Some thinking on Somali pirates:
- Seal snipers took out three Somali pirates and freed an American hostage held in a lifeboat. What's interesting to me is the decision making process used to resolve this minor problem. Here are some of the aspects. Firstly, there was a timer on the hostage stand-off. Other pirate groups/ships (an open source insurgency with commercial drivers) were en route to surround the lifeboat or take control of the hostages. Secondly, this minor decision involved a highly centralized decision making loop that included the President, the Commander of CENTCOM, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the DoJ, and the White House/NSC -- just to pull the trigger on three kidnappers holding a hostage at gunpoint. Lastly, one of the biggest fears of the US government is that these pirates would be arrested. Why? Since Somalia is a mess, they would become wards of the US, likely suffer only minimal jail time, and eventually end up applying for US citizenship.
- The symbiosis between private insurance and privateering dominates. If the company that owned the rescued ship wasn't a US defense contractor, its kidnapping insurance company (likely Lloyds) and its designated crisis representatives (likely Control Risks Group) would have negotiated to pay the pirate's fee to get the hostage back -- as are thousands of kidnappings from Mexico to Colombia to Nigeria to the Gulf of Aden are settled every year. Somali pirates have made tens of millions this way already. Further, in many parts of the world, kidnappers are almost never caught/killed (<5% in Mexico and the same is likely true for Somalia). So, given this backdrop, the Navy's rescue effort was just a sideshow and the industry that made it possible will continue to grow rapidly.
- Dead end solutions dominate in great power capitals. The most commonly suggested solutions, patrols by conventional navies and nation-building, aren't the answer. Both are expensive and would be futile over the longer term. The Pyrrhic solution that will eventually be adopted is a combination of A) funded militias (Somali anti-pirates that raid pirate dens) and B) business as usual (private sector management ala the symbiosis detailed above). Might as well cut to the end game and quite the near term charade (I told this to the House Armed Services committee when I testified in early April).