Assorted Links

  1. Polar Bears and Grizzlies Producing Hybrid Offspring as Arctic Melts– in Spiegel, and article about the creation of a hybrid bear (called Pizzley in the article). As the ice melts, the two habitats are coming closer together and they are closely enough related that the two bears are breeding together, including a mixture of habits and features. Evidently, the hybrids are rare and the few that exist are not covered by existing endangered species legislation because they are not considered polar bears, but are prized by hunters.
  2. Grammar: is “whom” history? From the Mouths of Babes– an interesting discussion about early childhood development and grammar; in a particular example given, children are evidently able at a relatively young age to note that sometimes people seem to use “whom” rather than “who.” The author discusses whether or not “whom” will continue to use or if it will fall out of favor for “who,” but concludes that “whom” will continue to exist as a prized sign of intelligence. I think that the logic is rather pedantic (other words that come to mind include elitist and superficial). “Whom” should continue to exist as a formal distinction between subject and the direct and indirect object…which, of course, also means that we should return to teaching formal parts of speech.
  3. Who Needs a Navy?-A fascinating discussion of the true military and strategic value of a modern navy. The author suggests that no modern navy is cost-efficient.
  4. NATO Urges Calm Following Syrian Shelling of Turkish Town– Among multiple articles, Spiegel primarily focuses on the NATO impact to this new development. It is no surprise to note that NATO leaders are urging restraint–particularly because of treaty obligations that could necessitate NATO involvement in Syria, something that it has been trying to avoid for the last eighteen months. According to the New York Times, NATO has condemned the attacks, but has not yet invoked the clause in its charter that would require collective action. Frankly, this is a shame. The civil war in Syria is destroying a number of amazing historical sites and, frankly, has been raging for eighteen months without getting nearly the press or outrage that Libya or Egypt did. Between the lack of coverage, the Olympics, and the NATO response, it is almost as though world leaders are trying to pretend that nothing is going on. In fact, other than Turkey, it might be that the first foreign power to get involved is Israel on the grounds that they need to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria in order to prevent their proliferation. Human rights only come into play when it is expedient. I understand the reasoning behind not interfering in civil wars, but, often, it ends up being a convenient excuse to not do anything.
  5. Private Army Formed to Fight Somali Pirates Leaves Troubled Legacy– An article in the New York Times about private military forces in Somali, including fatal trainings and that a number of these mercenaries have, in effect, been stranded in Somalia. This mercenary group is currently unpaid, but is well armed and (in theory) well trained. The article focuses on this Puntland group (trained initially by a former head of the Blackwater), but expands the discussion to the premise and effects of outsources military operations. I am reminded both of Steven Pressfield’s book, The Profession, which is set in the not-so-distant future and expands the use of private military forces to a logical conclusion, and of Deadly Prey (yes, that is the whole movie on Youtube), a cult-classic from 1987 involving the training of such a private military force.
  6. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Gunboat Diplomacy

Gunboat diplomacy is rarely the answer, even to piracy. I am not so naive as to say that asking the pirates nicely to stop would be sufficient, nor do I believe that piracy in the immediate generation is a problem that has peaceful solutions; the ultimate solution is peaceful, the final solution is to raise the economic and social conditions within the countries where piracy is common to sufficient levels wherein piracy is a dangerous and less-than-profitable alternative.

The threat of force is necessary to instill that there is a lethal drawback to piracy, however if conditions in regions of the world that foster piracy and religious fanaticism are not altered, force will be be insufficient. Force in the past was only effective wherein there was an organized aspect to the piracy which stood to suffer significant losses if the threat of force was ignored.

Stephen Decatur Jr
was one of the grand heroes of early American naval history, and rightly so. He was a leading figure in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War, but is best known for the First Barbary War, in which he was comparatively low rank. Most notable amongst his exploits, Decatur captained the USS Intrepid into the harbor of Tripoli, seized control of the USS Philadelphia, which had previously run aground, captured and subsequently re-floated by the Tripolitans. For fear of a US frigate in the hands of the enemy, Decatur volunteered to fire it, and successfully did so. Admiral Nelson lauded this act as “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

Less well known, but Decatur also led American crews on Neapolitan gunboats into the harbor of Tripoli, while the USS Constitution and other large ships slowly worked their way into the harbor to bombard the citadel. Decatur captured two gunboats and led both out of the harbor during this action, the second with a reduced crew after finding out that a gunboat had pretended to surrender and subsequently killed the captain–Decatur’s brother.

During the Second Barbary War, Decatur simply sailed to the Mediterranean with a powerful squadron to enforce upon the Barbary Powers that the United States would not pay any tribute. William Bainbridge followed up with visits from his own squadron. These visits were not negotiation; Decatur and Bainbridge arrived with overwhelming force and gave the choice between ending piracy and utter destruction. European powers later followed up with their own actions and the grip of North African, State-sponsored piracy largely came to a halt. The reason this worked was two-fold.

First, there was an organized, stationary head to the operation who was the political leader for the region. This provided a target without whom the piracy would collapse into individual operations which would be less deadly, but tougher to root out. Second, with these men who wanted nothing more than to stay in power, fleets capable of destroying them utterly arrived and gave them the choice of death or peace. Self-preservationist as most leaders tend to be, each Barbary power chose peace and piracy ended.

In certain situations Gunboat diplomacy works. Rooting out individual pirate groups is not one of these situations; what is considered here is not diplomacy. The nearest comparison is that this is a police action, whereas diplomacy is between states. Further, any unilateral action taken by the United States or another Western power to smother the piracy would be declared an intrusion into middle east affairs, especially in Yemen and Somalia. In short, the countries that wittingly or unwittingly harbor pirates must be convinced, trained and supported in destroying piracy, especially in situations where it is another facet of organized crime. This is both economic and military, and where asked for military aid, it should be provided, but not before. The common denominator is that military power and threat to livelihood is necessary to end piracy, but without fundamental changes to head off the supply of rank-and-file pirates, nothing will change. There needs to be suitable alternative and suitable disincentive if the problem is to be addressed.