December 4th, 2008

Everybody has sent warships to fight the Somali pirates: the United States, India, Russia, Malaysia and (now under the NATO and/or EU flags – I’m confused) France, Britain, Greece, and Germany, plus Italian planes.

Why has this high-tech armada failed to deal with a handful of low-rent thugs armed with Kalashnikovs and RPGs? The problem isn’t firepower: it’s command and control, and rules of engagement. The warships aren’t even allowed to board suspected pirates.

NATO has finally asked the UN Security Council to clarify this. My suggestions:

1. Set up a single ad hoc naval task force with a proper operational HQ in Mombasa. The commander should be American, his deputies European and Indian. Ideally the UN Military Committee should be activated, but this won’t happen, at least before January 20.

2. Create a security zone in which the task force can stop and search any ship whatever. The pirates store their speedboats on innocent-looking mother ships. There’s no legitimate reason for a cargo ship to carry a speedboat, so any ship that does can be seized as a presumptive pirate and impounded. If the pirates stopped using speedboats and reverted to slower vessels, the targets would have time to call for naval helicopters.

3. Impound all shore-based speedboats in the zone for the duration. Water-skiing playboys in Lamu can stuff it.

3. Set up an ad hoc maritime court to adjudge piracy-related civil and criminal claims as a fallback to national courts. The outcry from the owners of impounded ships would speed this up.

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