Bobs Agree We Should Put Blue Helmets on Merchant Ships

Robert Wright, a hippie globalist one-worlder like me, and Bob Kagan, a neocon warmonger, both agree on an idea for dealing with the pirates problem — put a couple of armed United Nations peacekeepers on merchant ships going through the region. The idea here is that arming merchant ships would solve the problem, but that you can’t arm merchant ships because countries don’t let armed ships dock at their ports. Putting the guns in the hands of the UN solves the problem:

I have my doubts about this. My impression is that the biggest problem with arming merchant ships is that ship owners actually don’t want to see firefights happening in the vicinity of their cargo. If you think about the idea of holding a ship for ransom, the premise is that the amount of money being asked for is less than the value of the cargo.

Given that reality, if you own a cargo ship and some guys in a small craft amble up next to you with a shoulder-launched rocket what you really want is for your crew to surrender. If your crew starts shooting, then they’re putting your ship at risk of getting blown up by a rocket. It’s true that over time, a sufficient number of bloody exchanges would serve as a deterrent to piracy both because pirates would get killed and also because pirate counterattacks that end up sinking ships don’t get any ransom. But on an individual level, it still makes more sense to surrender than to fight so it’s not clear that anyone would want blue helmets on their ship.

A different idea would be to go “Anbar Awakening” on the whole situation. Suppose there were a group of armed Somali possessing maritime skills and a spirit of derring-do. The international community could find leaders of these Somalis and provide funds to assist them in their brave effort to battle the pirates who’ve been plaguing their community. It’s true that to some this would look like paying protection money to extortionists. But if you call the protection money “aid” and call the pirates you’re paying off “former pirates” and call the process by which the pirates you’re paying try to kill their rivals “anti-piracy operations” then I think it looks perfectly legitimate to recruit some former pirates to conduct anti-piracy operations that are financed by international aid.

This is a less morally tidy approach, but it’d almost certainly be cheaper. You could call ’em the Somalia Coast Guard, reach an agreement with them about fishing rights and so forth, and they’d be national heroes.