Iran: Should the Looming Conflict Renew Interests in Using Privateers?

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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With the elimination of the terrorist Qassem Soeimani, Iranian forces are promising heavy reprisals. Both against the United States and our allies in the Middle East. Iran is not, and will never be, a threat to invade the mainland United States. Still, their record of supporting cowardly terrorist attacks around the globe should give pause to Patriotic Americans. Even in America, the terrorists have found ignorant allies. One such as faltering actress Rose McGowan. She has publicly apologized for an alleged overreach by the President of the United States.

The response to the murder of an American contractor in the Middle East is evidently divided. There is righteous outrage on the Right. On the left you get facetious Trump Derangement Disorder. The question on what to do if there is an escalation has a valid point. How do we deal with a war where the other side refuses to follow the rules? According to Armed Forces (an EU company), Iran should not be actively seeking a war with the United States. However, the raising of the “red flag of doom” over the largest mosque is disturbing. It is a building with political, military and alleged religious assets in it. History seems to indicate that they are resolved to combat the United States.

US vs. Iran: Head to Head

What does a military comparison between the US and Iran look like? First, let’s look at money – we have it, they do not. The United States has the world’s most powerful military by far (with China a distant second). This is because we spend $610 Billion dollars a year (3%) of our national GDP on military resources.

This compares to a paltry $14 Billion spent by Iran. Most of which is used to fund illegal proxy-wars committed by terrorists around the world. This is definitely a factor in the favor of the United States if an armed conflict breaks out. Second, the United States has a bigger military than Iran. The United States has 1.2 Million active service members. Members currently in the country, that is. With an active reserve of just over 800,000.

Compare this to Iran’s active and reserve forces which barely can match the 800,000 American Reserves. In those numbers alone you have a largely one-sided war. The United States is estimated to have 73 Million people who could be drafted. If this broke out into a large scale war, that is three times the number of people Iran could muster. Even if it brought forth its entire able-bodied population. Land forces are also a factor that the United States has in its favor.

The has US 6,400 tanks to Iran’s 2,500. Iran has the edge in numbers of Artillery pieces, with an edge of 4,000 to 3,200; however, much of the artillery is outdated. When it comes to armored vehicles, the United States has Iran beat by an order of magnitude. With 41,000 armored vehicles to Iran’s abysmal 1,625, clearly dominating. Unfortunately for Iran, this is where the comparison quits being realistic.

The Biggest Advantage

When it comes to air superiority, the United States has the advantage, hands down. The United States has the larges aircraft fleet in the world. That along with more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined! The US has 12,304 combat aircraft, compared to Iran’s 850. The largest differential is with multi-role aircraft, where the United States has 2,200 to Iran’s 70.

We also outnumber them in choppers: 5,000 to 300. Attack aircraft: 600 to 50, and fighter aircraft: 450 to 130 (all numbers rounded). Add to this that the United State’s aircraft are state of the art. Iranian aircraft are out of date. In the Armed Forces EU comparison, the outdated Russian technology used by the Iranians compares to our A-10 Thunderbolt II. In which case the A-10 blows the Sukhoi out of the water, or air as it may be.

Naval forces are even more lopsided. Though the number of total ships, 437 to 406, looks competitive. Only when you look at the types of ships, you see the United States has a complete edge. The United States has 20 Aircraft Carriers, 85 Destroyers (including several of the new Zephyr class), and 71 Submarines. Iran has 6 frigates, 3 corvettes and 40 submarines.

Not Even Close

Armed Forces EU does not even compare these ships. That is because the frigates, corvettes and submarines (which are largely used for smuggling) are not even modern military vessels. Iran is not a nuclear power. One of the biggest differences between the United States and Iran is women. In the US they have the right to fight for their country, in Iran they do not. Iran is willing to conscript fighters as young as 15. The minimum age for service in the United States is 18 years old.

Iran has a dubious alliance with China and Russia, neither of which seem interested in a world war. The United States has alliances with nations who have already showed support for the reprisal attack on the Iranian general. The main area where Iran has a chance in this war is in non-conventional forces. A chance to stay sovereign and last out the US Military that is, not win the war. Iran has been and will likely continue to be the largest state sponsor of terrorism around the world. The largest non-state sponsor is often cited as radical Islam.

In this area, the United States does not dabble, nor should it. This non-responded proxy does not have an equivalent in modern American foreign policy. That is not to say that we do not have the ability to reply. Terrorists focus on non-military targets for the purpose of bringing fear to their enemies. This is banned by international convention and all civilized society.

The Privateers as a Response to Terror

This gives Iran an advantage, as they can turn regular people into “weapons” using their skills. This gives Iran the ability to do significant damage, but at a cost. That being of killing off large numbers of their own population. Many people feel that the United States does not have a response to this, but we do. Within the United States’ Constitution there is a passage that states. “Congress Shall have the power to… Grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.”

Scholars have debated and mis-characterized this passage for years. The passage meant that the US Congress has the power to authorize private citizens/veterans to outfit and equip ships. Their purpose: to harass and seize the property of powers who were hostile to the United States. This was in reference to on the high seas. This practice fell out of favor early in our countries history. We were a nation that relied on shipping to transport goods.

Anything resembling piracy was frowned upon. The United States did have privateers though, and they were quite successful at what they did. Sending pirates into Iranian waters would only effectively eliminate the small amount of income that Iran generates through sea commerce. Realistically however, this would put lives in danger and not really have any effect on their economy. Their government boats would be stronger than any civilian boats that privateers could muster. This would result in the civilian privateers being killed or worse.

The age of big governments put the age of the privateer to rest. This is because we have limited privateers to the meaning of the time. Military laws, gun laws, international laws, racial rights and sexual rights are all evolving. Letters of marque should not simply be confined to the seas, they too should evolve. This means that letters of marque can apply to the seas, the air, space and most importantly digital space.

Digital Privateers?

The United States (along with our allies in Japan) has the best computer systems in the world. While this is an area where the world has some slight parity, we are still in the lead. This means that letters of marque could be granted to hacker groups. With the same pardon system given in the past. Then the US could have private enterprising hackers eliminating Iranian economic interests, without ever leaving home. Why steal their shipments, which would hurt whoever they are shipping to? We can just have the money redirected to the hacker’s personal accounts.

Everybody wins here but the Iranians. The United States avoids a costly ground war. Hackers get pardons and ridiculous bank accounts, and no one has to die. Further, hackers can counterattack any Iranian efforts to reply, thus taking away some of their digital resources as well. It is time to give generation X and the Millennials a chance to fight the war our way, in cyberspace.

Whether the hackers, crackers or digital high-jackers are Liberal or Conservative, most of them are patriotic to the people. This means that many of them will see keeping the US out of another ground war as a good idea. Shooting wars have casualties, let the world move forward into the digital space. America has created generations who are just as at home in digital space as they are in the “real” one.

If Iran feels that they can attack our government through primitive defacing hacks, so be it. That does nothing to the functionality of the website. Let our best hackers show them what digital superiority is. Whether they be in prison, at MIT or on Twitch, release the cyber-dogs of war! This is our world now. Let Generation X and the Nintendo Generations defend it in our space, because our space is the new reality. Welcome to the future.

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Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Dr Christopher Smithmyer is the Vice President of International Affairs at Brav Online Conflict Management and an Adjunct Professor of MBA Business at Doane University. He is also part of the founding team at BlackWalletLTD, one of the leaders in stable coin 2.0 ecosystem maintenance. Dr. Smithmyer’s focus is international business and finance, along with reviews of board games, weapons platforms, and survival items.

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