Daniel Pines


Piracy threatens, and has taken, the lives of American crews and civilians. It poses an enormous economic threat, both in terms of ransom payments and impact on global commerce. It enhances political instability in significant regions of the world, such as the Horn of Africa and the Straits of Malacca. Most critically, though, maritime piracy offers an easy and tempting conduit for terrorism. Terrorists have already used maritime options to advance their cause in several dramatic attacks, including the hijacking of a cruise ship (and murder of a Jewish passenger), the ramming of a boat into a U.S. destroyer (killing seventeen U.S. sailors), and attacks on numerous other maritime vessels. Other piraterrorist attacks have been thwarted, while many more appear to be in the planning stages. Therefore, it is now time—indeed well past time—to consider piracy as the national security threat that it actually is. Aviation hijacking was not considered a significant national security concern until al-Qaeda used hijacked airplanes to bring down buildings on 9/11. We cannot wait for a brutal terrorist attack at sea to occur before we realize the same risk that maritime piracy poses to our country. This Article therefore articulates what international and U.S. law authorizes the United States to do and precludes the United States from doing to combat the national security threat posed by piracy, including the ability of the United States to militarily attack pirates, seize their vessels, prosecute them in the United States, and have them prosecuted outside the United States. It then provides suggestions as to how to augment these laws to better confront the threat.