May 24, 2006
Ted Koppel wrote an OP-ED for the New York Times earlier this week entitled “These Guns for Hire.” I would link to the New York Times, but they’ve gone to a pay-per-view model. Luckily, many political bloggers reprint the information – here’s a link to it. In this article, Mr. Koppel discusses a recent trend with respect to privatizing the military:
There is something terribly seductive about the notion of a mercenary army. Perhaps it is the inevitable response of a market economy to a host of seemingly intractable public policy and security problems.
Consider only a partial list of factors that would make a force of latter-day Hessians seem attractive. Among them are these:
*Growing public disenchantment with the war in Iraq;
*The prospect of an endless campaign against global terrorism;
*An over-extended military backed by an exhausted, even depleted force of reservists and National Guardsmen;
*The unwillingness or inability of the United Nations or other multinational organizations to dispatch adequate forces to deal quickly with hideous, large-scale atrocities (see Darfur and Congo);
*The expansion of American corporations into more remote, fractious and potentially hostile settings.
Just as the all-volunteer military relieved the government of much of the political pressure that had accompanied the draft, so a rent-a-force, harnessing the privilege of every putative warrior to hire himself out for more than he could ever make in the direct service of Uncle Sam, might relieve us of an array of current political pressures.
In the Op-Ed Koppel does a nice job of exposing the issues with having privatized firms maintain their own mercenary force. There is clearly a conflict of interest between a country’s interest (The US in this case) and a corporation’s concerns.
So, if there are personnel shortages in the military (and with units in their second and third rotations into Iraq and Afghanistan, there are), then what’s wrong with having civilian contractors? Expense is a possible issue; but a resumption of the draft would be significantly more controversial.
Moreover, contractors provide the bodyguards (most of them veterans of the American, British, Australian, Nepalese or South African military) and, in some cases, the armored vehicles and even helicopters that have become so necessary for the conduct of business by foreign civilians in Iraq. Such protective services are employed by practically every American news agency and, indeed, are responsible for the security of the American ambassador himself.
So, what about the inevitable next step — a defensive military force paid for directly by the corporations that would most benefit from its protection? If, for example, an insurrection in Nigeria threatens that nation’s ability to export oil (and it does), why not have Chevron or Exxon Mobil underwrite the dispatch of a battalion or two of mercenaries?
This linkage with oil companies is terrific in that watching the CEOs being interviewed about the insanely high oil prices, they flat out say their job is to make money for the shareholders, NOT to keep prices low. In discussing the possibility with a mercenary-for-hire company, the following exchanges took place:
Chris Taylor, the vice president for strategic initiatives and corporate strategy for Blackwater USA, wanted to be sure I understood that such a thing could only happen with the approval of the Nigerian government and at least the tacit understanding of Washington. But could Blackwater provide a couple of battalions under those circumstances? “600 people in a battalion,” he answered. “I could source 1,200 people, yes. There are people all over the world who have honorably served in their military or police organizations. I can go find honorable, vetted people, recruit them, train them to the standard we require.”
What then if the commercial interests of a company or foreign government hiring one of these security contractors comes into conflict with the interests of the United States government? Mr. Taylor of Blackwater doesn’t even concede the possibility. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we consider ourselves responsible to be strategic partners of the U.S. government.” To which he then added, perhaps a little more convincingly: “If we went against U.S. government interests we would never get another contract.”
This last line is the real issue. As long as this is profitable for a corporation, they will support their affiliated government. While I certainly don’t believe that lifetime soldiers of a country would ever go against it in any real numbers, this is a global economy – mercenaries can be outsourced. Corporations are multi-national. If there EVER was a REALY BAD idea that has been floated around recently, this is it. Talk about the start to a cyberpunked future! If the trend moves towards corporate control of our protection, we truly will be on a dystopic path.