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Justa piratica: the ethics of piracy


There has been widespread and vociferous condemnation of Somali piracy and several states have used force against the pirates. This reflects the prevailing view of pirates as belligerents and aggressors who act wrongly. In this article, I challenge this view by defending the conditional moral permissibility of piracy. More specifically, I first argue that piracy can be morally permissible when certain conditions are met. These are what I call the principles of ‘justa piratica’, that is, the principles of just piracy. Second, I claim that these conditions are likely to apply to some Somali pirates. Third, as a corollary, I argue that the case of piracy shows that one of the shibboleths of Just War Theory – that a war cannot be just on both sides – is mistaken.

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Gilberto Carvalho Oliveira , ‘The “New Wars” at Sea: A Critical Transformative Approach to the Political Economy of Somali Piracy’, Security Dialogue, 44:1 (2013), p. 5

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Christian Bueger , Jan Stockbruegger , and Sascha Werthes , ‘Pirates, Fishermen, and Peacebuilding: Options for Counter-Piracy Strategy in Somalia’, Contemporary Security Policy, 32:2 (2011), pp. 356–81

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Martin Murphy , ‘Counter-Piracy in Historical Context: Paradox, Policy, and Rhetoric’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 35:7–8 (2012), pp. 507–22

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Christopher Spearin , ‘Private Military and Security Companies v. International Naval Endeavours v. Somali Pirates: A Security Studies Perspective’, Journal of International Criminal Justice, 10:4 (2012), pp. 823–37

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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