Modern pirates bear little resemblance to popular romantic Hollywood characters. Increasingly violent and greedy, their actions seem an affront to the very ideals of Western civilization. Armchair admirals and politicians are quick to shake their fists, avowing, "Something must be done." Maritime industry is quick to follow, with unsettling incident accounts and dire financial projections. Yet, more informed analysis of piracy reveals that the impact in blood and treasure is altogether minimal.
Indeed, common misperceptions abound. While maritime piracy incidents capture media attention and generate international calls for action, the piracy threat is in fact overstated. It is nothing more than high-seas criminal activity, better addressed by law enforcement agencies than warships. As a localized nuisance, it should not serve to shape maritime force structure or strategy.
The distinction between piracy and terrorism is neither semantic nor academic. If piracy, the responsibility lies with local law enforcement officials, not the military. But maritime terrorism means scrambling the Navy.