The U.S. Navy’s sudden rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from pirates ended an ugly episode of what has become a familiar drama.

Although I do not relish any loss of life, the three pirates who were killed to gain Phillips’ freedom should send a long overdue signal to their ilk: Severe consequences await your crimes. Unfortunately, the lack of willingness by nations to respond decisively and consistently to modern piracy has emboldened the wrongdoers. To me, it is absolutely absurd that groups of two-bit miscreants should be allowed to endanger lives, frighten tourists, disrupt sea traffic, drive up shipping-insurance costs, cause the time-consuming and expensive rerouting of merchant vessels, and collect ransoms.

Where are the creative solutions? Actually, there is no shortage of ideas.

One BBC News article recommended borrowing a page from the 19th-century. It referred to advice from Lord Palmerston, a former British foreign secretary, who said, “Taking a wasps’ nest … is more effective than catching the wasps one by one.” Indeed, but where exactly are the wasps’ nests? The problem is that many pirates operate from lawless areas within failed or failing states. That reality has led some observers to push for a fusion of diplomacy and economic assistance, based on the premise that improving the lives of people in a given area could reduce their region’s appeal as a safe haven for criminal behavior.

However, that approach fails to win points with the proponents of stronger action. Diplomacy is nice, the get-tough advocates argue, but it must be combined with “maritime shock and awe.” Better yet, they say, assign a powerful, can-do organization like NATO to take the lead in an aggressive manner against pirates. Others contend that it would make more sense to encourage ships that must pass through danger zones to beef up their defenses.

The answer could be as simple as routinely grouping them into convoys. Another popular recommendation is to train and arm crews so that they may fight off pirate attacks. Some even go so far as to support placing heavy guns aboard private ships.

But some people, preferring to leave protection to the specialists, would rely on the U.S. Navy. They urge the acquisition of a much-larger number of relatively small, fast, easily maneuverable ships for use close to shore. Still others ask for patience, suggesting that we allow a new multi-nation partnership, known as the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, time to improve the coordination of anti-piracy efforts in that region.

What about the problem in other parts of the world, though? Do we need a “war on piracy” to eliminate the threat? What else might we consider in the struggle against piracy?

I am interested in what readers have to say on this issue. Send your recommendations to me at [email protected], and I will summarize the best of them in a future column.

John C. Bersia won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000.

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