Tag Archives: pirates

The Rough Math of Surrogate Warfare, today as it was in 1805

Summary: Today we review a book that held special appeal to the Marine Special Operations Command’s (MarSoc’s) Foreign Military Training Unit (FMTU) because the it tells of a covert expedition — what today we’d call unconventional warfare.  Nothing is truly new in war, as this was the Marine Corps expedition to the shores of Tripoli in 1805.


The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 by Richard Zacks (2005)

Reviewed by Andrew L Crabb.  Originally published as “The Rough Math of Surrogate Warfare” in the Marine Corps Gazette of November 2007. Republished here with their generous permission.


State-sponsored transnational threats range freely across large swaths of ungoverned spaces, utilizing terror to intimidate the governments of Old Europe. Rogue governments and the illegally armed groups they sponsor extort payments, enslave, persecute innocents, and generally wreak havoc throughout the surrounding region. After its own citizens are taken hostage, one country, the United States, stands up to stop this injustice through force of arms. After being frustrated by conventional forces’ lack of progress, a small covert element infiltrates into the area of operations, enlists the help of local forces, and achieves stunning success. While this scenario could easily be mistaken for a sound bite from the Cable News Network, in fact these are just some of the details from the extraordinary book, The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805.

Of course, the story resonates with every Marine because it is the backdrop for the line, “. . . to the shores of Tripoli,” in the “Marines’ Hymn.” The book held special appeal to our unit, the Marine Special Operations Command’s (MarSoc’s) Foreign Military Training Unit (FMTU) because the leadership of the covert expedition undertook what would be called, in today’s Department of Defense (DoD)speak, unconventional warfare. Unconventional warfare is defined in Joint Publication 1-02, DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, as “military and para-military operations, normally of long-duration, through, with or by indigenous or surrogate forces” for the purposes of achieving our own national objectives. It is one of the capabilities being developed today at the MarSoc. The expedition of 1805 was by definition a classic unconventional warfare operation. While most Marines are vaguely aware of the extreme dangers and hardships of that expedition, the vast majority of Marines aren’t taught the unsettling facts that eventually clouded the heroic success of our forces.

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About Fourth Generation Infections

Summary:  Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century.  Less dangerous but more difficult to exterminate than insurgents.  Not romantic, but profitable.  Like warfare, crime will always be with us — but its form evolves along with society.

We now have two chronic examples of fourth generation infections:

  1. The Somali pirates
  2. Narcotrafficking cartels and their street-gang kin

Both of these represent non-state entities, or collections of entities.  Both have successfully resisted all attempts to eradicate them and have evolved to deal with the tactics used by their opponents.  And neither show any great desire to overthrow the governments of the areas in which they operate and take over the respective political institutions (such as they may be, in the case of Somalia).

To me, they are more analogous to infections than to stand-up slug-it-out opponents in the military sense. More van Creveld than von Clausewitz. A few tentative conclusions:

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New research about pirates!

Papers about piracy presented at the February 2010 convention of the International Studies Association convention:   “Theory vs. Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners”.  You might find some of these of interest.  Piracy shows western geopolitical thinking in unusual clarity.  Can we respond to a small threat without losing our minds?  Not every geopolitical moment is Munich, September 1938.  Can American public policy learn from America’s scholars, or must it continue the current trend of seeking solutions based on greed, hubris, and fear?

  1. Weak States, Failed States and Piracy“, Brian Warby
  2. The Political Economy of International Security: Somali Piracy and the Militarization of International Maritime Trade“, Garnet Kindervater and Isaac Kamola
  3. War and Theft on the High Seas: Pirates as Tricksters in International Politics“, Lilach Gilady and Joseph Mackay
  4. Piracy as State-Building: Towards a Theory of Protective Control“, Laura Seay and Amanda Skuldt
  5. The Nomos of the High Seas: What Carl Schmitt’s Theories of International Law and the State Tell Us about Somali Pirates”“, Timothy Delaune

Even the abstracts are interesting, suggesting that sometimes piracy is a stage in the formation of States — and our efforts to suppress piracy act to maintain failed states.  At the end are links to other posts on the FM website about pirates.  Esp note the comments on them.  They display the ignorance, callousness, and eagerness to use force that characterizes American foreign policy during the last few decades.


(1)  “Weak States, Failed States and Piracy”, Brian Warby — Conclusion:

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