Ron Paul is Crazy

by Brien Jackson

It’s hard to over state just how idiotic this idea for fighting piracy is:

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.

Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.

The problem with this, or one of many anyway, is that Ron Paul, and apparently a “growing number of other people” don’t seem to understand how letters of marque actually function (and yes, that’s very ironic given that Paul seems to fancy himself something of a representative for the early 19th century). The underlying functionality of such commissions is pretty simple; incentives. In the most famous usage of letters of marque, British privateering, privateers who were commissioned to attack Spanish, or other European state, shipping interests were given a portion of the loot, prominent privateers were knighted and made relatively important nobleman at court, etc. This was, essentially, state sanctioned piracy, attacking the trading activities of rivals, and it was lucrative business for those who picked it up. The War of 1812 represents the United States’s only real usage of letters of marque, and for completely different reasons. Simply put, the United States Navy did not have the capacity to compete on water with the British Navy, and needed more ships very quickly. The quickest way to increase capacity was to commission privately owned boats into the Navy, and to pay compensate citizens for this support of the war effort.

Applying these ideas to the current situation present some problems that should be pretty obvious. First of all, there’s no obvious incentive for raiding pirate ships. Whereas European merchant ships would be loaded up with gold, tobacco, sugar, and other valuable trade items, small Somali pirate boats are probably not carrying anything of real value the privateers can keep and take the money from. Secondly, the notion of paying private boats to conduct naval operations is really redundant when you have a very large professional Navy for these sorts of things. So the War of 1812 analogy is wildly off base, and if Ron Paul is actually using that as an example, as opposed to something POLITICO added in themselves, then Ron Paul simply doesn’t know very much about American military/political history.

Also, I don’t think I need to point out the potential problems that might arise from having a horde of self-fancied Rambos patrolling a highly volatile maritime area where the navies from a multitude of countries, including China, are operating daily. What could possibly go wrong there right?

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