One thing one has to admit-the criminal/terrorist elements holding the world’s shipping lanes hostage have the game figured out. Although one hijacking of a U.S.-manned shipped was thwarted, they have the captain hostage.
Now, other pirate ships, loaded with hostages, are making their way toward the life boat to help insure the pirates escape with impunity.
The U.S. Navy is there, but able to do very little. It is a classic standoff of asymmetrical forces: the USS Bainbridge, armed with cruise missiles, in a stalemate with a life boat that is out of fuel and adrift in the sea.
The hostage captain’s attempted escape was thwarted. The ships are too far away to help him. And several boats with dozens of other hostages will be arriving before long. Not a pretty scenario, but one that will likely be repeated over time.
Anyone who doubts that non-state actors operating out of either complicit states or stateless regions will have a major economic impact on the world in coming years should now be disabused of that notion. And, if you think economic shocks are not part of military contingency planning, see this story by Politico about how the Pentagon is now war-gaming different economic scenarios.
“Why would the military care about global capital flows at all?” asked another person who was there. “Because as the global financial crisis plays out, there could be real world consequences, including failed states. We’ve already seen riots in the United Kingdom and the Balkans.”
While the shipping lanes are not capital flows, maintaining them free of piracy (and, in this case, with part of the ransom proceeds going to radical Islamist groups intent on spreading other kinds of havoc around the world) is vital to maintaining capital flows.
The dynamic whereby ships are captured, taken to a known location, identifiable and known leaders negotiate and ransoms are paid, has been a enabling part of the equation from the beginning. That dynamic must be broken.
No one likes boots on the ground action, particularly in an environment where the military is seriously overstretched. But this is a major international problem, and the use of force must be very much at the forefront of any real settlement to the issue.
It is not a burden of the United States alone. China, Saudi Arabia and most of Europe have all had their ships hijacked, their crews held hostage and ransoms paid. Yet it is know where the criminals’ stronghold it, it is known where their boats dock and it is known who the leaders are.
Yet the prevailing attitude seems to be that, since the crews and ships are generally freed after a ransom is paid, no harm is really done. That is rubbish. If the international community cannot get together to act on this, then a true coalition of those affected should take matters into their own hands.
Until they are forced to stop, the pirates will not. Why would they? Ships continue to venture into the waters unarmed, continued to get hijacked and continue to pay ransom. What have the pirates lost? Absolutely nothing.
If one or two of their boats were blasted out of the water, their home base occupied or their leaders dealt with, the equation would change. Maybe this drama will finally bring some action.