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
“Corporate Warriors” should be required reading for any college
student studying history, sociology, political science or international
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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
(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
Recent developments in Liberia also underscore Singer’s
“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
“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
By P.W. Singer
Cornell University Press (368 pages; $39.95)
To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-
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