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How to End Piracy

Lessons from the Last Decade

Suspected pirates in Mombasa, Kenya, June 2009. Joseph Okanga / Courtesy Reuters

Maritime piracy is by definition a crime of the sea, but one that has deep roots onshore. Pirates need safe havens that provide them with vessels and supplies—and, crucially, the means of getting their stolen goods to market.

Understanding this, governments have traditionally combatted piracy not only with warships, but also with boots on the ground. From ancient Rome to Qing dynasty China to seventeenth-century England, sovereign states have undermined pirates by uprooting coastal villages, burning boats, and executing collaborators. And that has been the case for the United States, too. In 1805, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson deployed a small force of Marines and mercenaries to Derne, a port city on the coast of modern-day Libya, as part of a larger campaign to halt Barbary piracy against American merchant ships—an event immortalized in the official Marines hymn. (The Marines “fight our country’s battles,” the song goes, “from

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