Stratfor’s podcast on the seizure of that Saudi oil tanker contained a fascinating tidbit: merchant ships are no longer allowed to carry arms at all, which, of course, makes piracy far easier. This is a dramatic transformation of the rights of merchant ships. Historically, private ships carried weapons when sailing far out of their own waters, and such weapons were an important deterrent to piracy.
As the nation state has claimed primacy over other entities, and exclusivity on the use of force, it has also worked an inter-national system based on the idea that only the state may employ violence. Entities which aren’t governments, say shipping conglomerates, don’t get a vote.
I didn’t realize that extended as far as officers of ships being unable to carry sidearms. I had wondered why ships sailing the Gulf of Eden didn’t convoy for mutual protection, and apparently the answer is that they can’t offer each other any. A few small machine guns would dramatically alter the payoff choices that pirates make. As is, they’re restricted to non-lethal means like water cannon.
Of course, to maintain it’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the state cannot allow even sidearms on ships. It also seems that it’s become hard to capture pirates. The Royal Navy has gone from hanging them to not capturing them to avoid claims of asylum in the UK. (Hanging pirates was in part a practical measure, given the lack of a secure brig on a smaller naval vessel, and the risk that the pirates would escape and capture their captors.) Of course, cheers for the Indian Navy have subsided somewhat, given that the pirate mothership they destroyed was a Thai ship with its crew held hostage inside.)
The fundamental trade, where the state has a monopoly on violence in exchange for preventing everyone else from employing violence, is a pretty good one when it works. (Assuming that rights including self-defense are not abrogated.)
But Somali pirates are only one of the ways in which the Westphillian system of national primacy is breaking down. Terrorism is another, as are the failure to deal with genocides in the Sudan or Congo.