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by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado In the aftermath of the successful action  by the U. S. Navy to free the kidnapped master of the U.S. flag merchant vessel Maersk Alabama, killing three pirates in the process, and an unsuccessful pirate attack against a second U.S. ship, U.S. government officials spoke bravely of plans to take stronger measures against Somali pirates. Translated, this means that the U.S. government will continue to talk about the need for greater international cooperation and perhaps a U.N. resolution condemning piracy. With the new, kinder, gentler, outreaching administration, strong measures equate to more diplomacy. Consider the words. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that the Obama administration is taking a series of diplomatic measures to strengthen the international response to Somali piracy including pressing the Somali government and regional leaders to crack down on the criminal gangs on land. Wow! A series of diplomatic measures to strengthen the international response! One might fairly ask, “What Somali government will he be pressing?” Somalia, a sprawling coastal nation of 246,000 square miles is about the size of Texas. It has no functioning government worth pressing. It is essentially a lawless state run by tribal chiefs. As for pressing them to crack down on the pirates, good luck with that. And consider the words of President Barack Obama in response to the piracy crisis. “Obama vows to battle piracy,” read one headline. The underlying story quoted the president as committing the United States to halt the rise of piracy. “We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, and we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.” Confront them when they arise? How about confronting them before they arise? How about a proactive policy in response to this threat to international commerce and our freedom to navigate international waters? This is not, as many in the administration seem to believe, just a minor threat perpetrated by enterprising, unemployed Somali teenagers. The notion that the threat is overblown by a media seeking to exploit the novelty of piracy in the 21st century seems pervasive in the government as is the notion that military force is not the answer. If by military force one means Army ground forces, a proper use of the term according to my heaviest dictionary, they are correct. No one is, I hope, considering an invasion of Somalia. But to suggest that the U.S. Navy is not capable of dealing with piracy defies common sense. Since when has the protection of U.S. sea lines of commerce, the right of innocent passage and the protection of U.S. flag vessels on the high seas not an appropriate mission of the United States Navy? What is really absurd is the notion that we must engage in nation building in Somalia in order to stop the piracy.  Somalia is a basket case, another failed remnant of European colonization. Over 70% of the annual expenditures of what passes for a central government in Mogadisha come from foreign aid as it is. It is one of the poorest countries on earth, utterly lacking in natural resources. And you may recall that a U.S.-led United Nations peacekeeping effort during the Clinton administration ended badly in 1994. The U.S. has a clear responsibility to protect U.S.-flag vessels and their crews on the high seas and while engaged in innocent passage anywhere. This is part of the Navy’s traditional mission. If it doesn’t have sufficient resources to do this anymore, then the answer is to provide more resources. Meanwhile, it will do the best it can with the resources it has, just as it has always done. Its Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and Oliver Hazzard Perry-class frigates with embarked helicopters are suitable platforms for this mission and we have over 80 of them in the fleet. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), with a speed of over 40 knots, would be an even better platform if only we could get around to building more than the four currently authorized. Emphasis should be on locating and seizing the pirate mother ships, without which, the skiffs from which the pirates operate would be severely limited in range and operating +distance from the coast. Amphibious forces with embarked marines could be made available if actions against pirate sanctuaries should become necessary. I predict, however, that after several encounters with U.S. Navy forces, pirates will lose interest in attacking U.S–flag ships. It is the style of this administration to use diplomacy in lieu of force. Diplomacy and threat of sanctions, however, have not dissuaded Iran or North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons. Does anyone believe that diplomacy will dissuade these pirates from their profitable plunder? There is a time for diplomacy and a time for action. CRO copyright 2009 J.F. Kelly, Jr. J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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