June 1, 2009  

Maritime terrorism

Piracy is an act of terrorism and the U.S. should act multinationally, internationally or unilaterally to eliminate this exploitation in order to promote free and effective democracies, extend prosperity and sustain responsible international systems.

When maritime commerce began, the act of maritime terrorism quickly followed — a natural and unfortunate human behavior based on greed, lawlessness and, above all, instilling fear into others. Maritime terrorism initially subsided, but did not vanish, when nations decided that this behavior constituted a danger to their prosperity and sovereignty.

Of course, speaking of whether piracy is actually an act of terrorism becomes a sticky argument. Indeed, even within the U.S., the definition of terrorism is unclear. The situation becomes even more troubling when seeking an internationally recognized definition of terrorism. While diplomacy grinds to a halt, terror continues freely on the open sea.

To be effective at combating maritime terror, nations must first recognize that the central problem is on land, not in the sea. The failed nation of Somalia, its current lawless environment and the poor human conditions foster this behavior.

The U.S., Japan and NATO are taking bold steps to quell this behavior in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. The hope is that the rest of the international community will decide that piracy is terrorism and eliminate this threat quickly and efficiently. Simultaneously, international solutions are required to tackle the land-based problem as well, which includes groups such as al-Shabaab, Islamic militants in Somalia.

As a “dangling carrot” I presume the following, unless the international or unilateral community decides to act:

1. Maritime terror, if left unabated, will grow. This is based on the fact that maritime terrorists, who used to instill fear with knives and hatchets, now use automatic weapons and grenade launchers. If the pace continues, they will have bigger boats, bigger weapons, more materiel and personnel, and bigger egos.

2. Groups such as al-Qaida and al-Shabaab will be able to fund, and receive funding from, this type of terror. This is based on the volume of states and corporations that are already willing to pay ransoms rather than decisively eliminate seafaring terror.

3. A major catastrophic event will occur in the next 18 months involving maritime terrorists and luxury cruise ships. I base this on presumptions 1 and 2. It will probably occur in either the Caribbean, Mediterranean Sea or Indian Ocean, locations where “superempowered individuals” have a ways and means to seek resolve — it is their current center of gravity. This event will not be for money. It will seek to harm lives, intimidate nations and minimize the power and influence of the U.S. and its allies, NATO and other states.

Terrorists have already proven their ability to achieve devastating effects on land and in the air. Their next target, less the USS Cole and shipping routes, will be to terrorize large populations at sea.

I sincerely hope the global community recognizes what Marcus Tullius Cicero recognized circa 60 B.C. when he identified pirates in Roman law as hostis humani generis, “enemies of the human race.”

Pirates are terrorists. Treat them as such.

Maj. D. Barton Cushen, Army