Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Privatized Violence

By Zach Myers

The military “downsizing” which occurred at the end of the Cold War created a large supply of unemployed highly trained military personnel (Singer 2006, Pelton 2006). At the same time, increasing global instability created a demand for more troops. Unable to adequately address security issues with limited professional militaries, “many governments succumbed to an ideological trend toward privatization” (Singer, 2005). Professor P.W. Singer explains, “PMFs [Private Military Firms] have been essential to the U.S. effort in Iraq, helping Washington make up for its troop shortage and doing jobs that U.S. forces would prefer not to.”

Unfortunately, the negative consequences of these “private warriors” severely outweigh their largely illusory benefit. Outsourcing security to private companies can be justified as a way to save money, and to meet modern security demands – reducing the strain on traditional military in instable regions. However, in practice this justification is not enough to make privately owned and operated military force a good idea. The true utility to governments of private military companies is in fact the shroud of extra-legality which they operate under. Contractors don’t fit in the schema of traditional legal systems – they provide cover to government programs and allow governments plausible deniability when human-rights violations occur.

The first justification for contracting out military operations is that it saves money. However, outsourcing does not save money. Private military contractors cost the US government as much as $1200 a day (NY Times September 2007), this, according to Pelton, is due to the various layers of bureaucracy involved in financing a “security specialists”. On the other hand, a traditional soldier of the same pay grade costs approximately $100 to $250 a day (Pelton 2005). Because pay is so lucrative, military personnel are leaving their positions in order to go work for private enterprises (Singer, 2005). This drastically increases recruiting and training costs for the traditional military and seriously undermines their effectiveness. Elite soldiers, which cost millions to train, are being drained from traditional military units and are getting paid three times as much to work for private security firms. P.W. Singer, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, says,Elite force commanders in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all expressed deep concern over the poaching of their numbers by PMFS” (2005). Pelton acknowledges that post-service costs, including veteran’s benefits and compensation for families of those killed in action, are higher for a traditional soldier then for a private contractor; however, these costs are justified. A soldier needs to be willing to risk their lives in order to successfully complete their objectives – their effectiveness at seeing a mission through to the end is undermined if they cannot ensure that they’re family will be taken care of if they were to die. However the huge extra costs due to corporate profit mongering is simply unwarranted.

The capitalist ideal behind privatization is that by allowing private companies to bid for military expenditures the forces of competition would drive down the cost while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of providing security in unstable countries. However, US companies such as Blackwater and Halliburton were quickly able to use the political system to gain “no-bid” contracts (Pelton 2006). According to Pelton, Blackwater took advantage of a provision which allowed the Department of Defense to eliminate all the competitive bidding requirements when giving away state dollars, so long as they could demonstrate that the contract was “Urgent and Compelling” (2006). Since Pelton’s book Blackwater has milked this exception to the utmost. According to the New York Times, “Ranking Blackwater executives have used inside influence as administration fund-raisers to multiply their no-bid war contracts a thousandfold to more than $1 billion” (March 2008). Without competition private security firms operate wildly inefficiently and ultimately become more expensive then traditional military, because they have an incentive to cheat and steal and fudge records in order to exaggerate their costs in order to make a more private profit at the expense of tax payers. “Halliburton--Vice President Dick Cheney's previous employer--has been accused of a number of abuses in Iraq, ranging from overcharging for gasoline to billing for services not rendered; the disputed charges now total $1.8 billion” (Singer 2005). Likewise,A separate review by the Defense Contracting Audit Agency found that DynCorp had billed for $162,869 of labor hours for which it did not pay its workers'” (NY Times October 2007).

Private Contractors may temporarily fulfill limited security demands, but they cannot provide long-term stability and peace, and ultimately only get in the way of this end. While the trend towards military privatization is a natural product of supply and demand, let us not pretend that it is desirable. Diffusing military power into the hands of private companies does not lend to stability. The power of capitalism and market systems is that they are dynamic. Governmental monopolies, on the other hand, are stable, some may say stagnant; however, removing governments’ monopoly on military force incurrs huge amounts of unpredictability and instability. For example, Anna Leander from the Department of Political Science and Public Management, University of Southern Denmark says, Many of the 80 military contractors arrested in March 2004 for their plans to overthrow the government in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, were former EO employees” (2005). In Africa private military companies have created a sustained market for their services furthering forces of violence and instability. “EO was officially closed down in 1998, but its network seems to be outliving it well enough” (Leander 2005). Profit incentives motivate private military firms to do business with anyone, no matter their politics. Furthermore, there seems to be no profit disincentive to helping unsavory or illegal groups: “DynCorp International FZ-LLC, for example, does not seem to have fallen out of favor with the US government, despite its alleged work for and dealings with rightwing paramilitaries in Colombia” (Leander 2005).

Robert Pelton describes a similar case. Sandline, a US PMF operated by Jeff Spicer, “managed to deftly violate an international arms embargo to ship weapons in to a group that intended to overthrow a government… in Papua New Guinea.” This eventually “led to riots and the abrupt downfall of Prime Minister Julius Chan” (Pelton 2006). EO supervisor, Jeff Spicer, continues to score government contracts despite EO’s extra-legal operation in Papua New Guinea, and his partner’s direct participation in a coup in Equatorial New Guinea. “No one, not even Spicer, has been able to explain how his fledgling company won the largest single-security contract ever rewarded in Iraq” (Pelton, 2006). Prior to its demise, EO operated heavily in resource rich Africa. They even had “a public website that offered a full menu of military services, showcasing images of tanks, jet aircraft, and combat operations in a manner that made selling violence as innocuous as pest removal or extermination… When the Angola operation wound down, EO already had another contract lined up… Sierra Leone” (Pelton 2006). Mass marketing of these services has become a reality and has already been shown to have moderate success.

Proliferation of private military services is particularly bad for the stability of the African region (Musah 2002). “In resource-rich African states, that capacity – including through the selling of future war booty – is bound to remain large” (Leander 2005). In Robert Young Pelton’s interviews he also finds evidence that contractors will not shy away from exploiting African resources, as EO did in Sierra Leone (Pelton, 2005). An explosion of privately funded armies threatens to further destabilize African regimes and/or exploit Africa’s resource driven economies. “In weak African states, where the legitimacy of existing public orders is weak, there is good reason to think that [PMFs] will be used to contest those orders and establish new ones. The result is likely to be more violence” (Leander 2005). “Moreover,” according to Professor Leander, “as the number of firms in search of clients expands, the threshold for clients falls,” meaning as time goes on and firms are pressed to find more business they will become more willing to accept contracts from nastier parties and be less concerned with international law.

According to P.F. Singer governments have become incredibly reliant on private contractors (2005). Furthermore, the US military’s reliance on private military has undermined their control of the situation in Iraq and makes counter-insurgency much more difficult for traditional military forces:

“Unlike military units, PMFS retain a choice over which contracts to take and can abandon or suspend operations for any reason, including if they become too dangerous or unprofitable; their employees, unlike soldiers, can always choose to walk off the job. Such freedom can leave the military in the lurch, as has occurred several times already in Iraq: during periods of intense violence, numerous private firms delayed, suspended, or ended their operations, placing great stress on U.S. troops.” (Singer 2005)

While in Iraq, Robert Young Pelton reported on just such an incidence. “Blackwater,” according to Pelton, “has a policy of using overwhelming firepower to break contact, as do most security teams operating in Iraq.” Contractors are basically being trained to make a big mess and then to leave as quickly as possible. In one instance Pelton reports, two marines were killed by a “booby-trap” left on an insurgent’s body when cleaning-up a mess left by Blackwater. Private military contractors are a liability that often trip up the operations of traditional military forces, they are not there to create stability and safety but only to accomplish limited security goals – this focus on profit and self-preservation without concern for the overall security situation makes private contractors a huge liability for traditional forces.

Another problem with PMFs is there is no legal mechanism in existence to try private contractors for crimes they might commit through excess use of force. Pelton says that “at the date of [his] writing in early 2006, no private security contractors [had] yet suffered legal consequences for causing collateral damage in Iraq.” Private contractors operate in a legal gray area which makes it difficult to hold individuals accountable for their actions. William H. Cohn is a lawyer and lecturer at the University of New York in Prague. He writes that “the September 16, 2007 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad by private security guards of the US govt. provides a useful case study of the pitfalls of outsourcing traditional military and other governmental functions.” The FBI investigation into this incident revealed “criminal” behavior on the part of the Blackwater employees with “no enemy activity involved.” Yet the Department of Defense continued to fund Blackwater and even granted the Blackwater employees immunity from prosecution under US law (Cohn 2007). Furthermore, “Blackwater continues to receive lucrative government contracts and the State Dept. reportedly gave bonuses for ‘outstanding performance’ to officials with direct oversight of Blackwater” (Cohn 2007). Since the Coalition Provisional Authority installed in Baghdad following the US invasion of Iraq decreed that “US forces and agents are immune from Iraqi prosecution,” the Blackwater contractors are left to operate with impunity. They aren’t under the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts, nor are they subject to US law. This amounts to the US government giving private military contractors a “license to kill” (Pelton 2005).

With this license private contractors can erode the rule of law. Pelton reports that “Security contractors in Iraq have told [him] that many of them refuse to stop for the Iraqi police or military under any circumstance, since there have been so many incidents of insurgents using stolen uniforms or of infiltrators exploiting their official position to create the conditions for an attack.” Regardless of their justifications the fact is that private military contractors operate outside established legal systems and therefore have no respect for the rule of law. “Blackwater was involved in 195 instances of gunfire from 2005 until early September... In 163 of those cases, Blackwater gunmen fired first” (Cohn 2007). Private contractors create a sort of Wild Wild West in occupied territories, where one must kill or be killed. This mentality only makes it easy for terrorist and insurgents to make the case against Western imperialism. Also eroding the rule of law makes it easy for insurgents to operate. Thus private contractors ripen a country for instability and insurgency.

Private Military Contractors do not increase stability. Governments do however find them useful in getting around international law and continue to use them despite human rights violations because they, the government, can maintain plausible deniability (Roseman 2005). Governments can tacitly support extra-legal activity by rehiring contractors while still being able to publicly condemn them. Jeff Spicer scoring the biggest private security contract in Iraq after his professional disaster in Papua New Guinea is an example of this behavior on the part of government. Alarming evidence that governments are tacitly consenting to human rights violations can also be found in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. “The systematic and illegal abuse of detainees and the numerous instances of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib prison between October and December 2003 were sought by interrogators employed by private corporations, such as CACI International Inc” (Roseman 2005). These privately contracted guards “were the same interrogators used by the U.S. army and intelligence in Guantanamo Bay.” Torture got shut-down at GTMO, so to get around the restrictions the government seems to have simply outsourced torture to private contractors, who then simply rehired the interrogators from GTMO and restarted the illegal operations which occurred there. Even if this was an unintentional consequence (companies have to draw their employees from somewhere), it still reveals how in the legally shady realm of private military firms, individuals can be insulated from the standard repercussions for human rights violations.

Robert Young Pelton writes, “I have met former Apartheid era enforcers, dictators’ bodyguards, bounty hunters, and mercenaries working as contractors for large Western security companies.” Idema, the jingoistic US civilian who was able to operate an Afghani torture camp under the guise of a private military contractor also aptly illustrates how the quasi-legal status of private contractors allows otherwise horrible atrocities to go unnoticed and unpunished for long periods of time (Pelton 2005).Idema has proven that an ambitious civilian… can soldier on independently of any government oversight, command, external financial support, or approval” (Pelton 2005).

On the whole the Costs of using private military companies severely outweigh any apparent Benefits. Not only is privatizing military functions more expensive, it is also counter-productive to the goals of safety and security abroad. The US and other nations should be extremely careful when contracting out their vital interests to corporations driven not by security and safety but by profit; especially, when these companies are able to operate outside the control and jurisdiction of law.

Works Cited

Carmola, Kateri. "It's All Contracts Now: Private Military Firms and a Clash of Legal Culture." Brown Journal of World Affairs (2006). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Cohn, William. "Government Inc. : the Rise of the Unaccountable Government Contractor." THE NEW PRESENCE (2008). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 6 Apr. 2008.

Leander, Anna. "The Market for Force and Public Security: the Destabilizing Consequences of Private Military Companies*." Journal of Peace Research (2005). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Musah, Abdul F. "Privatization of Security, Arms Proliferation and the VProcess of State Collapse in Africa." Development and Change (2002). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Pelton, Robert Y. Licensed to Kill. New York: Three Rivers P, 2006.

Risen, James, and David Johnston. "Justice Department Briefed Congress on Legal Obstacles in Blackwater Case." The New York Times 16 Jan. 2008. Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

Roseman, Nils. "Privatized War and Corporate Impunity." Peace Review: a Journal of Social Justice (2005). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 10 Apr. 2008.

Shmitt, Eric, and David Rohde. "2 Reports Assail State Dept. Role in Iraq Security." The New York Times 23 Oct. 2007. Academic Search Premier. 13 Apr. 2008.

Singer, P W. "Outsourcing War." Foreign Affairs (2005). Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008 .

"The Private Sector's Tramping in Iraq." The New York Times 24 Mar. 2008. Academic Search Premier. USU Library. 13 Apr. 2008.

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