Since the tragedies of September 11th, the United States has taken massive military action abroad in the name of fighting the undeclared War on Terror. The War on Terror has led U.S. forces to occupy and nation build both Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of insurmountable treasure and more American military lives lost than in the attacks of September 11th. Civil liberties have decreased while the government’s power has increased. Will this War on Terror ever end? Not without serious political changes in the Middle East. Should the U.S. send standing armies to chase down bands of thugs? Never. Is there a solution to reducing terrorist attacks and returning liberties? Yes; and it is right in our Constitution.
Under Article I – Section 8 of the Constitution, the U.S. Congress has the ability to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal; this power is the solution to the War on Terror. A Letter of Marque and Reprisal is a government issued license for piracy and capture, under the flag of the Unite States, which allows private individuals to hunt criminals on the condition that any “booty” captured would be legally split between the privateer and the state. To understand the Letter of Marque’s use I will briefly show how they have famously been used in history.
Perhaps the most famous Letter of Marque was given to Sir Walter Raleigh by Queen Elizabeth in the late 16th century so that he could legally pirate both Spanish ships and pirate ships. After posting bond with the English Crown, Raleigh went on to the New World to terrorize and plunder ships flying a flag of a public enemy. To make a long story short, Raleigh made a fortune for both himself and his country while helping to eliminate threats to the state and was extolled as a national hero. The same model can be used in the U.S. for both Somali pirates and terrorists.
I propose that the use of privateering, via the Letter of Marque, would go a long way in the War on Terror. Privateers will be much better at tracking down terrorists in other countries because they will have greater stealth than a military presence (be able to go incognito or hire locals), can act with agility (adapt tools and tactics with little red tape/paying off locals for information more easily), will not use unnecessary force (for fear of penalties, forfeitures, and other loss of capital), and will create U.S. jobs and industries to support this effort. Moreover, the U.S. will be getting rid of its enemies while profiting financially. The only downside is that privateers will inevitably make mistakes and cause diplomatic tensions with the United States. Despite that negativity, the pros do indeed outweigh the cons.
The pros of privateering for terrorism are easily recognized because privateers are not bound to any traditional enforcement model. They do not have to trudge around massive armies with supply lines looking for a bunch of criminal thugs. Privateers can act as spies, special forces, and gumshoes all at once achieving that special blend of precision offensiveness with good old fashion police style investigation. They will have the ability to execute the equivalent of a S.W.A.T. style arrest warrant, fight as paramilitaries for bigger targets, and establish local informant rings fueled by payoffs which don’t have to be approved by an unending chain of command. Privateers will have access not only to the capture awards of the United States but a portion of the value of any confiscated weaponry, goods, currency, or seized accounts. They could be forfeit these funds upon unnecessary force or any condition, set forth by Congress, with a natural check and balance built into enforcement (lifetime appointed federal judges wanting to strictly enforce penalties to get more money for the state while being careful to not kill the industry). Indeed, there needs to be a way of proper enforcement of both human rights and of criminal terrorists.
Because terrorists are more analogous to criminals than standing armies, a constant police force is needed to monitor these criminal activities. As the United States has seen, total occupation of a country harboring terrorists has not solved the problem. Since standing armies are expensive and problematic, an income-producing privateering scheme would create a police force to remain in target countries indefinitely. The idea being that as long as there are terrorists there is profit. At that point, the only way a terrorist could win a war against privateers would be to make the market on that organizations side. Since terrorists need significant sums of money to survive, as long as that money is up for bounty the terrorists will not be safe unless they defund. Defunding will lead to international security (less money for those expensive attacks and recruitment) and ultimate disbandment. From here on out the reader can ponder all the different ways a privateer could make a buck from selling Uncle Sam information to legally splitting the proceeds from a large terrorist linked drug bust abroad with him.
The cons, isolated to diplomacy, of issuing Letters of Marque are twofold, one being the general international distaste of “pirates for hire” or mercenaries and the other being uses of unjustified force or mistaken identity. The international distaste of mercenaries will cause international commotion at first but will also spark interest because many countries are broke and will be interested in the income gained from privateering. I think these countries will speak daggers but use none to this end. This clamor for reform could also be mitigated if privateering was first introduced to combat Somali pirates, because privateers have historically been the nemesis of pirates making their action nostalgic and more palatable, and then effectuated fully with a transition to terrorists. Such a two-step process will let the U.S. both experiment and refine tactics/laws while letting other countries warm up and possibly mimic this model. All other diplomatic cons stemming from mishaps will just have to be tolerated by the international community and this tolerance is dependent on national diplomacy and foreign interest/mimicry with mishaps being disincentivized by the diametrically opposed, yet counterbalanced, interests of the state and the privateers as previously mentioned.
The fact that Letters of Marque are explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution meant that the framers explicitly wanted our government to have this power. The fact that the language “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” is right next to Congress’s power to declare war means that the framers saw these two powers as useful in different ways; that privateers were to be used against some enemies for which a declaration of war would be tantamount to tilting at windmills. That a Letter of Marque is better used to fight a certain type of enemy than an army or navy. The framers of the United States government knew then, as we should know now, that some wars need different tools to win. Privateering turns terrorists and pirates into resources with a market structured to reward those who can get those resources the fastest; think Hungry Hungry Hippos. Perhaps an endless war can be won if we use the invisible hand as a fist?
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