Smart Power III: Let's keep pirates from buying boats

How can we tell that the American policy on piracy is in disarray?  Even the AP reports that Hillary Clinton’s announcement of measures against Somali pirates is stopgap and intended to mollify people while the new administration gets up to speed (via QandO):

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the Obama administration will take the unusual step of trying to seize pirate financial assets and property, as it works with shippers to thwart hijackers off the coast of Somalia.

The measures outlined by Clinton, part of a new U.S. diplomatic initiative to thwart sea piracy, are largely stopgap and symbolic moves while officials weigh more comprehensive diplomatic and military action.

Mostly, though, we can tell from the notion that the US can seize assets so that the pirates won’t have money to buy new boats:

“These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped,” she said. “We may be dealing with a 17th-century crime, but we need to bring 21st-century solutions to bear.”

Clinton acknowledged difficulties ahead in Treasury efforts to locate pirate assets. But she wants the U.S. and others to “explore ways to track and freeze” pirate ransom money and other funds used in purchases of new boats, weapons and communications equipment.

Purchase equipment?  Uh, sure.  Pirates are well known for getting invoices and receipts for tax purposes, too.  As others pointed out to Matthew Lee, pirates don’t use formal banking systems or marketplaces for their financial transactions.  Mostly they just steal what they need, and buy the rest through black-market channels.

I’d give the new administration more time to get their footing, except that both the President and Vice President served on committees in the Senate that had oversight on this very problem.  In this particular realm of foreign policy, they should be experienced.  Unfortunately, neither of them attended the meetings on Somalia and piracy at the Subcommittee on African Affairs over the last three years.  And it shows.

The solution to piracy is the same in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century.  Sink their ships without warning, destroy their bases of operation, and never negotiate except to accept their unconditional surrender as opposed to killing them the way the SEALs did this weekend.  Everything has a cost-benefit threshold; when pirates don’t make money and start dying in large numbers, fewer people will want to become pirates.

I’d offer one more solution as a parallel, suggested by a Hot Air reader earlier this week.  The US Navy should buy or lease some smaller container ships as decoys and sail them through the Gulf of Aden, only with fully-armed commandos on board.  When pirates start discovering that some American-flagged ships are fakes bristling with death, they’ll think twice about approaching any other American-flagged ship again.