Letters of Marque

A long time ago, when I used to play the video game Pirates!, I learned about something called a “letter of marque.” Apparently, this is an official license by a government for someone to plunder the shipping of an enemy nation. I also found out that the US Constitution, in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, grants Congress the power to “grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.” Apparently, these letters have been banned by international treaty. Do you think that granting letters of marque to privateers would be useful in a modern wartime situation?

Anything can be “useful,” however, I doubt that they could be practical. In a major (modern) war, what would be the purpose of authorizing limited piracy against a specific nation? How does a nation guarantee that only their enemies are attacked? What prevents a privateer from getting letters of marque from multiple hostile nations and practicing piracy against everyone, using each separate country’s letters of marque as a shield against any other country’s charge of piracy?

It also comes with its own unique pitfalls: Supposing a privateer captured an opponent’s vessel and one of our submarines sank it (relying on Jane’s to identify it as that of an enemy). Would we have to reimburse the privateer for destroying his prize?

For the same reason that I would guess mercenary troops are not a good idea, I would guess that trying to enlist allies solely on the strength of the profit motive is not, in the long run, a wise move.

Actually, we’re discussing the practicalities of modern privateering right now in a thread in General Questions right now.

My view (as discussed at greater length in the other thread) is that privateering became impractical with the introduction of steam propulsion and iron ships.

As to the wisdom of privateering, I think it is too close to piracy to be appropriate in the modern age.

That is why I love this board. Anything and everything.