Over at “End of Empire,” Adeodatus asks whether, given the abundance of naval missions, paucity of ships and budgetary pressures, might it not make sense to privatise certain low-end functions? Because, with deepest respect, the “1000 ship Navy” remains less a force in being than laudable concept based on the ever shifting tides of national interest.
There are advantages to employing contractors: The Army has done so with KBR and Blackwater with varying degrees of success. While up-front costs are high, life-cycle management can be much cheaper. And push comes to shove at budget time, or if roles and missions suddenly change you can always just terminate the contract next year.
The Coast Guard would strenuously resist any privatization of inshore operations I should think – that’s core mission, bread and butter stuff. And ofcourse the international legal aspects are daunting – no one has issued a letter of marque in over a hundred years, since they were abolished by the Treaty of Paris. A treaty that, perhaps significantly, the US never ratified.
According to the Wikipedia entry linked above, the dean of Catholic University law school testified to the US Senate in 2002:
Letters of Marque and Reprisal are grants of authority from Congress to private citizens, not the President. Their purpose is to expressly authorize seizure and forfeiture of goods by such citizens in the context of undeclared hostilities. Without such authorization, the citizen could be treated under international law as a pirate. Occasions where one’s citizens undertake hostile activity can often entangle the larger sovereignty, and therefore, it was sensible for Congress to desire to have a regulatory check upon it. Authorizing Congress to moderate or oversee private action, however, says absolutely nothing about the President’s responsibilities under the Constitution.
That could lead to some interesting command and control challenges I should think, with regular forces reporting through operation chains up to the President and private forces reporting to Congress. And for risk mitigation purposes it would be interesting to know how signatories of the Treaty of Paris might treat private naval forces in international waters.
Intriguing question, and who knows – a business opportunity?