Debate Magazine

When a Kind of Constitutional Privatization MIGHT Be a GOOD Idea, Arrrrgh!

Posted on the 01 November 2013 by Doggone

When a kind of constitutional privatization MIGHT be a GOOD idea, Arrrrgh!

21st century pirates

The most recent online edition of Scientific American, which includes blogs, raises the question "Is the U.S. Air Force the answer to Nigerian pirate attacks?"
No.  We have stretched our military too thin already, and no one wants the expense in blood or money to deal with African anything, including piracy.
When a kind of constitutional privatization MIGHT be a GOOD idea, Arrrrgh!The SA article notes just last week, two Americans were captured in the vicinity of the Niger delta . That didn't get a lot of coverage in most of the national media.
I agree that we have had more than enough trouble out of the horn of Africa on the east side of the continent, including Somali pirates. The news has not carried as much coverage of the Atlantic side problems:
"U.S. Navy officials have grown increasingly concerned about piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea and are working with local authorities there to strengthen their ability to patrol the region and better share information.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called the region a potential "hot spot" after a visit to four countries surrounding the gulf in August. He told Defence News in September the Navy was working closely with Gabon, Senegal, Sao Tome and Ghana to help fight an increase in illegal trafficking of drugs, people and arms.
"The piracy threat is spreading even further through the waters of West Africa, and the attacks have been mounting, even as global rates of reported piracy are at their lowest since 2006," said Michael Frodl of U.S.-based consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks.
Unlike the dangerous waters off Somalia and the Horn of Africa on the east coast of Africa, through which ships now speed with armed guards on board, many vessels have to anchor to do business off West African countries, with little protection.
This makes them a target for criminals and jacks up insurance costs. Kidnapped sailors and oil workers taken in Nigerian waters are usually released after a ransom is paid.
In a separate incident, three Nigerian soldiers were killed on Tuesday when armed robbers attacked a vessel carrying construction workers in the creeks of Rivers State, the Nigerian Army said on Thursday."
 As the SA blog post notes:
At 2.2 million barrels per day, Nigeria is by far the region’s largest oil producer and is strategically valuable to the United States primarily because greater production from this region increases the diversity of supply and weakens the ability of OPEC nations to maintain high oil prices. Nigerian crude is also well-suited to American east coast refineries, which are designed to process low viscosity, low sulfur crude into fuels.

Yellow pins = known oil field locations; Green pins = tanker terminals. Credit: RAND, Google, Europa Technologies

Typically, when we think of energy supply routes and constraints we think of the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz where traditional nation-states can control the flow of oil. The U.S. Navy provides security to keep oil flowing in those locations.
However, West Africa poses a different type of security risk. Rogue actors like pirates, more than nation states, can make it more dangerous and expensive to produce oil there. But unlike the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy might not be the best solution for securing oil production and transport in the Gulf of Guinea.
The SA blog goes on to reference a 2012 RAND paper recommendation that the air force take on the task of policing this area rather than the navy.
Here's my problem with this -- we already have too large (and frankly too corrupt) a military industrial complex, and the RAND 'Corporation'/think tank is, in far too many respects, an integral part of that complex.  They have a vested interest in appealing to the militant neo-cons involving our military in new areas of the globe --- ESPECIALLY as regards oil interests.  In other words, this is hardly a recommendation coming from a neutral, disinterested or politically non-partisan entity, or based solely on the merits of the situation.
While I generally resist the efforts on the right to privatize EVERYTHING that rightfully belongs in the sphere of governmental function, from the most local to the federal level, I think it is time to return to "those glorious days of yesteryear" and a largely unused and unnoticed section of the U.S. Constitution  (in terms of controversy and history classes).
Article 1, section 8, (the enumerated powers) clauses 10 and 11:
The Congress shall have power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
...To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
Let me interject a trivia question here.  The Marine Hymn contains a line in the lyrics "from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli", referring to an early series of events in our history that culminated in a U.S. war on Barbary (aka Berber) piracy, one of the earliest national military what year? (answer at the end of the post*)
That piracy also included not only northern Africa and the Mediterranean Sea, but also western Africa.
from Wikipedia:
Until the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, British treaties with the North African states protected American ships from the Barbary corsairs. Morocco, which in 1777 was the first independent nation to publicly recognize the United States, became in 1784 the first Barbary power to seize an American vessel after independence. The Barbary threat led directly to the creation of the United States Navy in March 1794. While the United States managed to secure peace treaties, these obliged it to pay tribute for protection from attack. Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual expenditures in 1800.[21] The First Barbary War in 1801 and the Second Barbary War in 1815 led to more favorable peace terms ending the payment of tribute. However, Algiers broke the 1805 peace treaty after only two years, and subsequently refused to implement the 1815 treaty until compelled to do so by Britain in 1816.
In the 19th century, the U.S. was one of the nations that sought to end WHITE slavery, aka European slave trading by the Barbary pirates.......but did NOT want to end BLACK slave trading - with anyone.  Here is a list of the U.S. treaties relating to piracy and the slave trade (again, from Wikipedia):
The Barbary Treaties refer to several treaties between the United States of America and the semi-autonomous North African city-states of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, known collectively as the Barbary States.
 Clearly, the problems of piracy and the origination and ratification of the U.S. Constitution went hand in hand contemporaneously with the issues of African piracy.
I would argue that it might be time to revive the practice of our Congress issuing Letters of Marque /Reprisal (they are essentially the same thing), which authorizes or effectively licenses - under our national authority - for private parties (aka mercenaries) to go after ANY designated enemy ships or related forces, including those engaged in piracy.  Instead of spreading our air force OR navy too thinly, let's bring back privateers.  THIS is privatization I could happily support, for a change!
A privateer or "corsair" was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend treasury resources or commit naval officers. They were of great benefit to a smaller naval power or one facing an enemy dependent on trade: they disrupted commerce and pressured the enemy to deploy warships to protect merchant trade against commerce raiders. The cost was borne by investors hoping to profit from prize money earned from captured cargo and vessels. The proceeds would be distributed among the privateer's investors, officers, and crew.
Privateers were part of naval warfare from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Some privateers have been particularly influential in the annals of history. Sometimes the vessels would be commissioned into regular service as warships. The crew of a privateer might be treated as prisoners of war by the enemy country if captured.
Historically, the distinction between a privateer and a pirate has been, practically speaking, vague, often depending on the source as to which label was correct in a particular circumstance.[1] The actual work of a pirate and a privateer is generally the same (raiding and plundering ships); it is, therefore, the authorization and perceived legality of the actions that form the distinction.
The U.S. was NOT a signatory to the mid-19th century Paris Declaration, which attempted to end privateering as a naval practice.  During the turn of the century era, Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 sent naval ships to free kidnapped Americans, in the Perdicaris Incident, in which all the navy ended up doing was engaging in a confrontation with Morocco that resulted in the pirate Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli getting a temporary ransom and a promotion for his bad behavior.  Raisuli continued to engage in bloody revolts, kidnappings and raiding, and general mayhem until his death in 1925, but sending the warships to the rescue was great political capital for Roosevelt to be elected in his own right in 1904.
While some of the provisions of the Paris Declaration were included in the Hague Conventions which evolved into the subsequent Geneva Conventions, so far as I can determine with a cursory examination, we have never actually agreed NOT to issue letters of marque.  So long as we only did so against pirates and not against any legitimately recognized nation state, we would be free to do so.  If our doing so placed the privateers under the supervision and authority of our military, in order to avoid excesses and misconduct, and other nations benefited from being safer from pirate predations, this probably would not engender any significant opposition.  Put a few supervisory naval vessels on either side of the African continent, preferably with the benefit of whatever aerial surveillance, either plane or drone, or satellite, might provide, and let private initiative - and capital - go to work against piracy in and around Africa.  It's time to do that job on someone else's dime.

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