Pirates of the Arabian Sea
The International Maritime Bureau tracks these developments closely. According to a recent article by the bureau, it appears that Somalia is to piracy today what Afghanistan was to terrorism yesterday: a safe haven for criminality.
Perhaps what is most newsworthy about these regional episodic attacks is that they are precisely that: limited and irregular. Today we fret endlessly about the rise of terrorism and the threats of madmen bent on destroying Western society as we know it. But pirates? Aren’t those bearded bandits quaint vestiges of a lawless age when barbarians trolled the Barbary Coast in lust of lucre? By and large, yes.
“After a quiet spell of nearly two years … serious attacks by heavily-armed pirates have resumed: 25 in the past six months.… Somalia occupies a strategic location on the Horn of Africa. To the north is the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with its heavy traffic of shipping between Europe and Asia. The former Italian colony is close to anarchy, without a functioning national government for the past 14 years. Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB, appealed to naval vessels in the region to come to the aid of ships under attack. ‘At the very least,’ he said, ‘they can prevent the hijackers from taking these ships into Somali waters. Once the vessels have entered these waters the chances of any law enforcement is negligible.’ Unless international action is taken against the pirates … Somalia could become a haven for criminals ‘who may feel encouraged to extend their activities in the wider region.’"
At the dawn of our country Thomas Jefferson would sooner go to war with the Pasha of Tripoli then continue to pay “tribute” to stave off state-sponsored piracy. The Barbary Coast War (a.k.a. the Tripolitan War) of 1801 was fought because Jefferson took a stand and said no more. Assymetrical attacks on our merchant marine vessels were finally met with naval war power. The result? In the words of Robert McHenry, “State-sponsored piracy in the Mediterranean was ended…. The Tripolitan War … first thrust the United States into the unsought role of enforcer of international law against rogue states in league with terrorists.” Today the Marines sing of their exploits on the “shores of Tripoli,” a reference to our forgotten war against state-sponsored piracy.
Is there a lesson in this for us today? Perhaps one day state-sponsored terrorism will be viewed as a quaint historical oddity. For now, we are vexed and perplexed about how best to respond to the barbarians at our gates. But assymetrical attacks on civilians are finally being met with war power. Of course we will never eradicate terrorism fully. But if the international community continues to take a stand, perhaps someday terrorist attacks will no longer garner the patronage of governments. If so, one day they truly may become parochial and episodic.