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Hired Guns: Private Military Organizations Represent a Dangerous Trend in Global Politics
Published on Sunday, August 31, 2003 by the Sunday Gazette-Mail (West Virginia)
Hired Guns
Private Military Organizations Represent a Dangerous Trend in Global Politics
by Paul J. Nyden

Many fine volumes about U.S. foreign policy and world events have been published in recent months. This one is something special.

Corporate Warriors” might just be a paradigm shift. It may change the way people look at history and analyze current events.

News junkies know that private military firms, or PMFs, are becoming increasingly involved in actions abroad, from reconstructing society in Iraq to shooting down drug planes over Colombia and restoring domestic security to Liberia.

But until Peter Singer, no reporter showed just how widespread PMFs have become and how rapidly they are expanding. One result is that today, “plowshares are more easily beaten into swords.”

Before Singer, no analyst offered us a comprehensive historical, theoretical analysis of the impact PMFs have, about their positive contributions as well as the inherent dangers they pose to social justice and world stability.

Corporate Warriors” should be required reading for any college student studying history, sociology, political science or international relations.

But Singer’s volume is also a must-read for any member of Congress who wants to make informed decisions about foreign policy in the foreseeable future, especially since PMFs, like DynCorp, routinely avoid government oversight.

DynCorp employees, most of whom are U.S. military veterans, are under strict orders to avoid reporters. Today in Colombia, they regularly defoliate fields and fight combat operations against political rebels and drug dealers.

Yet DynCorp’s work, often backed with tax dollars, is “entirely without congressional notification, oversight or approval,” Singer writes. During the company’s Balkan operations, DynCorp workers were implicated in sex crimes, prostitution rackets and illegal arms trading.

Private military contracts also add layers of secrecy and unaccountability, making it easier for government leaders to implement covert foreign policies.

Modern warfare is becoming more centered on profits, rather than on political, ideological or religious principles. In Africa, for example, the possibility of gaining control over lucrative diamond and gold reserves is more compelling to some than promoting democratic government.

And globalization creates ripe conditions for the expansion of PMFs. These groups may just become the leaders in the “multinational neocolonialism” of the new century, Singer suggests.

Broken contract

It’s a complex picture painted by Singer, who is an Olin Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and coordinator of the Brookings Project on U.S. Policy toward the Islamic world.

Some PMFs focus on security work for multinational corporations, the United Nations or nongovernmental organizations, including humanitarian groups. Some PMF employees work to remove landmines from war-torn areas in Africa and Asia.

At the same time, some governments have grown increasingly dependent on PMFs. U.S. firms, for example, provided almost the entire logistical and maintenance support for the Saudi army during the Persian Gulf War.

On a more theoretical level, Singer expresses concerns that “outsourcing” military tasks to private companies may undermine the whole idea of the “Social Contract” developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1763.

“When government is no longer responsible for aspects of security, the rationale for citizen loyalty is thus weakened,” Singer writes. Private warriors owe their first allegiance to private bosses, not to any government.

And when profits drive security forces, Singer argues, “the wealthy are inherently favored.” The poor are likely to lose, and existing social cleavages are deepened in nations from Algeria to Angola, Sierra Leone to Sudan, Kosovo to Colombia, and Iraq to Liberia.

Private military forces are expanding exponentially. PMFs provided about one of every 100 Americans involved in the Gulf War; they are providing one of every 10 Americans involved in the Iraq War.

Corporate Warriors” picks three firms to illustrate three distinct roles that PMFs play: fighting battles, training advisers and providing material support, including everything from fighter planes and ships to laundry services and meals.

Vice President Dick Cheney is former CEO of the Texas-based company. BRS does everything from engineering and construction, to repairing roads, distributing water, generating power and delivering mail.

Singer’s book also places today’s privately paid soldiers in historical context. He cites past military mercenaries, including Hessians during the American Revolution and the English East India Co. during the heyday of British colonialism from the 17th through 19th centuries.

Back in the 1600s, “the conduct of violence was a capitalist enterprise” in Europe. Private armies played primary roles in conflicts like the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648.

By the 1700s, wars were being battled between “impersonal, bureaucratic” states. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars marked the end of “hired soldiers playing a serious role in warfare, at least for the next two centuries.”

Holding the bag

Now, that is all changing again. But today’s PMFs are far more complicated than mercenaries of the past and are driven by corporate profit, rather than individual gain.

Earlier this month, Singer said he almost wished his book had not yet been published, given recent events showing U.S. military forces are even more stretched then they were before.

“The formation and training of the Iraqi army, Iraqi paramilitary forces and the Iraqi police will not be done by the U.S. military, but by private contractors like Vinnell, Kroll and DynCorp,” Singer said in a phone interview.

(Vinnell is a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group, whose leaders include former President George H.W. Bush, as discussed in Dan Briody’s newly published book, “The Iron Triangle.”)

“There are concerns about contractor no-shows, either because of higher costs for insurance premiums or individual contractor unwillingness to deploy,” Singer said.

“The result has been that U.S. Army soldiers have been left holding the bag. One of the major gripes is that months after the war is over, contractors who should have handled the logistics side have not shown up.”

Recent developments in Liberia also underscore Singer’s point.

“The way we went about playing a role in Liberia is a new paradigm. We sent in a small number of U.S. forces, less than 200 Marines. The rest of the support will be outsourced.”

The U.S. government awarded a $10 million contract to one PMF to provide logistics and transport support to West African peacemakers in Liberia. “This limits [U.S. government] exposure by handing off tasks to someone else.”

“Corporate Warriors” is a carefully written and documented academic study. Some may be tempted to put it aside, after 30 or 40 pages, for easier reading. But any effort spent made to complete Singer’s fascinating new book is well worth it.

Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry
By P.W. Singer
Cornell University Press (368 pages; $39.95)

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348- 5164.

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