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21st Century Colonialsim?
by Jonathan DeVore
07 October 2001 00:22 UTC
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21st-Century Piracy

The answer to terrorism? Colonialism.


The West has no alternative but to wage war against states that habitually
aid terrorists. President Bush warns that the war may be long, but he has
not, perhaps, yet grasped that this may entail long-term political
obligations for America--and possibly its European allies as well. For the
nearest historical parallel--the war against piracy in the 19th century--was
an important element in the expansion of colonialism. It could be that a new
form of colony, the Western-administered former terrorist state, is only
just over the horizon.
Significantly, it was the young U.S., not Europe, that initiated this first
campaign against international outlaws (most civilized states accepted the
old Roman law definition of pirates as "enemies of the human race"). By the
end of the 18th century, the Beys of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli had become
notorious for harboring pirates and were themselves engaging in piracy and
the slave trade in whites (chiefly captured seamen). European states found
it more convenient to ransom these unfortunates rather than go to war. Adm.
Horatio Nelson, commanding the British Mediterranean Fleet, was forbidden to
carry out reprisals. "My blood boils," he wrote, "that I cannot chastise
these pirates."

By contrast, the U.S. was determined to do so. In 1805, American marines
marched across the desert from Egypt, forcing the Bey of Tripoli to sue for
peace and surrender all American captives. It was reinforced in 1815 when
Stephen Decatur and Commodore William Bainbridge conducted successful
operations against all three of the Barbary States. This shamed the British
into taking action themselves, and the following year Adm. Lord Exmouth
subjected Algiers to what was then the fiercest naval bombardment in
history--38,667 rounds of cannon balls, 960 large-caliber shells and
hundreds of rockets. These victories, however, were ephemeral. The Beys
repudiated the treaties they were obliged to sign as soon as American and
British ships were over the horizon.

It was the French who took the logical step, in 1830, not only of storming
Algiers but of conquering the entire country. France eventually turned
Algeria into part of metropolitan France and settled one million colonists
there. The French solved the Tunis piracy problem by turning Tunisia into a
protectorate, a model they later followed in Morocco. Spain, too, digested
bits of the Barbary Coast, followed by Italy, which overthrew the Bey of
Tripoli and created Libya. Tangiers, another nuisance, was ruled by a
four-power European Commission.

The eventual decolonization of North Africa was a messy and bloody business.
In Algeria in particular, which the French had ruled for over 120 years,
they withdrew only after a horrific war that produced over a million
casualties and overthrew the Fourth Republic. The Italian record in Libya
was so bad that its memory was a key factor in Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's
seizure of power and the resumption of outlaw activities.


In the 19th century, as today, civilized states tried to put down piracy by
organizing coalitions of local rulers who suffered from it too. Arabia and
the Persian Gulf were a patchwork of small states, some of which were
controlled by criminal tribes that pursued caravan-robbing on land and
piracy at sea. Pirate sheiks were protected by the Wahhabis, forebears of
the present ruler of Saudi Arabia. In 1815 Britain had to take action
because ships of its East India Company were being attacked in international
waters. But it did so only in conjunction with two powerful allies, the
ruler of Muscat and Oman, still Britain's firm friend, and Mohamed Ali of
British naval operations produced a general treaty against piracy signed by
all the rulers, great and small, of the Arabian Coast and Persian Gulf. But
Britain had learned from experience that "covenants without swords" were
useless, and that the sheiks would stick to their treaty obligations only if
"enforcement bases" were set up. Hence Britain found itself becoming a major
power in the Middle East, with a colony and base in Aden, other bases up and
down the gulf, and a network of treaties and protectorates with local
rulers, whose heirs were educated at the British School of Princes in India.

The situation in Southeast Asia and the Far East was not essentially
different. Amid the countless islands of these vast territories were entire
communities of orang laut (sea nomads) who lived by piracy. Local rulers
were too weak to extirpate them. Only the Royal Navy was strong enough. But
that meant creating modern bases--hence the founding of Singapore. That in
turn led to colonies, not only Singapore but Malaya, Sarawak and Borneo.

In this area, then, the war against piracy was directly linked to
colonization, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. This was
finally recognized by the U.S. when it annexed the Philippines after the
Spanish-American war, basing a large naval base in the West Pacific there,
one of whose duties was pirate-hunting. The lesson learned was that
suppression of well-organized criminal communities, networks and states was
impossible without political control.


The great civilized powers, as now, preferred to act in concert. But this
was easier said than done. In China, a vast but incoherent country, the
Western trading powers had introduced the principle of extraterritoriality,
whereby certain harbors were designated treaty ports and run by Western
consuls and officials under European law. In 1900 a militant Chinese
terrorist group known as the Boxers seized control of Beijing, with the
covert approval of the Chinese government. Western embassies were sacked and
the German ambassador murdered. An international force was organized to
retake Beijing, and it included Americans and Japanese as well as European
America and its allies may find themselves, temporarily at least, not just
occupying with troops but administering obdurate terrorist states. These may
eventually include not only Afghanistan but Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Iran and
Syria. Democratic regimes willing to abide by international law will be
implanted where possible, but a Western political presence seems unavoidable
in some cases.

I suspect the best medium-term solution will be to revive the old League of
Nations Mandate System, which served well as a "respectable" form of
colonialism between the wars. Syria and Iraq were once highly successful
mandates. Sudan, Libya and Iran have likewise been placed under special
regimes by international treaty. Countries that cannot live at peace with
their neighbors and that wage covert war against the international community
cannot expect total independence. With all the permanent members of the
Security Council now backing, in varying degrees, the American-led
initiative, it should not be difficult to devise a new form of United
Nations mandate that places terrorist states under responsible supervision.
Mr. Johnson is the author of many books, including "Modern Times" and "The
Birth of the Modern."

Copyright  2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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