WASHINGTON – A congressman from Texas who’s known for broadsides at U.S. foreign policy says Somali piracy has an age-old solution” – letters of marque” empowering private citizens to chase the criminals from the oceans.
Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican, and a handful of conservative theorists say it’s time the U.S. Congress used the technique, pioneered by European powers in the 18th century as a way to wage naval warfare cheaply.
Major shipping companies should accept a “go at your own risk” approach and not expect government help when they transit through pirate-infested waters, Paul said this week in a video posted on YouTube.
“I don’t think just because people go into these dangerous waters that our Army and Navy and Air Force and everything has to follow,” the lawmaker and former presidential candidate said, adding that letters of marque would allow merchant ships to sail armed.
“I think if every potential pirate knew that this would be the case, they would have second thoughts because they could probably be blown out of the water rather easily if those were the conditions,” said Paul.
The U.S. Constitution explicitly allows the Congress to issue such letters, in effect giving private parties a license to fight hostile seaborne forces such as pirates, in theory without fear of being branded pirates themselves.
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Typically, the arrangement offered privateers no reward from the government except a share of the booty recovered, taking all of the risk and attendant costs off the books of frequently cash-strapped global powers.