piracy always was. We're not exceptions to history.

We could shatter these bands of pirates, if we had the guts. But Obama would have to stop campaigning and start leading. He might even have to do something that his foreign fans wouldn't like.

I have to say I like his approach. A few strikes here and there won't work. Arming merchant ships is necessary, but defensive measures alone provoke the measure-countermeasure game Peters warns about. As I pointed out yesterday, Obama has the political capital now which he can use to take serious action. It's use it or lose it.

Yesterday I also congratulated President Obama, which I thought the decent thing do do. My rationale was that from what I could tell he set overall policy and then let the military carry it out, which is the right way to do things. Peters disagrees

Instead of standing tall, our just-vote-present president refused to make a statement reinforcing our principles during this ordeal. Rather than confirming that the United States won't be intimidated by pirates and won't pay tribute money, he ducked.

Obama's politics were clever: He positioned himself so that he could distance himself from a military operation that went wrong, while taking credit for any success. And what was that nonsense about authorizing deadly force "if the hostage's life is in danger"?

Deadly force should always be authorized against pirates. These aren't shoplifters at K-Mart. We're dealing with murderous terrorists. Can't we please be serious?

When asked by a reporter what was "most likely to blow governments off course.", British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously responded "Events dear boy, events."

Obama seems to think that he can control events by the magnetism of his persona. He's busy with a domestic agenda designed to change us into a European-style dirigiste government and doesn't want anything to get in his way. This is understandable, but unrealistic. Whether further incidents with Somali pirates force his hand or not, he's going to discover that events will shape his presidency as much as anything he plans.

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April 13, 2009

Somali Piracy - Now is Not The Time to Stop

It is with gratitude that I type these words in the wake of the successful resolution of the hostage standoff with the Somali pirates. It was a job well done by all involved.

I am thrilled that President Obama had the fortitude to give the necessary orders so that Navy SEALs could kill the pirates. Congratulations are due to him. From what I can tell he did the correct thing; set overall policy and let the military carry it out as they saw fit. He didn't interfere in the specifics, or during ongoing operations. This is how it should be. When he was elected I promised myself I would be fair; both criticize and praise when deserved. As such, I will not be petty and refuse to congratulate him, as are some. The same people who are acting this way would be the first to blame him if the situation had turned out badly.

Just as good, we have this

French commandos have stormed a yacht held by Somali pirates in an operation that left one French hostage and two gunmen dead, hours after an American skipper held in a separate ransom battle narrowly failed in a dramatic escape bid, officials said.

As a US force built up off Somalia, French forces staged their rescue six days on Friday after the yacht, the Tanit, was seized in the pirate infested Gulf of Aden, French officials said.

One male hostage and two pirates were killed in the assault on the yacht and three other adults and a three-year-old child were rescued, the officials said.

Congratulations are also due the French and President Sarkozy.

These episodes send a message to the pirates that we will not passively sit back and let them run the show.

But the pirates will not stop just because of these two actions. They come from a desperately poor nation, where the life expectancy is only 49 years. Most of them figure that they have little to lose by their pirate actions, and much to gain. They will only stop once we convince them that piracy is a quick way to die.

As such, this is no time to sit on our laurels. We must take bold action now.

Right now President Obama has the attention of the American people on this issue. He has, as they say, some political capital. He can either squander it or use it wisely. Obama is primarily a domestic policy president, so his inclination will be to put the issue in the history books, assign a staffer to work on it further, and move on to his next domestic policy agenda. This would be a mistake.

Although our crew is free, the pirates hold some 18 ships and 250 prisoners (the number varies slightly by news story).

Somali Pirach

Further, we may be entering an age in which the "primitive regions" can reach out and do us real damage, which would be a turn from the last two hundred or so. As Mark Steyn points out, "Half a century back, Somaliland was a couple of sleepy colonies, British and Italian, poor but functioning. Then it became a state, and then a failed state, and now the husk of a nation is a convenient squat from which to make mischief." In other words, a hundred or even few dozen years ago we didn't have to worry about such places. Now, as we have seen, great damage can be done to us by people in far-away places...such as Afghanistan.

The question is whether we follow up with bold action, or whether it is back to business as usual. Apparently we are considering striking their land bases. Last week we saw a report that our Special Ops guys were ready to go, which doesn't surprise me.

Word is that the Somalis are not just using speedboats, but have gotten to the point where they are using larger "mother ships" to extend the range of their operations. An AP story just out says that President Obama might be considering going after them.

There are dozens of options we could exercise. All of them are risky. Our Special Operations guys are good, but this isn't a Chuck Norris movie, and the history of commando raids is that quite a few go horribly wrong. The pirates are mixed in with civilians, and telling the two apart will be terribly difficult. As such, any action will inevitably cause civilian casualties which will be gleefully reported both by jihadist outlets like al Jazeera and other organizations which just don't like the United States. Our allies talk tough but will offer little concrete help. President Obama will discover that his charm is mostly good for crowd applause.

We must also not let the transnationalists confuse the issue. The U.S. Constitution and federal penal code are very clear on the matter; piracy is to be punished by life in prison.

My study of the situation concludes that actions will not "feed the piracy" or "create new pirates," which makes it quite different from fighting terrorism,where callous actions against terrorists does just that. This said, if during strikes on the pirates land bases we kill civilians, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups will use this as a recruiting tool because the Somalis are Muslims. Therefore, we must be careful not to give our genuine terrorist enemies a propaganda coup.

Recently a spokesman for the pirates (we've come a long way from the 18th century!) says that they will seek revenge for their three dead men. For three, they probably will. Adm Gortney said as much in his briefing. But this braggadocio will cool if we go after them in a determined manner.

We can and must take out their "pirate mother ships" and strike at pirate bases, but until Somalia becomes a viable nation governed by a single entity the problems will continue. I am not advocating Afghanistan or Iraqi level nation building, but we do need to push for something to be done. The Somali pirates will continue their actions as long as the probability that they will succeed, or at least not be killed, is relatively high. Right now it's a relatively risk-free occupation. If we increase the risks we should be able to end it somewhat. However, given where Somalia is on a map the enticement and opportunity will remain. Until there is a stable government in Somalia piracy will continue

So we are at a decision point. It is well and good that the current crisis turned out well, but we all know this was not a one-time affair. Every day there are pirate attacks. Ending this scourge will not be easy, and it will take a lot more than a handful of raids. But the public would be supportive of such actions if taken now, so the ball is in President Obama's hands. I hope he does the right thing, and quickly.

For Additional Reading

- Washington Post: "How SEALs Carried Out Their Mission"
- DOD Briefing by Vice Admiral from Bahrain, transmitted via satellite to the Pentagon. Video and transcript.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 10, 2009

Piracy - The Simple Yet Impossible Solution Part II

This was going to be an update to the post I wrote yesterday, but it just got too big. Following are some informed thoughts I found today on the issue.

First up I think it's important to know how the pirates are getting away with all this. From David Freddoso, writing at NRO's The Corner:

Vice Admiral William Gortney described:
"If the coalition is out there with ships, airplanes and helicopters, there aren't any pirates. If they see us, they're 'fishermen.' If they don't see us, they are potentially pirates...

The pirates' skiffs are exactly the same as the fishing boats in the area. And even when apparent pirates are identified -- out "fishing" without fishing gear -- the U.S. military releases them unless they are caught in the act.

When we get on top, either with maritime patrol or with helicopters, or with a ship, and we look inside these skiffs, and we determine that they don't have nets or baskets, and they have AK-47s, RPGs and ladders, we know that they're not involved in fishing. And that's when we take them, we disarm them, we take their pictures, we fingerprint them, biometric them, and then we release them if we did not catch them in the act.

Gortney described their modus operandi:

If we're not around, they will attempt to attack a type of vessel that is susceptible to attack, which is based on the speed of a vessel and the freeboard - the height of the first deck from the water...We see the attacks in the morning and with a sea-state of less than three feet. If it's less than three feet, in the morning, then we watch for these 'fishermen' to become pirates.

"Low and slow" invites the attack -- a low freeboard doing 13 knots or less. The pirates use grappling hooks and rope ladders to board them. But ships with high freeboards doing over 15 knots tend to get away. More:

"[The pirates] will get in their skiffs and pull up alongside and intimidate either with AK-47s or rocket-propelled grenades, in some cases shooting both to get the captain to stop...The time from the initial attack to on-board the vessel is about a 15-minute window of opportunity. If we're not there to prevent them from getting aboard in that 15-minute window of opportunity, and they're successfully on board and they stay on board, then we're in a hostage situation, and the pirates take it to the East Coast of Somalia and work the negotiation process with the shipping company that's responsible for that vessel."

The pirates belong to well-coordinated and hierarchical clans, not unlike commercial militaries, and clan leaders call the shots during negotiations. Our government does not involve itself in this "arbitration," witnesses testified. The average hostage situation lasts for 45 days, and the average ransom is anywhere from $1.5 to $2 million. It makes sense that most shipping companies would pay ransoms for their crew and cargo, yet at the same time this heightens the incentive for more pirate activity.

This, then, is why nothing serious is being done; there's not enough pain. Of course, it also means that you, me, and all other consumers are paying for it through higher prices or lower corporate profits, which affects our investments, as all these companies do is pass it on. When they're feeling financial pain they'll complain to the politicians, but until then my guess is not much will be done.

And if right now you're complaining about how our Navy releases these guys unless they're caught in the act... after all the grief the U.S. took over Guantanamo Bay it's a suicidal politician indeed who'd do anything less than give them full Miranda rights and offer a full battery of ACLU attorneys to anyone we arrested. Anything less and the "human rights" crowd would scream bloody murder.

Yesterday we discussed putting armed private contractors on ships. Here's another idea, from the New York Daily News (via Ann Althouse):

U.S. military commanders have already prepared battle plans for ending the scourge of piracy on the high seas off Somalia if President Obama pulls the trigger, sources told the Daily News Wednesday....

Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley, who was special envoy to Somalia in the 1990s, said U.S. special operations forces have drawn up detailed plans to attack piracy groups where they live on land, but are awaiting orders from the Obama national security team.

"Our special operations people have been itching to clean them up. So far, no one has let them," Oakley told the Daily News.

This would avoid the problems associated with putting private contractors on board ships for defense as was suggested in yesterday's post. Even so, any "collateral damage" will be played by anti-American elements for all it's worth. On the plus side, last December we did get a UN Security Council Resolution that authorizes such actions. Not that I think we need it.

I'm all for land operations by special ops, but let's remember that these guys aren't invulnerable. I've read more than a bit of the history of these types of raids, and the truth is that they're extraordinarily risky, and I remember reading somewhere that they have about a 50-50 chance of success. This isn't a Chuck Norris movie, and a lot of special ops guys get killed in failed raids, or they survive but have to abort the mission without accomplishing the objective. When things go wrong, it's usually because of inaccurate intelligence, which, try as you might, is hard to get right.

All of which brings us to the concept of "international law" and "rule of law," terms that get thrown around a lot. The invaluable former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, writing at National Review, explains what they really mean as applied to the problem at hand:

But as the hearts-and-minds game goes on, the "international community" on the receiving end stands unimpressed as ever. Turns out it's a jungle out there. What impresses, as all America's enemies from the Barbary pirates through Osama bin Laden have always known, is the strong horse against the weak horse. What makes possible global trade, which turns into American wealth, which turns into unparalleled American largesse, is American might -- American might and an American commitment to use that might as necessary to ensure a civilized global order.

"Civilized" is a much-misunderstood word, thanks to the "rule of law" crowd that is making our planet an increasingly dangerous place. Civilization is not an evolution of mankind but the imposition of human good on human evil. It is not a historical inevitability. It is a battle that has to be fought every day, because evil doesn't recede willingly before the wheels of progress.

There is nothing less civilized than rewarding evil and thus guaranteeing more of it. High-minded as it is commonly made to sound, it is not civilized to appease evil, to treat it with "dignity and respect," to rationalize its root causes, to equivocate about whether evil really is evil, and, when all else fails, to ignore it -- to purge the very mention of its name -- in the vain hope that it will just go away. Evil doesn't do nuance. It finds you, it tests you, and you either fight it or you're part of the problem.

The men who founded our country and crafted our Constitution understood this. They understood that the "rule of law" was not a faux-civilized counterweight to the exhibition of might. Might, instead, is the firm underpinning of law and of our civilization. The Constitution explicitly recognized that the United States would have enemies; it provided Congress with the power to raise military forces that would fight them; it made the chief executive the commander-in-chief, concentrating in the presidency all the power the nation could muster to preserve itself by repelling evil. It did not regard evil as having a point of view, much less a right to counsel.

That's not our position anymore. The scourge of piracy was virtually wiped out in 19th century because its practitioners were regarded as barbarians -- enemies of the human race (hostis humani generis, as Bret Stephens recently reminded us in a brilliant Wall Street Journal essay). They derived no comfort from the rule of law, for it was not a mark of civilization to give them comfort. The same is true of unlawful enemy combatants, terrorists who scoffed at the customs of civilized warfare. To regard them as mere criminals, to assume the duty of trying to understand why they would brutalize innocents, to arm them with rights against civilized society, was not civilized.

I've heard some conservatives absurdly insist that the pirates are not criminals but are terrorists. Please. They are neither criminals not terrorists as properly defined. They are pirates; barbarians if you will.

They used to hang such barbarians from the yardarms of ships when they caught them, without all the niceties of a trial complete with Ramsey Clark as chief defense council.

I'm not advocating that we go to such lengths. Whether we arm the merchants with private contractors, send our special ops guys ashore to clean them out, or just conduct "aggressive offensive operations against pirates at sea" is fine with me. But patrolling with scarce multi-million dollar destroyers is ridiculous. Most of all, we do need leaders with the political courage to do what has to be done and who can take the heat and not back down when the so-called human rights crowd goes nuts.

Posted by Tom at 9:50 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 9, 2009

Piracy - The Simple Yet Impossible Solution

The recent seizure of the US flagged ship Maersk Alabama off the horn of Africa has brought the issue home. Most of us who follow the news have been aware that there was a serious problem with piracy in the area, and have read about this or that nation sending a ship or so to help with patrols. But there's nothing like having your own citizens seized to make you sit up straight.

The solution is both simple and impossible. Steve Shippert, military affairs writer for National Review's The Tank blog and Threatswatch, explains

The only tenable solution is to put the prevention at the point of risk: Aboard the vessel.

It is the only solution -- sans magical liquidation of all pirates and their havens -- that is fast-reacting enough or cost effective enough. (Have you ever checked the expense tab of operating a US Navy destroyer for a 24-hour period of steaming? It's an expense only a stimulus's mother could love.)

What does the security team look like? Pretty simple, actually. 4-6 men from the contracting outfit, with small arms with enough reach and punch to introduce a speedboat to the ocean floor. There is an array of potent automatic rifles available. The team should possess at least one .50 caliber weapon for both range and punch. Certainly no 5.56mm M-16's. As well, some form of grenade weapons should be on hand (RPGs, grenade launchers and/or other shoulder-fired explosive weapons suitable for maritime use.) Night scopes and night vision goggles are essential as well. There are plenty of arms experts who know what would and would not work best. Point is, it isn't rocket science. Get it done.

There's more, but that's the gist of it. And it would work. It'll also never be done.

Not sure why it won't work? Consider this tidbit from a story in the Wall Street Journal from last November:

Last April the British Foreign Office reportedly warned the Royal Navy not to detain pirates, since this might violate their "human rights" and could even lead to claims of asylum in Britain. Turning the captives over to Somali authorities is also problematic -- since they might face the head and hand-chopping rigors of Shariah law. Similar considerations have confounded U.S. government officials in their discussions of how to confront this new problem of an old terror at sea.

Then there's the story of the navy that did shoot to kill:

One of the most controversial cases so far is the Indian navy's sinking of a suspected pirate vessel in November. India said at the time it had come under attack from a pirate "mother ship," ordinarily a vessel pirates have captured to use to travel long distances that their speedboats cannot. The International Maritime Bureau and the Thai owner later reported that the vessel was a fishing trawler with civilian sailors on board. The trawler had been hijacked by pirates hours before it was sunk by the Indian navy.

If nation-states are afraid to capture obvious pirates, and a fuss is made then they actually kill them and sink their ships, imagine what would happen to private contractors. At least nations have the protection of sovereignty. Even they are under assault, as consider the cas of the Spanish court which wants to indite former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on five other Bush Administration officials, charging that they "violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay." The issue of this court is not the work of a bunch of nuts we can ignore, but rather part of a determined effort . We're told that we have nothing to worry about from the International Criminal Court, as it's charter makes it seem so innocuous, but given all that I know color me skeptical.

Googling for "blackwater human rights violations" gets 167,000 returns, and the first two that come up are Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

So call me cynical but if Shippert's solution is employed it won't be long before there is shooting and before long there will be accusations that innocent people were killed. Before lone someone will be paraded before the cameras who will tell the world that he was just out for a pleasure cruise and had his boat sunk and friends killed. You know the rest of that story.

The solution, then, is not really technical, but political. Private firms need political cover.

We need leaders who can take decisive action and have the will to withstand the inevitable assaults from the "human rights" crowd. George W. Bush didn't have that willpower. President Obama doesn't, and I don't see anyone in Europe with the moxie either. I'm happy that the Indians sank that pirate ship, but as Shippert explained it's like swatting flies with a sledgehammer; great that we got one but there are a zillion more swarming around.

I am wondering why Shippert didn't mention special operations troops instead of private contractors. I know that ours are tied up fighting the GWOT(it's still that despite what Obama says) around the world. The Europeans, Indians, Canadians, and other have some, but maybe not enough. I tried to leave a comment asking him this at Threatswatch but got an error message, so sent an email instead. If I get a response I'll post it or a summary of what he says here.

Folks, I really hope I'm wrong here. I'd like nothing more than to see dozens or hundreds of these security teams from dozens of nationalities put onboard ships, have them shoot up some pirates, and have the "international community" give a hip hip hurrah. I just doubt any of it will happen. And if you have your own ideas as to how do deal with the problem I'm all ears.

What Won't Work

One, relying on traditional naval forces. The pirates are coming out in large speedboats and the like, and even the smaller naval vessels are expensive to operate, meant for high-tech warfare, and as Shippert put it using them would be like "swatting mosquitoes with a sledgehammer."

Along with this, "international cooperation" and UN resolutions are most certainly not the answer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton typifies this attitude.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Wednesday for world action to "end the scourge of piracy" as U.S. warships raced to confront the pirates.

"Specifically, we are now focused on this particular act of piracy and the seizure of a ship that carries 21 American citizens. More generally, we think the world must come together to end the scourge of piracy," she said.

This sounds like something out of one of those sentence generators that paste together stock phrases. Note to Hillary; "the world" doesn't care enough to do anything.

The Barbary Coast Pirates

We've dealt with the issue or piracy before. If you're like me, you've often heard that the Barbary Coast pirates were attacking ships, the Europeans paid tribute, and we refused. President Thomas Jefferson sent the Navy and Marines and they took care of business. "To the shores of Tripoli" and all that.

In the end that's true, but it's all a bit more complicated and didn't go down quite that easy.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, pirates ("corsairs") operating Algiers were raiding ships in the Mediterranean. The entire story is long and complicated, but essentially Europeans powers were paying tribute to avoid having their ships seized. Nevertheless, some were seized, including some American ships, holding their crews as slaves for several years. After years of debate, we finally decided to build a navy to deal with this and other problems. We fought two wars with the pirate nations, the first lasting from 1801 to 1805 and the second in 1815. After much fumbling we eventually won and the pirates mostly ceased their actions, though it wasn't until the French invasion in 1830 that the problem was finally ended.

My guess is that the current problem will take the same route. It'll take more than the incident with the Maersk Alabama to provoke serious action. Until then we'll dither.

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July 22, 2008

Two Worthless Institutions

This story illustrates everything that is wrong with both the United Nations and the African Union:

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (AP) - The African Union will ask the U.N. Security Council to suspend action for a year on the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Darfur genocide charges, Nigeria's foreign affairs minister said on Monday.

The African Union will make the request in an effort to allow progress in slow-moving negotiations to end the five-year-old conflict in Darfur, Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ojo Maduekwe told journalists.

He spoke after an emergency meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council, held to discuss the International Criminal Court's July 14 indictment of al-Bashir on charges of genocide and rape in Darfur.

The statute that set up the court allows the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to defer or suspend for a year the investigation or prosecution of a case. The council can renew such a resolution.

I used to blog a lot more about Africa and Darfur than I do today. I don't much anymore because nothing seems to ever get done. Thousands die and all we get are "slow-moving negotiations" and UN resolutions that don't achieve anything.

Some will blame the West, but the Africans themselves don't care themselves, either about Darfur or their other big disaster, Zimbabwe. I think half the reason they have troops in Darfur is to make the West happy. Just about a year ago Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe got a standing ovation from fellow African leaders.

So now we have an ICC (International Criminal Court) indictment. Big deal.

Few Western leaders will stick their necks out for Darfur or Zimbabwe, not because there's no oil, but because they'll get nothing but grief for doing so. The Africans will object if we holler too loud, and anything stronger gets problematical.

Awareness campaigns? I think everyone already knows.

Sanctions on the Sudan? We've already done what we can and they haven't done any good. Sure, we could punish China hoping that they turn up the screws on Khartoom, but that'll hurt our economy and sour relations with China.

Put the navy off the coast with a targeted blockade? We'll never get UN approval, and the legality of unilateral action is messy. Those today who proclaim the loudest that they "care" will be the first to protest direct military action.

The whole thing seems intractable. My long term solution is to completely revamp our international institutions, dumping the UN and forming ones based on shared values. I've written at some length about all this and I've said it all before so won't go into it again. Interested parties can go here.

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February 22, 2008

"Thank you, George W Bush"

If you only paid attention to the usual news sources you'd never guess that President Bush has done more for Africa than any other US president, this even according to Irish rock star Bob Geldorf, who is also an activist for helping the beleaguered continent.

Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.

Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far."

"This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."

"What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.

It's not just disease and poverty that makes at least some Africans happy with the President, but his democracy initiative draws cheers too. He stopped in Liberia as part of his Africa tour, and got rave reviews

America's popularity verges on exuberance in this nation founded in 1847 by freed U.S. slaves. "If you were to take a survey, you would find that there is not one Liberian that doesn't love George Bush," said Miss Endee, whose songs calling for peace were among the most heavily played during Liberia's civil war.

The Bush administration has made Africa the centerpiece of its aid strategy. Twelve of the 15 countries receiving funding from the five-year, $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are in Africa. Nine African countries are among the 16 drawing grants from Mr. Bush's Millennium Challenge Corp., which provides support to nations that have reached benchmarks from stemming corruption to investing in immunizations.

Since Mr. Bush took office, U.S. development aid to Africa has tripled, funding for HIV programs has vaulted from less than $1 billion to more than $6 billion per year and garment exports from Africa to the United States, fueled by special trade deals, increased sevenfold, according to U.S. statistics.

Development aid has tripled? AIDS spending sextupled? Don't expect much credit for it, Mr President.

It wasn't just in Liberia that they appreciated his efforts, though. The Washington Post has recognized what's going on:

They proclaimed George W. Bush Day in Benin, thronged streets by the tens of thousands in Tanzania and christened the George Bush Motorway in Ghana. As he wrapped up his Africa trip in Liberia on Thursday, they sang about him on the radio, crooning his name and warbling, "Thank you for the peace process."

For a president in his final year in office and saddled with low poll numbers, heading overseas, especially to a generally friendly part of the world, offers affirmation not always available at home. It has been years since President Bush drew crowds in the United States comparable to those he saw in Dar es Salaam, and it's hard to find U.S. highways named after him outside Crawford, Tex. Dancing women at home rarely wear his face on their skirts or blouses.

I suppose I shouldn't crow over all this, but it's kind of hard not to. We on the right do get tired of being portrayed as ogres who don't care about everyone else in the world, and if the right thinks it has a monopoly on patriotism, too the left thinks it has a monopoly on compassion.

Of course, no matter what you do you can't make everyone happy. No doubt there are plenty of folks who want more-more-more aid, who claim that we exaggerate what we send there, that it contains unacceptable conditions, or that it's all a plot to establish military bases so as to expand the US "empire". The "empire" complaint is based on the recently established AFRICOM. President Bush swatted that down when he said that we have no plans for new bases on that continent.

One can debate what we should do for Africa, and whether our aid programs are properly structured. But you can't say that President Bush hasn't tried hard to improve life in Africa, and from what I can tell he's done more than any of his predecessors.

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August 18, 2007

Why Africa Won't Reform

This story in Friday's Daily Telegraph tells it all

President Robert Mugabe has received a hero's welcome at the opening of an African summit, despite the turmoil at home in Zimbabwe. As he was introduced to the Southern African Development Community gathering in the Zambian capital Lusaka, dignitaries gave him thunderous applause in contrast to polite claps for other leaders. Mr Mugabe stood and smiled in acknowledgement before sitting down next to South Africa's Thabo Mbeki. Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe's justice minister, said: "Political reform is not necessary in my country because we are a democracy like any other democracy in the world."Zimbabwe's last election in 2004 was widely regarded as stolen. Hundreds of thousands of people have left the country, which is also suffering serious food shortages.

Yesterday, a 15-year-old boy and a security guard died in a stampede by shoppers desperate to buy sugar in Bulawayo.

(h/t NRO)

Robert Mugabe has destroyed his country. And they see him as a hero.

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June 6, 2007

No Reason to Stay In the UN

Nat Hentoff (bio here) asked recently why we were still in the United Nations, and I have no good answer for him.

Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has gone from being the breadbasket of Africa to an economic basket case. Other African nations used to buy food from Zimbabwe, now they export food to it so that it's people won't starve. There's no drought or global warming to blame here, for the fault is entirely that of Robert Mugabe. President of the country since 1980, in recent years he has become an ever more brutal dictator.

So how does the United Nations reward such behavior? Henhoff explains

The United Nations is increasingly becoming a parody of itself while American taxpayers last year provided $439 million to the regular U.N. budget — plus a headquarters in New York that the U.N. management wants to expand. Not only has this dysfunctional and occasionally corrupt organization failed to stop the genocide in Darfur, but on May 11, the insatiably brutal Robert Mugabe's government of Zimbabwe was elevated by the United Nations to chair its Commission on Sustainable Development — dealing with land, rural and economic development, and the environment.

Astonished, The Economist magazine (May 19) noted that Zimbabwe, once known as "the breadbasket of Africa," has had its agriculture "largely destroyed by its government's catastrophic policies."

This year, it was Africa's turn to lead the Commission on Sustainable Development, and the U.N.'s African members shamefully and inexcusably support Mugabe's government for that post.

And just who was responsible for electing Zimbabwe to this position? Other African nations, that's who. The chair of this commission is rotated among continents, and this year it was Africa's turn. How bad is the situation in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe is a disaster area. The country's own Social Welfare Commission, as reported by The New York Times on Dec. 19, found that 63 percent of the rural population and 53 percent of the urban population cannot meet basic food requirements.

Under Mugabe's rule, Zimbabwe's inflation is the highest on the planet — more than 2,200 percent.

The African nations voting to bestow "legitimacy" on Mugabe's terrorism against his own people closed their eyes and consciences to the fact — as reported by The Economist — that "every day desperate Zimbabweans cross the Limpopo river, braving crocodiles and occasionally drowning, to try their luck in neighboring South Africa. Trapped into illegality there, many are exploited and abused."

Meanwhile, the liberator of Zimbabwe from white rule into its present wasteland is planning a 2008 campaign for an additional six-year term and a $4 million museum (a "shrine") of his lifetime achievements (Washington Times, May 2). Mugabe will surely win — if not by acclamation then certainly through long-practiced intimidation. In May, for example, he forbade Zimbabwe journalists — those who still risk beatings and prison for reporting the truth — from marching in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day (New York Times, May 7).

If African nations wish to ignore the horrors Mugabe is visiting on his country, I suppose that is their business. We shouldn't be a part of it, however, and as members of the UN we are.

Hentoff slaps down the notion that this situation with Zimbabwe is somehow unique

To cap the current (and chronic) disgrace of the United Nations, guess who the new officers of the U.N. Disarmament Commission are? The chair is Syria, home of abundantly armed warring factions — and the vice chair, believe it or not, is Iran, the leading prospect to blow up its region of the world. Having this proud stoker of nuclear destruction become second-in-command of the U.N. Disarmament Commission is like springing Jack Abramoff from prison to fill the new vacancy at the World Bank.

The United Nations is structurally incapable of reform. It is fatally flawed and beyond repair. Hentoff's solution mirrors my own

It makes much more sense for us to walk away from the United Nations itself, period. There are other organizations that — with more help from us and other concerned nations — can feed the hungry and provide medical aid for those in need around the world. But Eleanor Roosevelt's dream of the United Nations serving as an international beacon of human rights has become a nightmare of millions of people's betrayed hopes.

I've written much more about the UN here, essays detailing exactly how we should distance ourselves from it and what alternative institutions we should build.

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July 6, 2005

Live Aid II

I cannot believe it.

When I wrote "Live Aid" below, it was in the usual morning hurry. I'd heard about Geldorf's comments on the radio yesterday, made a few notes, and then did some quick research this morning and wrote the post before hurrying off to work.

Then today I found out the details.

Live Aid, you see, does not raise one penny for people in Africa.

That's right. It's sole purpose is to "raise awareness" Jonah Goldberg has the scoop:

You may be wondering how much money this intercontinental jam session raised for the sick and dying of Africa. Alas, not a farthing. Sir Bob Geldof was very explicit about this point. Live8 was intended to raise consciousness and exert political pressure on the G8 summiteers. No one was allowed to actually raise money for the masses of starving people in Africa.

This morning I was willing to give Geldorf and his pals the benefit of the doubt. Now I'm disgusted.

What annoys me is when people like Geldorf tell, no, demand, that other people cough up vast sums of money because...he cares.

And let's just revisit what Geldorf demands that we do: fork over 25 billion dollars, and forgive billions in debt. This is money that you and I will pay for, friends. Will it do any good? We're not supposed to ask. For Geldorf further instructs us that

Something must be done, even if it doesn't work.

As Jonah points out, does anybody really think that all, or even many, of the people who watched or went to the concert (the number is disputed) care about the people in Africa? In other words, would they have watched or gone if it had just been a plain old concert? I think we know the answers.

If Geldorf and his entertainment pals feel guilty, which seems to be the case, then they can take personal action. If they personally go to Africa to help out, or at least give personal money, then God bless them.

But when rich hollywood types demand that governments spend tons of money and that "we will not applaud half measures, or politics as usual" well, he can go jump in a lake.

In brief, then what are the problems facing Africa that stand in the way of progress?

1) Lack of pluralism and democracy. Our administration has rejected the status quo foreign policy of the past with regard to the Middle East. Let's expand this to other parts of the world.

2) Lack of free market capitalism. Central planning has for too long been the way that African governments ran their economies. The Heritage Foundation has an Index of Economic Freedom that rates countries by their level of economic freedom. Sadly, most countries in Africa rank low.

3) Property Rights are not enforced and respected. Business will not go where contract law is not guaranteed.

4) Rule of Law is not ensured. By this we mean that the courts will rule on matters of law in a non-partisan manner.

5) Their is a culture of corruption that is beyond what most westerners believe. I've heard the stories from friends from that part of the world, and have read, and the corruption is so all-encompasing as to be almost unbelieveable.

6) Most importantly, we in the west have accepted these failures for far too long. We've done so for many and varied reasons; guilt over colonialism etc, foreign policy "realism", the dominance of the Cold War, and just plain old not caring. This is what must end for progress to be made.

Posted by Tom at 9:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Live Aid

Bob Geldorf has a view of aid that unfortunately is all too common

Something must be done, even if it doesn't work.

Geldorf, of course, is the driving force behind Live Aid (and here), the group that holds massive concerts to raise money in order to help people in Africa.

Geldorf doesn't simply organize concerts, he makes policy recommendations also. From his website

On Aid: Deliver an extra $25bn aid for Africa and make plans to ensure this aid really will be effective at eradicating poverty. This must stand beside a further $25bn for the other poorest countries of the world. This is the absolute minimum required to begin to win the battle against extreme poverty.

On Debt: Confirm the 100 per cent debt cancellation from the G8 finance ministers' meeting and commit to 100 per cent debt cancellation for ALL the countries that need it and remove damaging economic policies that are imposed as a condition.

On Trade: Make decisive steps to end the unjust rules of trade, and allow poor countries to build their own economies, at their own pace. It is only through trade that Africa will eventually beat poverty on its own.

Let it be equally clear that, at the same time, African governments must be free from corruption and thuggery and put in place recognised practices of good governance, accountability and transparency towards their own people and to the world. Twenty years ago at Live Aid we asked for charity. Today at Live8 we want justice for the poor. The G8 meeting next week can take the first real step towards eradicating the extremes of poverty once and for all.

We will not applaud half measures, or politics as usual. This must be a historic breakthrough.



So what of it?

It's easy to criticize Geldorf for his "something must be done" statement, and I'm going to do that.

Before we do that, however, let's take a look at his policy recommendations

On trade, his recommdations seem fairly reasonable. While the devil is in the details, free trade usually works in favor of poor nations. As long as wealthy environmentalists and "labor rights" types do not put onerous burdens on these countries, free trade will have some benefit.

On aid, money is fine and good, and can help, but only under certain conditions. And here is where we run into trouble. For simply sending money can do more harm than good unless it is properly used, and only if other, more root causes, are dealt with.

And it is his prescription for debt cancellation that gives one pause. Forgiving debt will only do any good if African governments undertake serious reforms, and if cultural habits change. I am not at all sure that I see enough action in this area.

A Contradiction

Geldorf says that "African governments must be free from corruption and thuggery and put in place recognised practices of good governance..." but this will only occur if the money sent is made contingent on the reforms. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, this is the exact opposite of what Geldorf and those like him will do. They somehow believe that you can both send vast amounts of money and demand reform simulatneously. I am not as sanguine.

And here we go back to the quote that started this post:

Something must be done, even if it doesn't work.

The purpose of aid is all too often simply to make the giver feel good. I've seen this at churches, where we are told that we must undertake x and such a project and no one is supposed to ask whether it does any good in the long run.

It is all-too easy to criticize people like Geldorf that make what one hopes was an intemperate statement. But it has to be recognized that sometimes well-meaning aid may actually make the situation worse.

Geldorf thus misses the point when he talks about not applauding "half measures". We don't need some huge Marshall Plan for Africa, we need something that works. What I will not applaud is throwing money at a problem and making nice-sounding statements about reform that one will not back up with action.

Our duty, then, is to work out means of which aid can be given, and policy recommendations made, that will have a positive effect. One should not criticize without having any prescriptions of one's own.

But it is time to run off for work, and so the rest will have to wait for another post.

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