Why Piracy Is Not Terrorism
Douglas Burgess, Jr., has an editorial in today’s New York Times arguing that piracy should be considered terrorism in order to facilitate its prosecution. It’s an interesting piece, but I have to take issue with the basic premise of his argument:
Are pirates a species of terrorist? In short, yes. The same definition of pirates as hostis humani generis could also be applied to international organized terrorism. Both crimes involve bands of brigands that divorce themselves from their nation-states and form extraterritorial enclaves; both aim at civilians; both involve acts of homicide and destruction, as the United Nations Convention on the High Seas stipulates, “for private ends.”
In short, no. The defining feature of terrorism is precisely that it is committed not for private ends, but to intimidate a civilian population or to influence government policy. Indeed, over the long and troubled history of efforts to create a general definition of terrorism, that is perhaps the only aspect of the definition that has never seriously been in doubt. Two examples — and many more can be found here: in 1937, the League of Nations Convention defined terrorism as “[a]ll criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public,” and in 2004 the Security Council unanimously defined terrorism in Resolution 1566 as “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
Pirates have no politics. They are, therefore, not terrorists.