Adm. Mullen On Piracy, Foreign Policy

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about foreign policy, piracy and other topics in the news.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're joined now by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Mullen has been visiting military bases in Texas this week. He joins us from Dallas. Admiral, thanks so much for being with us.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Good morning, Scott, glad to be with you.

SIMON: And we want to talk very much about what brings you to Texas. But a couple of things I have to ask you about first.

Adm. MULLEN: Sure.

SIMON: Did you stop a coup in Pakistan, you and Richard Holbrooke this past week?

Adm. MULLEN: Yeah, recently, a week before last.

SIMON: You did.

Adm. MULLEN: We were in Pakistan.

SIMON: And you stopped a coup?

Adm. MULLEN: Oh, did we stop a coup?

SIMON: Yeah.

Adm. MULLEN: No, no, no. In fact, my recent visit with Mr. Holbrooke in Pakistan was really focused on rolling out this - engaging leadership on the Afghanistan, Pakistan strategy, which President Obama had recently approved. And we met with various leaders both military and civilian to discuss that rollout and emphasize the importance of Pakistan, in particular our relationship with Pakistan, not just in the near term, but in the long term.

SIMON: I also want to - obviously piracy is an issue that's on a great many minds right now, and we understand from a variety of sources, maybe you can explain this to us that Commander Frank Castellano - captain of the USS Bainbridge, which of course assisted and really engineered the release of Captain Phillips, the rescue of Captain Phillips - engaged in a tactic called shoring. Now, you're an old surface water man, do you know about that?

Adm. MULLEN: And the term is shoring?

SIMON: Yes, sir.

Adm. MULLEN: Actually, it's not a term that I'm familiar with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All of our research comes up with terms that apparently, what, have no basis in - you guys don't use it?

Adm. MULLEN: Well, actually, the term is very close to a term called shouldering. And in shouldering what you do with a ship is you force another ship away from where they want to go. And certainly that was done very successfully by the captain and his crew over a period of couple of days to keep the pirates from getting ashore in Somalia, which was a major goal preceding the final, you know, the very successful end of the situation that was executed by the captain and the SEALs that were with him.

SIMON: Did the shouldering, I guess, as it's called, make them run out of gas, which made them have to ask for a tow from the Bainbridge, which obviously was instrumental in the rescue?

Adm. MULLEN: Actually they asked for a tow because the seas were getting pretty rough. And it was a relatively small skiff, and they clearly didn't have any gas left at that particular point in time. So, it was actually, I think at that particular point in the situation there had been enough relationship or confidence built up that the pirates felt they could be towed, and that the negotiations would continue.

SIMON: Admiral, how much can the U.S. and other militaries of the world do? And we, of course, there's news this morning that apparently there was a Dutch special forces operation, which gained the release of, I think, about 20 people that had been taken. How much can military forces do? And is there more that individual private shipping companies ought to be doing?

Adm. MULLEN: Well, I think you've hit on something that's very important, Scott. It's not just a military solution here. And there's a private shipping commercial aspect of this. There's a legal aspect of this. There's an international aspect of this. There are 16 nations with Navy ships in the vicinity right now, but it's over a million square miles of water. There are an awful lot of ships and the number of navy ships that we have out there just can't cover the water, nor would increasing that number dramatically cover the water.

So I think it's got to be a comprehensive effort led by governments. And, you know, there is movement in that direction to try to create a comprehensive solution. But in the end, this is a crime and it needs to be prosecuted in a court. The only country the United States has an agreement with is Kenya, where we transfer - we have transferred pirates that we've captured for prosecution. And that part of the system has to be more robust than it is right now.

SIMON: And we should follow up in the reports this morning that, in fact, I guess, the Dutch Marines, what did they say? They can only arrest them if the pirates are from the Netherlands or the victims are from the Netherlands.

Adm. MULLEN: Well, I think that's in accordance with their own, you know, their own laws and it would be the same - the same would be true for the United States. Where we had considerable leverage in this most recent incident when Captain Phillips was rescued, was due to the fact that it was a U.S. flag vessel. And so that gives us much more leverage in terms of what we can do. Not so if it's a foreign flag vessel or if it's a or if, in fact, the individuals that are taken hostage are foreigners.

SIMON: Thank you.

Adm. MULLEN: Maybe the commercial companies up to now have paid the ransom.

SIMON: Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanks so much for making time for us this morning.

Adm. MULLEN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: You're listening to NPR News.

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