Wednesday, December 14, 2005

From Foreign Policy:

"The New Coalition of the Willing:

Private security firms in Iraq are hiring an increasing number of ex-guerrillas and soldiers from Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Chile. A recent ad on Iraqijobcenter.com, for example, offered the services of a thousand Colombian combat-trained ex-soldiers and policemen for security work in Iraq. This year, U.S. security firm Halliburton employed Colombians to protect oil installations in several Iraqi cities. Blackwater, another private security firm, has had a group of soldiers who once served for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the payroll. Recruits often come from militaries known for human rights abuses or paramilitaries with ties to narcotrafficking. So why are U.S. contractors hiring Latin American mercenaries? If a contractor is killed, says Peter Singer, an expert on private military firms at the Brookings Institution, it is less likely to make the news than if its a U.S. soldier. If its a contractor from another country, it is even less likely."

This is a very interesting development in terms of globalization and war because it implies that market forces are balancing the " open-source" nature of Iraq's insurgency. The implications here go far beyond Iraq however. I had an excellent email discussion today on this topic with
" the " authority on "global guerrillas", the knowledgeable and gracious John Robb. Hopefully, he'll post his take on this topic soon as he has interesting and important things to say but in the meantime, here's mine:

What this phenomena represents is an increasing flexibility in the labor market for war where Loyalist Paramilitaries begin to leave their home context from where they acquired their moral center (" moral" as in a Boydian ideological anchor and motivation) and become decontextualized and - with PMC orientation and training - increasingly professional mercenary warriors. As with the laws of physics, war is also governed by the laws of economics.

On the positive side, I can imagine that very poor Gap states - say Eritrea vs. Ethiopia - will soon find their pointless military conflicts de-escalated as wealthy PMC's make lucrative offers for that these states can neither match nor their limited pool of talented personnel refuse. While the state can always make their troops the infamous " offer they can't refuse" in extremis, this will not be possible as a long term policy for obvious reasons of morale. Whole third world armies, guerilla movements and paramilitaries that are currently functional ( ex. Nigeria's) could within a matter of months during a time of high demand, be reduced to a mere rabble as the " stars" of the officer and NCO corps cash out. Anything that damps down the capacity of these incompetent states to play at war of conquest or civil war helps.

On the negative side, nation-states are playing with fire by allowing this development in the PMC market to progress unimpeded. PMC's are on " good behavior" because the bulk of their revenue flow depends on the goodwill of states, especially the Core states, both for contracts and immunity from prosecution(Mercenary activity is technically against international law but the definition of a mercenary used by the UN is so narrow as to be legally meaningless except for politically motivated prosecutions). Problems will arise when PMC revenues become " de-coupled" from state patronage in a situation where the state has hired one or several PMC's and has subsequently ceased to exist, leaving unpaid PMC forces to fend for themselves amidst chaos. This would be System Adminastration's psychotic and evil twin, a military Mr. Hyde cut loose in the land of Thomas Hobbes ( and even then the " wild" PMC's might still be morally preferable to an indigenous force that resembled the Lord's Resistance Army, the Interhamwe or the Khmer Rouge. Choices in the Gap are not going to be sunny ones).

We are so far removed from the age of the bloodthirsty Earl of Warrick's " bastard feudalism" or the depradations of the condotteri warlord, the Count of Carmagnola, that we are not mindful of the economic dynamic that may mercenary companies possible in the pre-Westphalian era can be recreated locally or regionally by state failure. Africa in particular was spared this outcome only because PMC's were then in their infancy. Central Asia could easily become the Africa of the 2010's if these states do not join the New Core.

It is in the collective, long-term self-interest of all states to prevent PMC's from evolving from contract employees - where they can be useful, supervised and held accountable - into independent powers, " armies without states" or virtual states. Unfortunately, the pervasive " free-rider" problem in international security has left the U.S. less and less willing to shoulder the military cost-shifting of Europe and Japan. Every Blackwater or Dyncorp private warrior hired by the Pentagon is a missing soldier of the Bundeswehr or Japan just as every billion in T-bills purchased by China represents the absent defense expenditure contribution by our NATO allies. De facto, China is more our ally in Iraq than any NATO ally except Britain. Therefore, short-term interest rules the scenario.

This is not, as one might suppose, an anti-PMC rant. A majority of PMC employees of first rate companies are ex-American special forces soldiery. They are mostly " the good guys"with rarified skills that they know have a limited shelf-life and like guys who fight oil-well fires, they are getting theirs while the market is good. Fifty thousand PMC troops hired by the UN might do wonders for the people of Dar Fur.

But high demand is diluting this sterling labor pool with Latin American combat bums, secret police torturers and the alcoholic, blood-soaked, dregs of the Balkans.

This is not a polyglot force I want unmoored from the suzerainty of a powerful state.
Excellent post... it convinced me to buy "Corporate Warriors" today to begin to learn more about this aspect of international security.

How viable is a private peacekeeping force, trained by American PMCs, to address security needs in a place like Darfur or the Congo for humanitarian groups and refugees?

I think this has great promise especially for Africa because the ghosts of Somalia haunt and hinder any discussion of Western intervention in crises like the aforementioned. If a couple of PMCs could take 50,000 African men seeking a decent paycheck and some relatively good training opportunity and within a year or so turn them into a viable force, this could be a boon for stability operations in Africa.

Its painfully obvious from Darfur's experience that the AU is years, perhaps a decade or more, away from being able to credibly do this, even with NATO air support and logistics.
hi Eddie,

Well, right now Afghanistan and Iraq are sucking up the PMC talent.

If none of those were going on PMC's could very easily scatter the Janjaweed, outclassing them so badly in terms of military skills. Probably with as few as 5,000 depending on the mobility and firepower they might bring to bear. Then a safe zone could be established as with Kosovo.

However, that's not going to happen for all sorts of reasons.
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