A plan to fend off pirates

A little-known congressional power could help the US federal government keep the Somali pirates in check – and possibly do it for a discount price. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.

  • Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.

  • The letters also require would-be thrill seekers to post a bond promising to abide by international rules of war.

    In a YouTube video earlier this week, Paul suggested lawmakers consider issuing letters, which could relieve American naval ships from being the nation's primary pirate responders – a free-market solution to make the high seas safer for cargo ships.

    "I think if every potential pirate knew this would be the case, they would have second thoughts because they could probably be blown out of the water rather easily if those were the conditions," Paul said.

    Theoretically, hiring bounty hunters would also be a cheaper option:

  • National security experts estimate that this week's ship captain rescue by Navy SEALs cost tens of millions, although a Navy spokesman says the military cannot confirm the exact cost of the mission.

  • Instead, privateers would be incentivised to patrol the ocean looking for key targets – and money would be paid only to the contractor who completed the job.

    "If we have 100 American wanna-be Rambos patrolling the seas, it's probably a good way of getting the job done," said Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow and security expert Eli Lehrer. "Right now we have a Navy designed mostly to fight other navies. The weapons we have are all excellent, but they may not be the best ones to fight these kinds of pirates. The only cost under letters of marque would be some sort of bounty for the pirates."

    Source: Erika Lovley, Ron Paul's plan to fend off pirates, Yahoo.com, April 15, 2009.

    For text: http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090415/pl_politico/21245;_ylt=As.zeWO6QlBtRe47UyVu0YHZn414

    For more on International Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=26

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 21 April 2009
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