Chaff Launch

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Talking Pirates at the Tank


A conversation of sorts between W. Thomas Smith Jr. and Steve Schippert at the National Review Blog "The Tank" which began with Mr. Smith noting that the Danish crew of the Danish ship recently captured by Somali pirates reportedly have run out of food and fresh water (as noted first here) here. Followed by Steve's expression of some frustration with the situation here:
At the risk of sounding . . . overly simplistic, what exactly caused us to back off a hijacked ship — the mighty Somali Navy? Respect for the integrity of Somali borders? It seems we can't even discern yet whether we tangibly and directly support the only semblance of government there. And we are going to cede safe haven for pirates beyond an imaginary line crossing onto an undefended and unpoliced expanse of water?
Mr.Smith answered by visiting the "Territorial Waters" issue but also sharing some frustration here. Smith also offers up some Navy insight from Pentagon sources here, which insight includes international law, having arguably the wrong asset available for interdiction (not intentionally, but as a matter of where warships happened to be on that day) and the fact that by the time the U.S. Navy was involved, the situation had mutated:
... by the time the U.S. ship came upon the Danish ship, the situation had "matured" to the point that it was no longer a pirate attack, but a hostage situation with bad guys and good guys aboard.
Which "maturation," of course, has been involved in the discussions that my good friend CDR Salamander and I have been having about the situation.

Mr. Schippert is not satisfied (and I suspect most people who are following this situation are with him in this), as he sets out here:
There are times when we either need to pursue the rules to their fullest extent (asking for permission to enter waters?) or disregard them in instances where they hurt our people more than protect.

I'm sorry, but no explanation satisfies the hard fact that we know that hostages are held, who has seized them, their dire conditions (brought about by weeks of inaction), and know where they are but still do nothing.

There's something shamefully wrong with that.

Period.
Well, not quite "period." Mr. Smith responds here:
The same thing could be argued about the situation in Darfur or any number of other places and situations worldwide where people are oppressed, tortured, starving to death, illegally held captive, you name it.
Which point is well made, if a familiar one - "Why here and not there?"- is a familiar refrain for those trying to decipher U.S. policy and interventions.

Steve responds (and you should read all the links, as I am taking bits and pieces and may not, in your opinion, fairly convey the ideas therein), here:
Your point referencing Darfur is a good one. At the same time, the logic both for or against taking some action for the captive crew could be buttressed with the argument of, "It's not an entire country in conflict, we're only talking about four crew members."
The latest Smith response is here, in which the "ease" with which a hostage rescue might be undertaken is touched on- as in "it's not easy" to perform hostage rescues at sea against a moving ship.

From my point of view, this discussion is an excellent example of the issues facing the civilian leadership and military commanders of the United States and other countries as they try to weigh and balance appropriate responses to crisis situations. On one hand is the desire to take action- action that is well within the capabilities of most modern militaries. Balancing that is the need to conform to international laws and not set the precedent of allowing willful, public violations of sovereign waters (even if those waters are of a failed state) even if for a good cause such as "hostage rescue." I assume the staffs involved are involved with things like:
  1. Weighing the known history of the pirates (perhaps only one hostage ever killed by Somali pirates) against the risks of harm to the hostages if a rescue were attempted.
  2. Assessing the international and regional fallout from an armed intervention into another (largely Muslim) state, where our track record has not been particularly good.
  3. Considering the effects of an assault on the tribal fabric holding what little central authority there is in Somalia.
  4. Considering the impact of not acting on the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who may starve if the piracy is not quelled and food shipments restarted.
  5. Weighing whether intervention in Somalia will cause us to "own" a new problem country.
  6. Determining what the "vital national interest" is this matter and whether there are competing vital national interests that carry more weight.
  7. And don't forget that part of the process is simply waiting for the Danish shipping company to negotiate with the pirates for the release of the ship and crew - and I view one part of those negotiations the release of this "crew is out of food and water" information, as a pressure application technique on the Danes.
  8. Decision makers must weigh the possible cost in lives and dollars a hostage rescue versus the cost of paying the ransom and rewarding piracy, again.
  9. Additional assessments must be made of preventing future incidents - warning ships to stay 200+ miles off Somalia's southern coast, providing patrols, escorts, convoys, etc. The costs associated with prevention must be factored in.
Finally, consider that this Somali pirate issue is but one of many, some far more urgent, on the plates of the staffs and decision makers...but I also suspect that there are some contingency plans being worked...

Read it all and decide what you would do.

UPDATE: Prior posts on the Danish ship situation here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE2: Discussions at Milblogs re the Danish ships (in reverse chronological order, so start wthe the last first): here, here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE3: The IMO wants action!

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