Posted: August 6, 2009
To: Mr. Yusuf
From: Stately, Plump, Buck, and Mulligan, LLC
Here is our memorandum, as promised, and we very much enjoyed meeting you (please return Mr. Goldstein, the fax machine, and the candy bowl). Your business model is admirable in view of its low start-up costs, high return on investment, lack of long-term obligations to employees, freedom from taxation, agility in the face of changing conditions, and absence of regulation. No expenditures are required for public relations, advertising, marketing, or employee recruitment. When necessary, you can liquidate your holdings with neither legal fees nor court supervision—although you yourself may be hanged. To answer the key question of how long you will be able to operate, you must take into account the resources and constraints of your competitors, the maritime nations represented in this analysis by the coastal states of NATO plus Japan.
Despite the dramatic shrinkage of the American military across nearly every category, the distraction of two minor wars, the smallest fleet since 1916, and even steeper reductions in the rest of NATO, cumulatively this group of states can put to sea more than a thousand ocean-going warships, almost 400,000 marines and special operation troops, more than 5,000 maritime aircraft, and thousands of land-based aircraft capable of operating from expeditionary airfields or at a great remove. The United States alone can deploy 335 naval and coast-guard surface combatants, 382,000 sailors and coast guardsmen, 187,000 marines, 43,000 special operations personnel, 4,600 maritime aircraft, and unprecedented resources in reconnaissance and surveillance. Though these nations are but shadows of what they once were, what they have is much more than sufficient to terminate your enterprise should they embark upon one or more of the following:
Protection Allowed: There are many impediments to the self-defense of merchantmen, including national and international statutes, insurance regulations, and government requirements, all of which, however, could easily be swept away by changes in law and policy that would encourage commercial vessels to take on private security teams.
Protection Provided: Special forces trained to work at sea, such as the USN Seals, with superior weaponry, rapid and continuous access to intelligence and surveillance networks, the ability to integrate with on-call naval and air forces, and the weight of the national militaries backing them, would be a step up from the previous option and could be provided by drawing upon less than 10% of their echelons.
Maritime Patrol: Modern naval vessels except for the smallest are usually equipped with helicopters and/or, in the case of aircraft carriers or amphibious ships, fixed-wing aircraft that can cover tens or even hundreds of thousands of square miles. Fifty ships of various types on station—less than 5% of available inventory—could largely cleanse your operational area.
Maritime Corridors and Convoys: The world's navies need no more patrol the northernmost quadrant of the Indian Ocean than during World War II the allies needed to purge the entire Atlantic of U-Boats. They can establish closely guarded transit lanes, and/or convoys, with a task force of only 20 active vessels or fewer, as each convoy would require no more than a single frigate or equivalent. Ten discrete groupings of ships could move in both directions simultaneously, eliminating the need for vessels to wait long at assembly points for their escorts.
Facility Raids: One VSTOL (Vertical and/or Short Take-Off and Landing) carrier, much less a full-deck-carrier task force, is sufficient to destroy your boats and port facilities, using precision weapons to minimize civilian casualties and remaining on station for long-term suppression.
Punitive Raids: Collectively or individually, the maritime powers could at will expand attacks upon your docks and boats to whatever punitive degree they wished.
Q-Ships: These nations have in the past deployed—and could deploy again—civilian ships fitted out with concealed heavy weaponry. Depending upon the rules of engagement, your employees would be either incapacitated, captured, or annihilated.
As daunting as all this may seem, we believe that you may conduct your business relatively unimpeded for some time to come. When the United States had only a tiny fraction of the naval capability it now has, the small and vulnerable forces it sent to deal with pirates of equal or greater military power performed with legendary bravery and daring. That was then.
Now, large constituencies in the economically advanced nations make it difficult for their governments to act, e.g., against terrorists who for decades remained free of even symbolic retribution. The governments of these countries, often reflecting their most timid and conciliatory citizens, seldom dare to dare. Although President Obama approved an assault upon three of your employees, this was politically not much more than a SWAT action authorized by a police chief. Despite your 84 attacks in the first quarter of 2009, and the totally rag-tag nature of your followers, a Pentagon official, one Edward Frothingham, claims that the resources of the United States military are too limited to commit against you without "grave implications for us."
As you well know, the previous American president was held in check by his underestimation of the time and forces required by his policies in the Middle East. The current president's most war-like virtue is the ability to apologize to people who should be apologizing to us—an extraordinary skill no doubt, but questionable. You might worry a bit more about Messrs. Sarkozy and Berlusconi, either one of whom could drive you out of business, but as for the rest, though the quivers are full, no arrows are likely to be loosed in the near future.
That is because the intelligence that controls them is also the hand that stays them. The powers that should be a threat to you are caught in a paralyzing web of abstract legalities, deference to hostile opinion, and even in the clearest cases a perverse contempt for self-defense, which rules out the ability effectively to define, prepare for, justify, and execute it-and execute you. You would think that if you fired upon our ships we would fire back. But those days are over, and you have prosperous times ahead.