Thursday, April 9, 2009



On the radio I heard NPR interview Gen. Tom Wilkerson on piracy in the Indiana Ocean. Somali pirates just attacked a U.S.-flag cargo vessel. The crew disabled the ship, and the captain volunteered to go away with the pirates as a hostage. He is now in a little boat with 4 pirates, closely watched by the US Navy.

Gen. Wilkerson pointed out that navy patrols aren't going to stop this in advance-- we don't know which ships pirates are in till they attack. He said we should go after their land bases.

Every officer in the armed forces needs to read Schelling's Strategy of Conflict. The solution here is game theory. Here are some possibilities:

1. Tell the pirates that unless they the hostage remains alive they will all be killed, but otherwise their lives will be spared. Then attack them. See if they kill the hostage then or not. Tell them in the initial offer that even if they do not surrender the hostage, so long as nobody shoots him while the US is attacking, their lives will be spared. (By the way: if you think international law doesn't apply to piracy, that means we are free to torture or kill pirates without trial. Traditional international law explicitly allowed their summary execution, at least.)

2. Surround the pirate boat and don't let them land anywhere. They will run out of water. When they are all unconscious, capture them.

If either policy is followed, and if it is made clear that any US-Flag ship attack will fail in this way, then piracy against US vessels will cease, without any need for naval patrols or attack on Somali bases. We could, if we wanted, extend the protection to foreign ships too, perhaps for a large payment.



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