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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The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage

Summary:  Pirates roam the seas, doing massive damage but avoiding retribution from the world’s civilized nations.  Because they’re invisible!   To stop this scourge we must overcome our blindness.  We can do so, if we wish to do so.

Somalia’s pirates are a trivial threat to the world’s economy and political regime.  A more serious threat are the fleets of powerful nations, raping the fisheries of poor nations.  Their actions demonstrate our contempt for justice and unconcern for the world’s ecosystem.  The consequences could be severe.

  1. Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources“, Science, Boris Worm et al, 17 March 2006
  2. Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services“, Boris Worm et al, Science, 3 November 2006 — The author’s forecast that unless global policies change, 100% of seafood-producing species stocks will collapse by 2048. 
  3. Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?“, Costello et al, Science 19 September 2008
  4. The ur-articles about the tragedy of the commons (update)

Links to other posts about pirates appear at the end.


(1)  Roving bandits of the modern seas

Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources“, Science, Boris Worm et al, 17 March 2006 — Excerpt:

Overfishing is increasingly threatening the world’s marine ecosystems. The search for the social causes of this crisis has often focused on inappropriate approaches to governance and lack of incentives for conservation. Little attention, however, has been paid to the critical impact of sequential exploitation: the spatially expanding depletion of harvested species. The economist Mancur Olson argued that local governance creates a vested interest in the maintenance of local resources, whereas the ability of mobile agents — roving bandits in Olson’s terminology — to move on to other, unprotected resources severs local feedback and the incentive to build conserving institutions. Distant water fleets and mobile traders can operate like roving bandits, because global markets often fail to generate the self-interest that arises from attachment to place.

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What is this “justice” that war-loving Americans speak of?

Much of America’s self-image as a “city on a hill” comes from our love of justice.  We see this clearly in the righteousness we bring to foreign affairs.

 “The Audacity of Rope — Crush all the Pirates — Now“, Ralph Peters, New York Post, 14 April 2009 — Excerpt:

Attack their harbors with land, sea and air power. Kill pirates, sink their vessels (including those dual-use fishing boats) and wreck their support infrastructure.  The clans behind the pirates must feel sufficient pain to rein in their young thugs.  The price for piracy should be stunning.  And we don’t need to stay to rebuild Somalia. End the fix-it fetish now.  We need to leave while their boats are still burning down to the waterline.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden”, Herschel Smith writing at The Captain’s Journal, 1 October 2008 — Excerpt:

“This is easy.  We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate.  Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them.”

“Kill them all” is the advice of the usual suspects, since giving psychopathic advice is a career asset for America’s geopolitical experts.  God only knows what the rest of the world thinks when reading these things.  Perhaps they note that folks like Ralph Peters and Herschel Smith are silent when trawlers rape — almost sterilize — Somalia’s fishing grounds.  No call for our navy to take action then, as they believe the goddess of Justice sleeps quietly.

But when Somalia fishermen-turned-pirates demand ransom for some sailors — gravel in the machinery of western commerce — then let fly our bombers!   Let Somalia’s mud huts, their wives and children, feel our wraith.

I recommend that every American pray on New’s Year Eve that God show mercy — not justice — to America.  For we have too often used our power neither wisely nor justly.

For more information from the FM site

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including the Naval warfare and strategy reference page.

Posts on the FM site about pirates:

  1. All about Pirates!, 12 December 2008
  2. More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”, 5 January 2009
  3. A Piracy SitRep, 12 May 2009
  4. What is this “justice” that war-loving Americans speak of?, 31 December 2009
  5. More about those pirate demons in Somalia, 2 January 2009
  6. The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage, 4 January 2010
  7. New research about pirates!, 3 March 2010


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Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?

This is the 4th post in a series about some ways in which our Long War are changing us.

  1. How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?
  2. Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  3. Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?

Might there be a psychological basis for our wars?  Or might we suffer psychological damage from our long wars?  Perhaps they might warp our values, perhaps even awakening an atavistic bloodlust.  Already we can see signs of this in our newspapers and on television.  See Ralph Peters’ “Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars“, Journal of International Security Affairs, Spring 2009 — Excerpt:

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.

Much of Peter’s essay is IMO good sense.  Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired) discusses these aspects in a favorable review at his blog on 29 May 2009.

But there is an element to this Vandergriff does not discuss.  “Winning” is not enough for success.  Winning the wrong way in the wrong war can destroy a nation.  As describe in “Lt. Col. Ralph Peters on Journalists: ‘Kill Them All’“, Richard Silverstein, posted at Tikun Olam, 21 May 2009 — Excerpt:

He hasn’t the faintest notions that it is possible that our victory, if we win dirty and betray every principle of value, will turn us into monsters. Then we won’t really need an enemy. We will have become out own worst enemy.

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How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?

This is the first in a series discussing (speculating)  how our Long War will affect America.  On 9-11-2009 we will have been at war for 8 years.  With increasing intensity:   spending more money, more men and women fighting, expanding the size of our armies, expanding the area of combat.  How has that affected us?

2. Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?
4. Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?

It seems an important question, although it’s received almost no attention.  I have only a vague idea where to go with this.  Please post any relevant references or thoughts in the comments!


  1. Warnings from Sun Tzu
  2. Warning from Alexis De Tocqueville

(1)  Warnings from Sun Tzu

The Art of War has a few useful insights about waging war.  First, a warning.

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

Second, here are two lines that mirror our situation.

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