Asymmetrical warfare, the Pentagon calls it. The U.S. spends a minimum of $600 billion on its Defense Department budget, but the real security threats come from terrorists or pirates with minuscule budgets and attack forces numbering 20 or less.
The latest outrage is this week’s commandeering of a Very Large Crude Carrier, the Star Sirius, off the coast of Somalia. VLCC means that the carrier is holding $100 million of crude oil, destined for the United States. This is a vessel taller than the Chrysler Building, yet it was successfully overtaken by 15 pirates who captured the crew, and had the carrier taken to a Somali port where it is now surrounded by hundreds of other pirates.
This is the largest ship attacked by pirates off Africa’s east coast – in fact, short of a U.S. aircraft carrier, ships don’t get any larger or more valuable. The pirates have gotten rich off this trade, and unless some nation mounts a risky direct assault on the vessel itself, it is almost certain that the Saudi owners of this VLCC are going to pay millions of dollars in ransom for the crew and the carrier.
Captains of freighters and other cargo ships say that it is unusual not to be attacked by pirates in these waters. Freighters and cargo ships are increasingly traveling by night to avoid detection, and at speeds in excess of 60 knots, because the wake that results makes it harder for pirates to climb aboard.
The U.S. navy is patrolling these waters, but it says it doesn’t have enough ships to do a thorough job, and that shipping companies must beef up their own security to deal with this menace.
One argument the Pentagon has made as to why it needs a budget that dwarfs all other military budgets combined is that it acts as the policeman for global shipping. This is like saying the United States dollar as the reserve currency of the world, along with its preeminent financial infrastructure, are providing an inestimable service to the global economy. It just ain’t so.
Nobody is getting their monies worth from the $600 billion Pentagon budget – not the American people, and not the citizens of the rest of the world who are supposed to put their faith in American military hegemony.
Modern piracy occasionally results in casualties, but for the most part it is an economic crime, and so it doesn’t get the public attention of something like the 9/11 attacks. But it has its consequences – the price of crude oil jumped several dollars on this news, and over time the cost of this piracy is inevitably parceled out to the consumer.
After the previous U.S. military experience in Somalia, it is not likely that the U.S. will want to mount a land invasion of this lawless country in order to roust out the pirates. But if the U.S. can embargo Cuba for four decades, maybe it can find a way to establish a cordon of ships off the coast of East Africa, to prevent the pirates from getting through to the shipping lanes. That would at least be consistent with its stated purpose of protecting global shipping, especially for oil.
If this can’t be accomplished, then someone in Washington should be asking what is the purpose for all these hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the Pentagon.