Privateers Against Pirates

With piracy on the seas increasingly becoming a major problem for international trade, one that is particularly difficult to deal with because of highly restrictive rules of engagement of the world’s most powerful navies (as Gordon discussed), perhaps it is time to dust off a solution that was effective the last time piracy was a serious issue. I speak of the letter of marque and reprisal, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as

an official warrant or commission from a government authorizing the designated agent to search, seize, or destroy specified assets or personnel belonging to a foreign party which has committed some offense under the laws of nations against the assets or citizens of the issuing nation, and has usually been used to authorize private parties to raid and capture merchant shipping of an enemy nation.

Such warrants were particularly important for fighting piracy in the early days of the American colonies and Republic, and the right of Congress to grant them is enshrined in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The last time America extensively used letters of marque (against foreign enemies of war, not pirates) was in the War of 1812. Significantly, however, the U.S. was not a party to the 1856 Declaration of Paris, the treaty that abolished privateering for many countries, including Britain and France. And in an odd piece of trivia, the U.S. did in fact issue a letter of marque to Resolute, a privately-run airship that assisted with anti-submarine warfare during World War II.

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Privateers Against Pirates

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