This is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reaction to the murder of four Americans by Somali pirates:

“This deplorable act by the pirates that stalk vessels in the waters off of Somalia firmly underscores the need for the international community to act more decisively together,” she said. “We’ve got to have a more effective approach to maintaining security on the seas, in the ocean lanes that are so essential to commerce and travel.”

Any time you hear a diplomat or leader talking about getting the “international community to act more decisively together,” you can tell she’s not interested in doing anything serious. And lack of seriousness has certainly characterized U.S. reaction to Somali pirates under both the Bush and Obama administrations. We have sent our Navy to patrol the chaotic waters off Somalia but with such restrictive rules of engagement that apparently they can react only once a ship has actually been hijacked, and then use force only if Navy personnel or the hostages are directly threatened by the pirates. The result is that there is no effective deterrence to the predations of these ruthless outlaws of the seas, who have turned piracy into big business and are closely linked to the Islamist movement trying to take over Somalia.

If we are serious about this threat, all we need to do is to authorize the Navy to sink any suspected pirate vessels that are sighted unless they surrender immediately; and if they do surrender, to bring back the suspected pirates for trial in the U.S. even if they have not menaced a U.S.-flagged vessel. This does not require a major military commitment. All it requires is making more effective use of the force already in place and making use of legal authorities that have been in place for hundreds of years. Piracy, after all, is the original international crime.

Various arguments — excuses really — have been offered against this obvious course of action. We have been told, for example, that it will embolden the pirates to become more violent. But, lacking any effective check, they have already become violent — and they have grown as a threat over the years. It is well past time to act more “decisively” against this threat — but there is no sign that the Obama administration will do so. Until it does, the threat will continue to grow, inevitably leading to the deaths of more Americans and the capture of more ships.