of 18 /18
NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA The Mercenary Debate Three Views Deborah Avant, Max Boot, andJörg Friedrichs & Cornelius Friesendorf Deborah Avant: Private security contracting undermines democratic control of U.S. foreign policy. I n September 2007, armed guards assigned to protect U.S. diplomats and employed by the private security company Blackwa- ter USA opened fire in crowded Nisour Square in central Baghdad. The incident wounded 24 and left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, including an infant. In the wake ofthe shooting, the press erupted with stories about how dependent the U.S. military had become on "mercenar- ies", particularly in Iraq. Some of the cover- age focused on the contractors' aggressive tac- tics and how they threaten to undermine the campaign to win "hearts and minds" in Iraq. Other articles concentrated on the lack of ef- fective oversight and legal accountability of private security forces. Still others focused on Blackwater's political connections and practic- es. But very few examined the larger question of what hired guns might do to democratic governance in the United States. In recent years, scholars and policymakers have converged on the view that democracy is a key variable for predicting both the in- ternal and external behavior of states. Many argue that political norms favoring non- violent solutions and citizen participation in governance make it harder for leaders in de- mocracies to steer the ship of state into war. Others claim that democracies, once engaged in a fight, are more likely to win since they more carefully calculate the benefits and costs of military action. Perhaps most prominently, democratic peace theory is taken virtually as a "law" throughout both government and the academy. These arguments all assume that states fight with militaries made up of theit own citizenry. The past two decades, however, have seen the rise of a robust market for private security forces, which can now provide virtually any military or security service. Contract personnel make up at least half of those deployed to Iraq on behalf of the United States—about 190,000 people as of an August 2008 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. These contrac- tors provide everything from logistics support to training for the Iraqi army and police, from guarding buildings and people to conducting interrogations and providing translation, and on and on—all duties formerly provided by uniformed soldiers. The number of contractors performing duties once provided by the U.S. military is greater than the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. The vast majority of these contractors (or private soldiers) are retired military or police personnel. Roughly 10 percent are Americans; the United Kingdom, South Africa, Fiji, El Salvador and Nepal account for 20 percent, and Iraq itself for roughly 70 percent. They are employed by some 632 private secu- rity companies (PSCs) from many different 32 T H E AMERICAN INTEREST

Avant Etal Mercenary Debate 2009

Embed Size (px)

DESCRIPTION

Mercenary Debate

Text of Avant Etal Mercenary Debate 2009

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    The Mercenary DebateThree Views

    Deborah Avant, Max Boot, and Jrg Friedrichs & Cornelius Friesendorf

    Deborah Avant:Private security contracting

    undermines democratic control

    of U.S. foreign policy.

    I n September 2007, armed guards assignedto protect U.S. diplomats and employedby the private security company Blackwa-ter USA opened fire in crowded Nisour Squarein central Baghdad. The incident wounded 24and left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, including aninfant. In the wake ofthe shooting, the presserupted with stories about how dependentthe U.S. military had become on "mercenar-ies", particularly in Iraq. Some of the cover-age focused on the contractors' aggressive tac-tics and how they threaten to undermine thecampaign to win "hearts and minds" in Iraq.Other articles concentrated on the lack of ef-fective oversight and legal accountability ofprivate security forces. Still others focused onBlackwater's political connections and practic-es. But very few examined the larger questionof what hired guns might do to democraticgovernance in the United States.

    In recent years, scholars and policymakershave converged on the view that democracyis a key variable for predicting both the in-ternal and external behavior of states. Manyargue that political norms favoring non-violent solutions and citizen participation ingovernance make it harder for leaders in de-mocracies to steer the ship of state into war.

    Others claim that democracies, once engagedin a fight, are more likely to win since theymore carefully calculate the benefits and costsof military action. Perhaps most prominently,democratic peace theory is taken virtually asa "law" throughout both government and theacademy.

    These arguments all assume that states fightwith militaries made up of theit own citizenry.The past two decades, however, have seen therise of a robust market for private securityforces, which can now provide virtually anymilitary or security service. Contract personnelmake up at least half of those deployed to Iraqon behalf of the United Statesabout 190,000people as of an August 2008 CongressionalBudget Office (CBO) report. These contrac-tors provide everything from logistics supportto training for the Iraqi army and police, fromguarding buildings and people to conductinginterrogations and providing translation, andon and onall duties formerly provided byuniformed soldiers. The number of contractorsperforming duties once provided by the U.S.military is greater than the number of U.S.troops in Iraq.

    The vast majority of these contractors (orprivate soldiers) are retired military or policepersonnel. Roughly 10 percent are Americans;the United Kingdom, South Africa, Fiji, ElSalvador and Nepal account for 20 percent,and Iraq itself for roughly 70 percent. Theyare employed by some 632 private secu-rity companies (PSCs) from many different

    32 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

  • A Fijian security contractor patrolling a Baghdad streetAFP/Getty Image

    countries that bid on contracts and hire fromdatabases or through recruiting to fill them.When the contract ends, the personnel moveon to work tor different PSCs fulfilling othercontracts. PSCs are more like body shops thanprivate armies. They have no standing forcebut recruit once they acquire contracts, act-ing as matchmakers between personnel withparticular skills and contracting governments,corporations, non-governmental groups orother organizations.

    Before European states toyed with ideas ofdemocracy, mercenary armies were com-mon. But Enlightenment ideas about the so-cial contract, so fundamental to democraticprinciples, fostered the idea that citizenshipshould be connected with military service.Even though different countries have adopteddifferent levels of obligation, the principle thatmilitary service should be performed by citi-zens has been almost universal among demo-cratic nations. Indeed, this principle upholdssuch key features of democracy as constitu-tional checks and balances, policy transparen-

    cy and public sensitivity to the human costs ofwar. When conscription was a feature of U.S.wartime mobilization, constituents were morelikely to pressure their Congressmen to justifywars. The public demanded accountability asthe human costslives of friends and fam-ily members interrupted or lostwere morewidely distributed.

    By contrast, PSCs recruit people to "do ajob" rather than "provide military service."Those deployed this way can walk away at anytime. As noted, they need not be U.S. citizens.They are not organized within congressionalconstituencies and, given that they are oftennot even American citizens or residents, theymay have little connection to individual Amer-icans. So, in theory at least, this arrangementweakens congressional incentives to check theExecutive Branch and masks the human costsof war.

    This conclusion applies equally to thosewho provide logistics, training, guard duty orany other service that would otherwise be pro-vided by the military. When a soldier dies, wedo not ask whether he was a supply sergeant or

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNE) 2009 33

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    an infantryman. Both are crucial to the wareffort, both have died in service to the coun-try's goals, and both exact costs from the pub-lic treasury. Though we might agree that anarmed guard faces greater risks than a cook,there is no reason why privatizing one jobrather than the other matters to these demo-cratic processes in a wartime setting. Insofaras privatization limits congressional input andreduces the information available to the pub-lic, it diminishes democratic controls over for-eign policy.

    That's the theory. But how does the use ofprivate security conttactors underminegovernment checks and balances in practice?As expected, it empowers the Executive Branchand significantly erodes the power ofthe Con-gress. Though Congress must authorize thedeployment of uniformed troops, it need notauthorizeor even know aboutthe de-ployment of private contractors, no matterwhat kind of service they provide. Congres-sional involvement is important. Think ofthe debate about President George W. Bush's20,000-troop surge in early 2007. Contrastthat with the politically invisible mobilizationof a much larger surge of private soldiers as theinsurgency heated up in the spring of 2004.That the number of contractors deployed bythe United States in Iraq rivals the number oftroops has come to pass without any congres-sional authorization or input.

    If Congress puts a ceiling on the numberof troops, the Executive Branch can use con-tractors to exceed it. When Congress caps thenumber of contractors, PSCs can use morethird-party nationalsjust as they did to skirtcongressional restrictions on the number ofmilitary advisers and military contractors au-thorized under Plan Colombia in 2001. PSCscan also facilitate "foreign policy by proxy", inwhich the United States merely licenses a com-mercial exchange between a foreign countryand a private security company, providing formilitary training without official U.S. involve-ment. Over the past 15 years, such contractshave become common. Private trainers havegone to Croatia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria,Poland and Uzbekistan, among many othercountries.

    Once contractors are deployed, it is harderfor Congress to monitor what they actually do.Many reporting mechanisms to Congress pro-vide no data about individual contracts, indi-vidual companies or even whether a particularmission involves troops alongside contractors.Without this information, it is very difficult,sometimes impossible, for Congress to assessthe performance of different companies or thepolicy ends they serve.

    Congress may be reluctant to assume con-trol over contractors in any event. With littleconstituent knowledge about the role of PSCsin Iraq, many in Congress have feh little needto address the issue. Note that no one in thedebate over bringing "our troops" home hasmentioned a word about what to do with thenearly equal number of private security contrac-tors. The budgetary and policy implications of"gettmg our troops out of Iraq", however, willdepend on whether private security forces em-ployed by the United States remain. A decreasein military force levels might actually mean agreater need for private contractors.

    Congress has taken some steps to gaingreater control over contractors in Iraq inresponse to the outcry over several egregiousevents. For instance, after four Blackwaterpersonnel were killed and mutilated in Fal-lujah in March 2004, and after the contrac-tors CACI and Titan were implicated in theabuses at Abu Ghraib prison, Congress re-quired that the Pentagon find a way to keepcount of the number of private personnel inIraq, plugged one obvious legal loophole thatprevented the prosecution of contractors al-leged to have committed abuses at the prison,and issued several other instructions to bringcontractors under tighter control. Thus far,however, these reforms have fallen short oftheir goalas we saw in the aftermath oftheNisour Square incident. Individual membersof Congresssuch as then-Senator BarackObama (D-IL), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA),and Representatives David E. Price (D-NC),Jan Schakowski (D-IL) and Henry Waxman(D-CA) have responded with proposalsfor additional legislation aimed to increasethe transparency and accountability of con-tractors. But even if each of these bills werepassed, congressional control over private

    34 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    security would still be minimal relative to itscontrol over U.S. military forces.

    Private security operations are much lesstransparent than the use of U.S. troops notonly for Congress, but also for the public. TheNisour Square incident prompted a flood of ar-ticles on Blackwater and other contractors, butabsent high profile events, such coverage is rare.Even in the immediate days after the shoot-ing, the intense media spotlight on Blackwaterpaled in comparison to the more intense, ongo-ing focus on U.S. troops. From the beginningof the war through the first quarter of 2007,for every one article that mentions private secu-rity forces, a private security firm or any otherreference to contractors or mercenaries in theNew York Times, there are 47 that mention U.S.soldiers or troops.'

    This discrepancy is due in large part to thedearth of information available to the publicand the press. There is no central source forfacts about the activities of private contractorsin Iraq or anywhere else. Indeed, the Pentagondoes not even keep track of private securitydeaths. It is only through insurance claims thatwe even know that more than 1,200 contrac-tors have been killed in Iraq. We do not knowtheir names, and they are not memorialized inmedia coverage like the "honor roll" segmentson The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Finally, ac-cess to information on contracts between theU.S. government and private security firms islimited. Freedom of Information Act requestsare frequently denied on the grounds that thecontracts are with private companies and thuscontain proprietary information.

    In a recent study funded by the NationalScience Foundation this author found thatAmericans also view the motivations of sol-diers and private security personnel differently.Soldiers are generally believed to be motivatedprimarily by patriotism, while private soldiersare seen as motivated primarily by monetarygain. This doesn't mean people think that pri-vate soldiers are greedy; on the contrary, mostpeople assume their need must be dire to vol-unteer to fight an unpopular American warespecially in the case of non-American privatesoldiers. This might be why many participantsin the study expressed just as much anger orsadness at the deaths of private soldiers as

    they did at those of U.S. military personnel. IfAmericans knew more about the use of privatesecurity contractors in American wars, theywould likely demand greater accountabilityfrom the President and Congress regardingtheir use.

    Policy analysts often ciaim that the obscu-rity of private security forces reduces "po-litical costs", allowing the Executive Branchto respond more efficiently to security needs.It is true: The use of PSCs does make it easierto take action without public support. But re-ducing political costs for leaders can increasethe general costs to Americans.

    American leaders are more likely to respondto calls for action from a few when they do notneed to win popular support for it. So it is not sur-prising that, despite the absence of a strong peercompetitor, the U.S. defense budgetincludingthe supplemental requests for the wars in Afghan-istan and Iraqis more than 25 percent larger inreal terms than it was in 1968 at the height oftheconflict in Vietnam. This amount is as much asthe combined defense spending of all the rest ofthe world combined, according to Richard Betts.^Betts attributes this, in part, to political leaders'tendency to underestimate the costs of the inter-ventions they champion. PSCs both make thispossible and provide fallback options when plansfell shon, as they did in Iraq.

    Relying on PSCs may also afFect U.S. for-eign relations. Many ofthe benefits attributed todemocratic governmentstheir restraint, mili-tary effectiveness and peacefulnessare tied tothe difficulty of taking action. Less deliberationmeans more military action. Moreover, it argu-ably reduces the prudence of U.S. policymakersin picking the nation s battlesthe attribute thatmakes democratic polities more likely to win thewars that democracies fight. And using PSCsreduces transparency and constitutionalism.

    This includes the wave of coverage that followedthe dramatic killings of Blackwater person-nel in Fallujah in 2004 and the implication ofCACI and Titan employees in the Abu Ghraibabuses. Data and archives are available fromthe author.

    ^Betts, "A Disciplined Defense", Foreign Affairs(November/December 2007).

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNE) 2009 35

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    erodmg two factors cited as enhancing the pros-pect for trust among democracies.

    The demand for private security is unlike-ly to ebb. Though it grew exponentiallyduring the Iraq war, it did not begin with theBush Administration. The private military in-dustry developed and matured in the 1990s,when it was used to meet humanitarian andpeace-enforcement goals that the ClintonAdministration worried the public would notsupport. The security challenges posed bya globalized world have led to the articula-tion of new goals on both sides of the U.S.political spectrumsome requiring the useof military forcethat do not fit easily withthe kind of national interest behind whichthe public is easily mobilized. Pursuit of suchgoals may generate "democracy deficits", butignoring them also creates problemssome-thing the ineffectual international responseto the Rwandan genocide made abundantlyclear. If PSCs can play a role in humanitarianintervention, many would have no qualmsjustifying shortcuts in democratic niceties.

    Sacrificing democratic procedures, however,is a losing proposition in the end. Political lead-ers would better serve the public interest byworking to bring greater democratic controlto the transnational private security industrywithin the United States and internationally.Initial steps by President Obama are promising.Overcoming the inevitable challenges, how-ever, will require efforts by Congress, relevantagencies in the Executive Branch and coopera-tion with other countries (something the U.S.government has approached with far too muchreluctance in recent years).

    But action by states will not be enough.Interested parties should also cultivate newtransnational tools. Industry organizations inthe United States and the United Kingdomhave proposed voluntary regulation for PSCs,but much more could be done to set standards,not just for companies but for personnel basedon the kind of service they provide. At a mini-mum, anyone working in a war zone should berequired to have training and be familiar withinternational humanitarian law. Why not de-velop international standards for the licensingof individuals who perform armed jobs or those

    who work in conflict zones more generally?The United States, as the largest consumer ofprivate military services, would surely have ahuge influence on the market were it to adopt alicensing system.

    The newly established "Voluntary Princi-ples on Security and Human Rights", a uniquemulti-stakeholder initiative supported by theU.S. government, could aiso serve as a modeifor a transnational agreement on private securi-ty. The principles are designed to guide oil andmining companies in maintaining the safetyand security of their operations in developingcountries while also fostering respect for humanrights. The United States, along with other In-terested governments, should sponsor a similaragreement for private security companies, com-mitting them to hire only licensed personneland perhaps outlining systems by which af-fected stakeholders could register complaints.Watchdog organizations could help monitorand enforce these standards, and journalistscould report on them.

    Finally, publics in the United States and else-where should demand greater information aboutthe work of PSCs, and the media should endeav-or to provide it. Private security personnel shouldnot be presumed evil any more than militaryforces are. But the public should demand infor-mation about them. Who are these people? Howare they recruited? How are their lives affectedby the wars they participate in? When are theykilled or injured? When do they kill, and un-der whose orders? What are their numbers, andwhere are they deployed ? When do they enhancesecurity, and in what circumstances might theyundermine it? How much do they cost?

    At the very least, increased scrutiny will alertthe public to the hidden political costs of usingPSCs. At the most, it will educate the publicabout a new factor in the mix as it evaluates thecompetence of U.S. government leaders and thetrue costs, human and economic, of Americanforeign policy. 'tV

    Deborah Avant is professor of political science atthe University of California, Irvine, a fallow at thePacific Council on International Policy, and au-thor ofT\\^ Market for Force: The Consequencesof Privatizing Security (Cambridge UniversityPress 2005).

    36 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    Max Boot:Mercenaries are inevitable and,if employed wisely, can beeictive adjuncts of U.S. policy.

    Mercenaries get a bad rap. The veryword has become so anathematizedthat it is no longer used by thoseit describes, practitioners of one of the world'soldest professions. Nowadays they prefer to becalled "security contractors" and their employ-ers prefer to be known as private military orsecurity companies. This is an understandableif not entirely logical consequence of the statemonopolization of warfare, which began in thelate 18 century when governments becamestrong enough to conscript their own citizensto fight rather than rely on hired "free lances."The French Revolutionary and NapoleonicWars seemed to confirm that citizen armieswere superior to the traditional mix of aristo-crats and mercenaries employed by the ancienrgimes, and before long almost everyone wasemulating the French example. Along the waythere arose the widespread belief that the useof citizen-soldiers was superior not only prac-tically but also morally; there was somethingdistasteful, even unethical, about hiring a pro-fessional soldier, often a foreigner, to fight onone's behalf. Much better, leaders assumed, toforce their own civilians to fight upon pain ofpunishment. This mindset has now become sodeeply entrenched that it is easy to ignore thelong and distinguished history of mercenaries,and their legitimate uses down to the presentday.

    As Peter W. Singer points out in his invalu-able book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise ofthePrivatized Military Industry (2003), "Hiringoutsiders to fight your battles is as old as war it-self Nearly every past empire, from the ancientEgyptians to the Victorian British, contractedforeign troops in some form or another." TheGreek city-states that founded Western civili-zation were heavily reliant on specialized unitsof mercenaries such as Cretan slingers andThessalian cavalry to supplement their nativehoplites. One of the great classics of literature,Xenophon's Anabasis, chronicles the journeyof 10,000 Creek mercenaries through what is

    today Iraq after participating in a Persian civilwar. By the end of Alexander the Great's stun-ning campaign of conquest, his army was madeup primarily of foreigners, not Macedonians.Hannibal, likewise, scored his great victoriesagainst Rome in the Second Punic War withan army of hired hands. And although the Ro-man Empire by the end became ovedy relianton unassimilated "barbarians" for protection, itthrived for hundreds of years by enlisting for-eigners as auxiliaries to its legions.

    The tradition continued into the MiddleAges and the Renaissance, when Italian mer-cenaries, organized into "companies" andhired through the condotta (contract) system,pioneered the very concept ofthe corporation.Some ofthe most feared soldiers ofthe periodwere Swiss infantrymen, who were hired in1502 to protect the Pope and are still on thejob today. The use of contractors reached newheights in the Thirty Years' War (1618-48),when the leading role on the Catholic side wasplayed by Count Albrecht von Wallenstein, aGzech-born military entrepreneur who re-peatedly bested the forces of Protestant mon-archs. King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden fi-nally defeated Wallenstein with a force madeup mostly of German, English and Scottishfighters.

    Contractors were also important at sea. In-deed, some ofthe most illustrious names in na-val history^Waiter Raleigh, Francis Drake andJohn Hawkinswere privateers who fought inlarge part for economic gain. Many ofthe shipsthat defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 werehired from these independent captains, who inturn were given commissions in Queen Eliza-beth's service. The United States, for its part,relied heavily on privateers to fight the RoyalNavy during the War of Independence and theWar of 1812. Well into the 19 '' century, sol-diers and sailors could supplement their meagerwages with "prize money" from seized enemyvessels or looted enemy cities.

    Nor should we forget the important con-tribution of foreign mercenaries such as Baronvon Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette to-ward the winning of American independence.Granted, many of these men were concernedwith promoting a good cause, not gettingrich. But the two need not be in conflict.

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNE) 2009 37

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    Thousands of British mercenar-ies, mainly unemployed veteransofthe Napoleonic Wars, foughton behalf of the nascent LatinAmerican republics during theirwars of liberation from Spainfor a combination of idealisticand avaricious motives. From1818 to 1822, Chile's navy wa.sled by Thomas Cochrane, a cel-ebrated Scottish captain who issaid to have been the model forJackAubrey in PatrickO'Brian'snovels. Cochrane later foughtwith many other foreigners onbehalf of Greek independencefrom the Ottoman Empire.The "Philheilenes" ofthe 1820i,were mainly motivated by theirdevotion to classical Greek civi-lization, but they also were paidfor their efforts. Cochrane, forone, made a mint from his ad-ventures.

    Mercenaries remained im-portant in colonial warfare evenafter their use declined in Eu-rope. France, Britain and theNetherlands all chartered EastIndia Companies that raised their own fleetsand armies to carve out empires in Asia. TheBritish government fmally ended the East In-dia Company's independence following theIndian Mutiny of 1857, but Britain continuedto rely on numerous mercenary regiments in itsown army. The most famous of these were theNepalese Gurkhas, who were first recruited inthe early 19 century and continue to serve tothis day. (Visiting a NATO base in Kandahar,Afghanistan, recently, I saw a table full of Gur-khas dining at the mess hall.} France famouslywon and defended much of its empire with thepolyglot Foreign Legion, which also remainsvery much in business.

    While most of these examples have beenEuropean, there is nothing un-American aboutemploying mercenaries. The contributions ofLafayette and von Steuben have already beenmentioned. But there were many other notablemercenaries in U.S. history, few of whom fit theconventionally negative stereotypes of "soldiers

    Leonardo da Vinci's Italian mercenary, "II Condottiero" (1480)

    oi fortune." John Paul Jones, one of our moststoried naval heroes, became a Russian admi-ral in 1788 after his service in the ContinentalNavy. Various Indian allies provided invaluablehelp for American settlers in conflicts start-ing with the establishment of the Jamestowncolony in 1607 and not concluding until theBattle of Wounded Knee in 1890. During theCivil War, the Pinkerton National DetectiveAgency provided intelligence for the Union, aswell as personal protection for President Lin-coln. The Lafayette Escadrille, a French airforce squadron in World War I, was composedof Americans. Douglas MacArthur, after step-ping down as Army Chief of Staff, served inthe 1930s as a field marshal in the Philippines.The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilotsled by Claire Chennault, helped Chiang Kai-shek to battle Japanese invaders. The EagleSquadron, a unit ofthe Royal Air Force in theearly days of World War 11, was composed ofAmerican pilots. And Montagnard tribesmen

    38 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    were recruited and organized by the CIA andArmy Special Forces to fight communists dur-ing the Vietnam War. All were mercenaries,yet all performed invaluable service.

    This very brief historical review is not in-tended as a whitewash. It goes withoutsaying that freelance fighters have committednumerous abuses. They have often desertedand sometimes rebelled against their own em-ployers. But the same can be said of native-bornsoldiers. There is no real reason to assume thatthe former have behaved any worse than the lat-ter. On the whole, mercenaries provided goodservice in keeping with the outlook pithily ex-pressed by the l/^'^-century Scottish soldier offortune Sir James Turner: "We serve our masterhonestly, it is no matter what master we serve."If they didn't provide good service, after all, theywould not have long remained in business.

    While the use of mercenaries has been in acenturies-long decline, it has experienced a re-surgence since the end ofthe Cold Wara timewhen armed forces have declined in size even asmany areas ofthe globe have become more un-stable. Most private military companies todayoffer logistical, training and other non-combatservices, but some do provide armed securitypersonnel as well. An even smaller number en-gage in offensive military operations. The mostfamous of these were the closely linked SouthAfrican firms Executive Otitcomes and Sand-line. They are now out ofbusiness, but in theirheyday in the 1990s they helped the govern-ments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angolaand Sierra Leone, among others, to put downsavage insurgencies at a time when the rest ofthe world stood idly by. In 1995-96, for in-stance, Executive Outcomes made short workof a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known asthe Revolutionary United Front, which was no-rorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims.As a result. Sierra Leone was able to hold its firstfree election in decades. Another private firm,MPRl, helped to bring peace to the formerYugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatianoffensive that stopped Serbian aggression. To-day MPRI provides trainers who operate sideby side with local poppy-eradication forces inAfghanistan^a mission that NATO refuses totake on.

    Somehow these interventions seem illegiti-mate to some people because they are undertak-en for profit, not patriotism. But what's wrongwith that? After all, regular soldiers receive sal-ary and benefits; few would serve otherwise.This was a point made in a famous 1969 ex-change between Milton Friedman, who favoredan all-volunteer military, and General WilliamWestmoreland, who wanted to maintain adraft. Westmoreland said he did not want tocommand an "army of mercenaries." Friedmaninterjected, "General, would you rather com-mand an army of slaves?" The general drewhimself up and said, "I don't like to hear ourpatriotic draftees referred to as slaves." Fried-man replied, "I don't like to hear our patrioticvolunteers referred to as mercenaries." He wenton to say, "If they are mercenaries, then I, sir,am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are amercenary general; we are served by mercenaryphysicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and weget our meat from a mercenary butcher."' If, asFriedman noted, we expect the profit motive todeliver virtually everything else we need, whyshould military services be any different?

    Thinking along those lines in fact led toour present reliancesome might sayover-relianceon security contractors. In the1990s, the George H.W. Bush and ClintonAdministrations cut the size of U.S. active-duty armed forces by a third. To performmany of the functions once undertaken bysoldiers, they hired private companies such asKBR, which won its first Logistics Civil Aug-mentation Program (LOGCAP) contract in1992. This shift was supposed to bring cost-savings and greater efficiencies, and it provedlargely uncontroversial until the war in Iraq.No one then anticipated that we would em-ploy 160,000 contractors in Iraq, of whom20,000 to 50,000 would carry guns.^ Thismassive use of contractors came about not,

    'Milton and Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People(University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 380.

    'See my "Accept the Blackv 'ater Mercenaries",Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2007, and PeterW. Singer, "Sure, He's Got Guns for Hire, butThey're Just Not Worth It", Washington Post,October 7, 2007.

    (MAY/JUNK) 2009 39

  • NATtON-BUtLDING IN AMERICA

    as some conspiracy-mongers have it, becauseGeorge W. Bush and Dick Cheney sought toundermine the Constitution or pay off theirbig business buddies, but because the forcesthey sent into Iraq were too small for all thetasks thrown their way. The U.S. governmenthad no choice but to rely on private firms toperform functions, such as safeguarding con-voys and dignitaries, that in the past wouldhave been undertaken by soldiers.

    This has caused numerous problems thathave received plenty of attention from thepress and antiwar partisans. These include al-legations that hired interrogators were impli-cated in the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison inIraq and at the Bagram detention facility inAfghanistan. The most high-profile case citedby critics was the September 16, 2007 dead-ly shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square. InJanuary 2009 the government of Iraq revokedBlackwater's license to operate in that coun-try. U.S. prosecutors have also filed charges ofmanslaughter against five Blackwater employ-ees; one Blackwater employee has already pledguilty and agreed to testify against his formercolleagues. In a bid to escape its notoriety,Blackwater Worldwide has now changed itsname to Xe.

    Whatever happened in Nisour Square (acourt must still sort out the facts), there havebeen plenty of other instances of contractors inIraq shooting wildly, careening through traffic,and causing unnecessary mayhem. This hasbeen the consequence in part of questionablehiring practices tbat, in the rush to fill burgeon-ing requirements, resulted in poorly trained,undisciplined gunslingers being set loose in awar zone. But an even bigger issue has been thefact that contractors are paid only to achievenarrow objectivestypically getting a convoyor VIP from point A to point B. Broader coun-terinsurgency concerns such as maintaining thesupport of the local populace are not on theiragenda. Thus they are often too heavy-handedin protecting their charges, not caring that theyleave hatred in their wake.

    There also have been major coordinationproblems between contractors and militarypersonnel. For instance, in March 2004four Blackwater contractors entered Fallujahwithout Marine commanders being aware

    of tbeir presence. Their subsequent murdertriggered an ill-fated offensive that upsetcarefully laid Marine plans to reduce resis-tance in the city.

    In addition, there have been numerous re-ports of contractors overcharging for work ornot delivering what was promised. The VinnellCorporation, for instance, was hired to trainthe Iraqi army in 2003 and did such a poorob (admittedly for reasons not entirely underits control) that it set back the entire Americanwar effort.

    Even when contractors do an admirablejob, there have often been hidden drawbacks.An example is the work of KBR and its affili-ates in running a string of American militarybases across Iraq and Afghanistan. Encour-aged by a "cost plus" billing system that hasimposed little incentive for austerity, theyhave performed amazing feats of logistics,creating miniature Americas in the middle ofa war zone complete with well-stocked gyms,PXs selling large-screen TVs, and dining fa-cilities offering multiple flavors of ice cream.But the very opulence of these facilities hasisolated American troops from the popula-tion and made it harder for them to pacifythe country.

    All these problems are undeniable, but whatis the alternative? It is rare to hear the voicesthat castigate Blackwater, KBR, DynCorp andtheir ilk call for a massive increase in the sizeof the active-duty military. Yet that is what itwould take to decrease our reliance on con-tractors while maintaining existing militarycommitments. As it happens, I favor a largeincrease in the size ofthe armed forces. I thinkthe Army needs to grow from its current ac-tive-duty strength of around 540,000 soldiersto at least 700,000 soldiersits size at the endof the Cold War. But such a large and costlyincrease could not be accomplished overnight,and even when complete, years from now, itwould not allow us to banish contractors alto-gether. As long as we continue to rely on volun-teers rather than conscripts, we will never haveenough soldiers to meet every possible need,and it will never make sense to assign manymundane chores to scarce soldiers when theycould be performed by hired civilians. Ideally,contractors operating alongside U.S. troops

    40 T H E AMERICAN INTEREST

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    would be limited to support functions. Realis-tically, however, we will need to employ privateguards too, whether protecting installations inthe United States or abroad.

    In a perfect world. Congress would bringthe size of our armed forces into closer align-ment with our massive defense commitments.But our legislature, like most democratic leg-islatures, is loath to spend what's needed ondefense, and it is even more reluctant to con-script its citizens. Yet it also has no desire tocurtail sprawling global commitments thatmost agree do enhance our security and pros-perity. Just as Victorian parliaments stinted onthe size ofthe British army, forcing reliance onregiments raised in India, so too our Congresswill never provide enough uniformed person-nel to address every perceived need. Indeed,demands on the United States are so numerousand elastic that even if we did have far more re-sources, calls for intervention would still growfaster than we could handle them. Thus, in alllikelihood, we will continue to muddle alongwith a mixture of private and public providersof security services.

    G iven that reality, the imperative is notto vilify contractors, as so many havedone, but to figure out how to get bettervalue out of them. It is scandalous that onlyin 2008, after five years of war in Iraq, wasthe first contractor convicted of a crimeanIraqi-Canadian translatot who stabbed a col-league. By contrast, hundreds of soldiers havebeen court-martialed, and there is no reasonto think that contractors are better behavedthan their uniformed counterpartsquitethe opposite.

    The problem is that contractors operate ina gray area ofthe law. Until the conclusion ofthe U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement inlate 2008, they enjoyed immunity from pros-ecution under Iraqi law. That was just as well,given the corruption and limited capacity ofIraqi courts in the immediate post-Saddamperiod. But it is not clear to what extent theycan be held liable under U.S. law, especiallywhen they often operate under Byzantinesubcontracting arrangements that obscuretheir relationship with the U.S. government,the ultimate paymaster. Congress has passed

    legislation to specify that contractors fallwithin the Uniform Code of Military Jus-tice as well as civilian law (the Military Ex-traterritorial Jurisdiction Act), but there arequestions about whether these provisions willwithstand legal scrutiny. In addition, theteare obvious difficulties in conducting inves-tigations and prosecutions in the middle of awar zone.

    If we can impose justice on soldiers, how-ever, there is no reason we cannot impose it oncontractors as well. Congress and the Execu-tive Branch need to devote greater resources tothis taskand not only in high-profile casessuch as the Baghdad shootings by Blackwater.One way to do this would be to pass legisla-tion that was approved by the House in 2007but never voted on in the Senate. This bill, au-thored by Congressman David Price (D-NC),would have made it easier to prosecute contrac-tors in Federal courts and would have createdan in-theater team of FBI agents to investigatepossible abuses. Among its co-sponsors wasthen-Senator Barack Obama, who could nowmount a renewed push for such legislation asPresident.

    Beyond punishing private personnel formisconduct, we need to do a better job of in-tegrating them with military units. Coordina-tion has improved in the past few years, butmore still needs to be done. Malcolm Nance, aveteran intelligence operative who has workedas a contractor in Iraq, made an intriguing sug-gestion in Small Wars Journal: Create a "forceprotection command" within the U.S. mili-tary that would be responsible for overseeingcontractor operations. The details need to beworked out, but this could be a way to makecontractors more responsive to the militarychain of command.

    Another way to enhance accountabilitywould be simply to put contractors into U.S.military uniforms. Most American contractorsare aiready veterans, but a change in Depart-ment of Defense regulations wouid be neces-sary to enroll their foreign counterparts. ThePentagon has already launched a trial programto enlist a thousand foreigners who have vitallinguistic or medical skills that are in shortsupply in the force today. It would make senseto expand this effort to sign up more foreign

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNE) 2009 41

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    recruits (even those with no prior military ex-perience) who would be willing to serve for aset period in return for one ofthe world s mostprecious commodities: American citizenship.We could even create a "Freedom Legion",made up of foreign-born recruits led by Amer-ican officers and NCOs, on the model oftheFrench Foreign Legion. Such an organizationmight raise some hackles, but it would be less"mercenary" and more accountable than thelegions of contractors currently hired on an adhoc basis.

    If we manage to increase their accountabil-ity, we can think about employing contractorscreatively in some areas where we may not wantto send our own troops. Think of Darfur, a hu-manitarian tragedy that has consumed an esti-mated 200,000 lives. An African Union peace-keeping force proved ineffective, and its UnitedNations successor has not done any better. Yetthere is scant chance that the United Statesor our NATO allies will send troops or evenwarplanes to provide air cover. There simplydoesn't seem to be enough ofa national inter-est to justify a potentially costly commitment,especially at a time when we are fighting majorwars elsewhere. So does that mean we shouldstand by and let the genocide proceed unabat-ed? Should we limit our response to passing in-effectual United Nations resolutions? Not nec-essarily. Blackwater has publicly offered to stopthe killing for a relatively modest price. Thereis little doubt that private security firms thatemploy veterans from the top Western militar-ies could accomplish this task mote effectivelythan any force of blue helmets drawn primarilyfrom ragtag Third World militaries. So why nothire them? That idea, which IVe been pushingfor a few years, has been endorsed by no less aneminence than the liberal political philosopherMichael Walzer.-'

    This proposal is stymied in part by its ownnovelty and in part by the prevalence of anti-mercenary prejudices. Some of these concerns,admittedly, are justified. Even if their exploitswere romanticized in such movies as The WildGeese (1978) and The Dogs o/U^^r (1980), "MadMike" Hoare, Bob Denard and other Western

    - Walzer, "Mercenary Impulse", New Republic,March 12,2008.

    soldiers of fortune in the post-colonial era gavetheir trade a bad name in Africa. More recentlya group of mercenaries led by Simon Mann, aformer British SAS officer and co-founder ofSandline, has been imprisoned on charges ofplotting a coup in the oil-rich nation of Fqua-torial Guinea. But while mercenaries have acheckered record in Africa, so do United Na-tions peacekeepers. The blue helmets have beenaccused of sex crimes against children, corrup-tion and other abuses for which they have re-ceived little if any punishment. A private com-pany could actually be held to a higher standardsimply by inserting language into the contractthat would give the International CriminalCourt or a national criminal court jurisdictionover its actions.

    Preferably such a force would be dis-patched by the United Nations; failing that,by NATO, the African Union or some otherinternational organization; and if that doesn'twork out, by an individual country or groupof countries. In theory, if the legal issues couldbe resolved, even a private citizen such as BillCates or George Soros could hire a force toprotect Darfur. (A possible precedent is RossPerots hiring of mercenaries in 1979 to smug-gle his employees out of revolutionary Iran.)That might, in fact, be one ofthe most use-ful acts of chariry that anyone could perform.Would sending mercenaries to Darfur be theideal outcome? Of course not. Would it be"democratic"? Again, no. But it would be bet-ter than nothing.

    However uncomfortable mercenaries maymake us feel, we need to accept that they havealways been with us and always will be. Wecan't eliminate them, and stigmatizing themserves no purpose. So we need to focus on howto make better use of them. If history is anyguide, they can perform exemplary service un-der the right circumstances.

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    Jrg Friedrichs& Cornelius Friesendorf:Privatized security cripples state-building; Iraq is a case in point.

    Despite the soaring rhetoric of state-building during the presidency ofGeorge W. Bush, state-wrecking is abetter description of what the Administrationactually did. State-wrecking followed differ-ent trajectories in different countries. The onlycommon thread among them over the pasteight years was their sheer inadvertence. Underthe Taliban in the late 1990s, Afghanistan hadsomething resembling a state for the first timesince the Soviet invasion in 1979. Since the oust-er of the Taliban, the emergence of an effectiveAfghan state has proved frustratingly elusive.In Somalia, after 15 years of failed statehood,there were signs in 2006 that the Islamic CourtsUnion might establish control over significantparts of the country. But this was thwarted bya U.S.-backed Ethiopian intervention force. Al-though there arguably were good political rea-sons for military intervention in both cases, therhetoric of state-building is nonetheless beliedby the unwitting reality of state-wrecking.

    But the most daunting case of Bush Admin-istration state-wrecking is Iraq. The countryused to be an autocratic state, and a nasty oneat that. Now, however, despite the hopefulnessengendered by a reasonably successful electionthis past January, it is a state most likely headedtoward systemic failure.

    There are several reasons for pessimismabout Iraqs future. The Iraqi state encompassesa deeply divided society that has historicallybeen held together only by a combination ofruthless leadership and, during its Hashemiteera, a trans-sectarian religious authority. Butthen the U.S.-led military intervention decapi-tated the Ba'ath regime, and an overambitiousbut understaffed occupation regime that stroveofficially to transform Iraq into a functioningdemocracy has instead created a power vacu-um that is still unfilled. A key reason for thisvacuum is that the effort to restore the Webe-rian public monopoly over the legitimate use offorce has been obstructed by various forms ofsecurity privatization.'

    In Iraq, the United States has done both toolittle and too much. It did too little when itfailed early on to employ soldiers for law enforce-ment tasks that smacked of policing. It did toomuch when it disbanded the existing Iraqi armyand police. Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and Af-ghanistan offer clear lessons on the need to closeo

    public security gaps immediately after war. Se-curity forces familiar with the local terrain areneeded to protect minorities from attack andshopkeepers from looting. They ate needed toarrest war criminals and representatives of theold regime looking for revenge and self-interestedrestitution. They are needed to fight organizedcrime newly emboldened by the chaotic environ-ment in which they suddenly find themselves. Ifdomestic forces are not available or reliable, in-ternational forces must substitute for them, lestthe spoilers of peace become entrenched and in-cipient state institutions fail to gain legitimacy.

    This failure to establish order and authorityin Iraq was compounded by the delegation ofpublic tasks to private actors, including a deliber-ate U.S. occupation policy of military outsourc-ing. Although the exact number of contractorsin Iraq is unknown, in March 2006 the PrivateSecurity Company Association of Iraq estimatedthe number of private security contractors to bemore than 48,000. Whatever the precise figure,it is clear that military outsourcing in Iraq hasdwarfed all previous cases. Private contractorshave constituted the largest deployment exceptfor the U.S. military itself, outnumbering thetroops provided by all non-U.S. partners in theallied Coalition combined.

    The main reaction of Iraqis to the destruc-tion and privatization of public security hasbeen to retreat behind the ramparts of com-munal life, with tribal militias and local pro-tection rackets providing what Coalition forcesand Iraqi state institutions have been unableto deliver. With the occupation regime un-derstaffed, previous security forces disbandedand many core military functions outsourced,ordinary Iraqis have been forced into the tu-telage of local sheikhs. As a result, U.S. policyhas unwittingly strengthened armed tribalismand private armies based mote often than not

    'See David Isenberg, Shadow Force: Private Secu-

    rity Contractors in Iraq (Praeger, 2008).

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNE) 2009 43

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERia

    on sectarian affiliation. To havedone this in a country as hetero-geneous as Iraq is to have kickedthe struts out from any hope ofreassembling a unitary state onthe basis of anything other thanbrute force.

    Rather than see the strength-ening of tribalism and armed re-ligion as a problem, U.S. policy-makers and pundits have insteadtouted the virtues of the "Sonsof Iraq", the tribal-based "SunniAwakening" and other forcesthat have recently created a rela-tive sense of order. These localmilitias, armed and, until early2009, financed by the UnitedStates, have stemmed the tide ofal-Qaeda and checked sectarianviolence, true enough. Unfor-tunately, the positive effects ofthese policies may be short-livedand the blowback from themmassive. Iraq's tribal and religious forces maybecome the raw materials for an all-out civilwar once U.S. forces are drawn down beyonda capacity to exert political control. Some ofthem could wel! become the warlords or terror-ists of tomorrow.

    If we see the situation in Iraq from the widerperspective of state-wrecking, private securitycompanies (PSCs) such as Blackwaterwhichhas recently changed its name to Xe in an appar-ent effort at image spinningare an importantpart ofthe problem. But their presence is ephem-eral; most of their employees will withdraw inparallel with U.S. troops. The real problem isthat they will leave a country packed with localprotection rackets organized hy tribal or religiousstrongmen. Communal force inspired by a mixof tribalism and rent-seeking behavior may wellturn out to be the most enduring legacy of Oper-ation Iraqi Freedom, and it is likely to shape thefuture o the country for many years to come.

    S ecurity outsourcing is a Faustian bargain forthe United States as a global power. Withmultiple international engagements, the UnitedStates is overstretched. In such a situation, theavailability of contractors enhances deployment

    ftetrter

    A security contractor in Iraq stands in front of a monumentat a mass grave of Saddam Hussein's victims.

    capacity. Had it not been for contractors, theBush Administration would have been forcedto further increase the number of regular forcesor National Guard and Reserve troops, to con-vince Coalition members to provide more sol-diers, or to reinstate the military draft. Withoutprivate contractors, the U.S. military presencein Iraq would not have been sustainable. ThePentagon has therefore welcomed private con-tractors as force multipliers.

    Outsourcing also offers the U.S. military theadvantage of plausible deniability when thingsgo wrong. While soldiers operate under a clearchain of command, contractors operate undermurky subconrracting schemes. According toBlackwater President Gary Jackson, some con-tracts are so secret that the company can't tellone Federal agency about the business it is do-ing with another agency.^ Outsourcing has alsomade it possible to hide the true costs of war.Even the total cost to the U.S. government ofprivate security services in Iraq is unknown. Yetanother advantage is that private contractorstend to make headlines only when they kill or

    Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater (Nation Books,2007), pp. 47,261.

    44 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    are killed under exceptional circumstances.These "advantages" notwithstanding, secu-

    rity outsourcing carries many problems. Asidefrom obvious questions about constitutionalchecks and balances and legal transparency,outsourcing does not necessarily save money.The theory is that outsourcing is economicalbecause contractors can be hired and fired atconvenience, without long-term payments forsocial security plans and professional develop-ment. The reality is that their rates are highwhen compared with public sector employees.Indeed, in many cases contractors are formerpublic employees, repackaged by private em-ployers and offered at a higher price.

    Besides, "value for money" has not been themain criterion for awarding contracts in Iraq,with Halliburton providing the most infamousexample. Its employees were allowed, amongother privileges, to stay at the luxurious KuwaitHilton Hotel at a rate of about $300,000 permonth.^ As Peter Singer puts it:

    Success is likely only if a contract is com-peted for on the open market, if the winningfirm can specialize on the job and build inredundancies, if the client is able to provideoversight and management to guard its owninterests, and if the contractor is properly mo-tivated by the fear of being fired. Forget thesesimple rules, as the U.S. government oftendoes, and the result is not the best of privati-zation but the worst of monopolization.

    Outsourcing has also had a detrimental im-pact on the perceived legitimacy of the UnitedStates as a global power. On several occasions,private contractors have violated human rightswith impunityat Abu Ghraib prison, for ex-ample. Neither U.S. civilian nor military au-thorities have charged any contractors for abus-es in the prison (while more than a dozen U.S.soldiers have been punished). In September2007, Blackwater employees protecting StateDepartment staff killed 17 civilians at NisourSquare, but only in December 2008, afterpublic outrage, did the U.S. government bringcharges against five ofthe contractors. Not justIraqis but non-U.S. nationals all over the worldknow this. This certainly does no good to thereputation of the United States as a just and

    compassionate power. On the contrary, it leviesa heavy soft-power cost.

    Outsourcing also has significant conse-quences for the U.S. military. In theory,it allows soldiers to focus on core military tasks.Indeed, contractors in Iraq have served meals,washed clothes, cleaned cars and performedmany other tasks that require no military train-ing. Again: sounds good in theory, but in prac-tice it is different. Coalition forces have also re-lied on private contractors for activities close tothe core of military tasks. During the invasion in2003, private contractors maintained and loadedweapons systems as critical as the B-2 stealthbomber and Apache helicopters and helped op-erate the Navy's Aegis missile defense system andother sophisticated combat technology. Sincethen, they have gathered intelligence, handledde-mining, secured key locations and headquar-ters, protected critical infrastructure, escortedconvoys, worked as bodyguards, and continuedto maintain and operate weapons systems.

    In 2005, an estimated 6,000 foreign con-tractors were involved in armed operations.Escorting convoys, which has been particularlydangerous, became a core business for privatecontractors. Even Paul Bremer, the head oftheCoalition Provisional Authority (CPA), reliedon personal protection from Blackwater. Al-though contractors are officially barred fromlaunching offensive operations and other coremilitary tasks, in many cases contractor forceshave taken part in combat.

    The contractors themselves do not relishthis fact, for it threatens to pin the dreaded label"mercenary" on them. They strive to distancethemselves from the "dogs of war" of times past,but the Iraq experience has more often than notclosed that distance. It certainly doesn't helpwhen British contractors return from their du-ties in Iraq to write adventure books with luridtitles such as Making a Killing (2007) or TheBoys Jrom Bagdad: From the Foreign Le^on tothe Killing Fields of Iraq (2009).

    Robert Borosage, Eric Lotke and RobertGerson, War Profiteers (Campaign for Amer-ica's Future, 2006).

    Singer, "Outsourcing War", Foreign Affairs(March/April 2005).

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNE) 2009 45

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    Security outsourcing has not always madethe life of military commanders in Iraq easier,either. They have at times gotten bogged downin complex contractual and costing issues. Alack of clarity about the roles and obligationsof contractors has increased their planning bur-dens and often complicated the implementa-tion of operations. In July 2007, retired Cen-eral Barry McCaffrey testified before Congressthat military outsourcing had turned the U.S.logistics system into a "house of cards." Troopmorale in Iraq, too, has reportedly been under-mined by the fact that contractors are often paidmore than soldiers performing similar rasks.Furthermore, outsourcing drains the military'spersonnel resources, particularly for elite forces.Many have left the Army to work for PSCs. Asone former marine put it, "the Corps was an all-expenses-paid training ground to graduate meinto the private sector."^ The outsourcing phe-nomenon thus generates a bidding contest ofsorts. To improve retention rates, military plan-ners must offer better financial and educationalincentives. The taxpayer pays the tab.

    The unpopularity of private contractorsamong Iraqis is yet another serious problem,although it is hardly surprising given the inad-equacies in their vetting and selection processes.Contractors operating in Iraq have included intheir ranks, among others, veterans from repres-sive regimes and special forces dropouts or ex-pellees. Since the success of counterinsurgencyhinges on winning "hearts and minds", it doesnthelp when private contractors that give the ap-pearance of having been "made in the USA" be-have like obnoxious bullies. Iraqis learned quick-ly that private contractors are virtually immunefrom prosecution and so are far more likely thanU.S. soldiers to shoot at you if you run away ordisplay any suspicious movement.

    At first glance, private contractors seem to bethe biggest winners of military outsourcing,but that depends on how you look at it. Thanksto cronyism, the owners and top managers ofsome PSCs have gained enormous power andwealth, making it tempting to speak of theirrole in Iraq as the "Coalition of the Billing", asSinger puts it. But fmancial gains have been un-evenly distributed. U.S. agencies have pumpedbillions of dollars into the coffers of a few large

    companies, while smaller companies have hadto compete for the scraps of less lucrative con-tracts. Rank-and-file salaries are aiso unevenlydistributed. The best salaries are paid to formerU.S. and British special forces operators, whileotherwise comparable contractors from ThirdWorld countries get less. The lowest rates go tolocally hired Iraqis. (About a quarter of securitycontractors in Iraq have come from the devel-oped world, another quarter from developingcountries, and about half have been Iraqis.)

    Military outsourcing also leads to a re-allocation of personal risks from employers toemployees. Profit logic dictates "cutting cor-ners" to lower costs. This leaves contractors in avulnerable position when in harms way. By thefall of 2008, almost 1,300 contractors {armedand unarmed) had lost their lives in Iraq sincethe invasion, while almost 10,000 had beenwounded.^ Risks are high not least becausemilitary personnel do not feel as obliged to res-cue contractors as they do their fellow soldiers.

    But the biggest losers already, and into thefuture, are bound to be Iraqis. Due to thefailure of the occupying powers to establishpublic order, Iraqi society has experienced a cat-astrophic trifurcation. Those who are wealthyenough can purchase a modicum of security inthe emerging private market; those with accessto social networks have become clients of localsheikhs and their milirias; those excluded fromboth wealth and social networks either live inpermanent danger or have become refugees inJordan, Syria or internally in Iraq.

    The Iraqi elite have had the largest numberof choices. Until recently, many found refuge inthe heavily fortified Creen Zone. The inhabit-ants of this huge gated community, also called"The Bubble", were emotionally and physicallyseparated from the rest ofthe population. Oth-ers bought private protection, living in heavilyguarded fortresses that they only leave when ac-companied by a convoy of armed bodyguards.

    ^Quoted in Orviile Schell, "Baghdad: The Be-sieged Press", New York Review of Books, April

    6, 2006.

    ^"Iraq: Key Figures since the War Began", Associat-

    ed Press, March 3, 2009; Peter W. Singer, "Out-

    sourcing the Fight", Forbes, May 6, 2008.

    46 THE AMERICAN INTEREST

  • THE MERCENARY DEBATE

    Both choices have played into the hands of in-surgents and terrorists, whose goal has been toprevent the forging of bonds between "collabo-rators" and the rest ofthe Iraqi population.

    These choices have also significantly re-tarded the building of Iraqi national securityinstitutions. Due to the increased demand forhigh-end security services, it is not surprisingthat Iraqis trained for military service preferemployment in commercial security to join-ing the Iraqi military or police. This is likelyto get worse, not better. To fill the void afterthe withdrawal of the international militaryand contractor presence, the indigenous privatesecurity industry is likely to grow. Internationaloil companies, fiercely competing to tap theworld's third-largest oil reserve, will be amongthe main customers.

    The situation is similar for tribal militias.Since 2007, when Sunni militias were put onthe payroll of the U.S. government under thelabel of "Concerned Local Citizens" (later re-named "Sons of Iraq"), these deputized localprotection rackets ran their own prisons andarmies inside neighborhoods surrounded byhigh concrete walls. Now the Iraqi governmentis taking control ofthe "Sons of Iraq" from Co-alition forces. A fifth is to join the Iraqi mili-tary and police, while the othet four-fifths havebeen promised other government jobs. Howev-er, when Coalition forces leave, many "Sons ofIraq" will stick to their guns and vie for moneyand power. They will compete for the controlof streets and neighborhoods, and they will beready to turn against central authorities if thatproves more advantageous than working withthem.' Coalition policy will have set the stagefor gang warfare on a national scale.

    In the meantime, Iraqis who have neitherthe means to purchase commercial security norprotection ftom local strongmen suffer morefrom bombings, sniper attacks and raids. In-sofar as security depends on access to financialresources or social networks, the poor and mar-ginalized will remain trapped in a desperate sit-uation. Outside fortified areas of privilege, lifein Iraq will be very cheap.

    The privatization of security in Iraq also ham-pers the operations of NGOs, independentmedia and small investors. These non-state stabi-

    lizers have all been caught in the same dilemma:Since they cannot rely on Iraqi police or militaryforces to protect thetn, they must play the samegame as the Iraqi elite. That means they have tospend scarce resources on security, tough it out,or pull out. Hiring private protection can devourmore than half an NGO's budget, and it placesa barrier between NGOs and their clients. It alsosends a signal that somebody in the oi^nizationis important enough to be kidnapped or killed.The Iraqi "collaborators" protecting expatriatestaff become additional targets. Yet renouncingprivate protection is not a viable option. Variouscharitable workers have paid with their lives fortrying to do so. Many NGOs have left Iraq, whileothers have never entered the country. Whateverthey choose, NGOs are damned if they do anddamned if they don't.

    The situation is likely to remain even moredifficult for journalists. The dismal security sit-uation and cost of private security have drivenmany journalists out of Iraq or prevented themfrom entering the country in the first place. Asa result, the public has had to rely on fewer andfewer information sources. High levels of vio-lence have put large media outlets at an advan-tage. One journalist, describing the situationin 2006, wrote that news bureaus in Baghdad

    were

    fortified installations with their own mini-

    armies of private guards on duty twcnry-four

    hours a day at the gates, in watch towers, and

    around perimeters. To reach these bureaus,

    one has to tun through a maze of checkpoints,

    armed guards, blast-wall fortifications, and

    concertina-wired no-man s lands where all vis-

    itors and their cars are repeatedly searched.^

    Although the situation has improved, dramaticand serious journalistic work is still very dan-gerous in Iraq. According to the Committeeto Protect Journalists, 11 ofthe 41 journalistskilled on duty during 2008 died in Iraq (downfrom 32 out of56 in 2006).

    Small investors are also having a hard time.Those unable or unwilling to afford protection

    ''See Steven Simon, "The Price ofthe Surge", For-eign Affairs (May/June 2008).

    Schell, "Baghdad."

    SUMMER (MAY/JUNK) 2009 47

  • NATION-BUILDING IN AMERICA

    by private firms or local militias have been mar-ginalized. An entrepreneur in Baghdad com-plained in May 2007 that, in order to start a proj-ect in a neighborhood controlled by the MahdiArmy of Muqtada al-Sadr, he first had to paythe Sadrists.** The reconstruction of Iraq has thusbeen dominated by a few large firms. Iraq's maininfrastructure provider, Bechtel, has receivedprotection from DLS and its parent companyArmorGroup. General Electric has used the ser-vices of Olive Security and Custer Battles. Eri-nys provided most ofthe 14,000 armed guardswho protected oil wells in 2004. Although thisincreases costs, large companies (typically in theextractive and construction sectors) can live andeven thrive under such conditions. For smallerfirms, however, security costs, and thus produc-tion costs, have become prohibitively expensive.Competition is thereby limited. This is problem-atic not only because it affects consumer pricesand the competitiveness of the Iraqi economy,but also because the displacement of small- andmedium-sized enterprises has endangered socialdevelopment and economic growth.

    For the aspirant Iraqi state, private and com-munal security is thus a double-edged sword.It alleviates short-term pressure, but it forestallsthe emergence of an effective public monopoly offorce. Many of the most capable personnel joinmilitias or the private sector, sending the wrongsignal to Iraqis: namely, that loyalty is owed notto the country but to whomever can pay a de-cent salary. It thus foils efforts to establish a le-gitimate public monopoly of force in Iraq. Theemergence of viable national political institutionsis extremely unlikely under such circumstances.While states are supposed to protect citizens nomatter their financial and political clout, privatesecurity companies and local sheikhs protect se-lectively. Communal force is particularly prob-lematic in that sooner or later the empowermentof local strongmen is bound to ignite further sec-tarian and internecine violence. Supporting com-mercial security and local sheikhs encourages theillusion ofthe quick fix at the expense of sustain-able state- and nation-building.

    "See International Crisis Group, "Iraq's Civil War,The Sadrists and the Surge", Middle East Re-port. February 7, 2008.

    On balance, therefore, the consequences ofprivate and communal force in Iraq have beennegative. There are more losers than winners inthe short term, the advantages ate highly debat-able, and, except for a few interested individuals,there are no long-term winners. Short-term win-ners have included the Bush Administration,the bigger PSCs, lai^e companies in the extrac-tive and construction sectors, tribal leaders andother strongmen, and insurgents thriving onsocial disintegration. Losers include U.S. andallied military commanders, who are boggeddown by the need to interpret contorted sub-contracting schemes and are deprived of quali-fied personnel; common people living in Iraq;humanitarian workers; independent journalists;small investors unable or unwilling to pay forprivate security; and Iraqi institutions grapplingto establish a public monopoly of force.

    Advocates of military outsourcing like topoint to recent changes In Iraq that allegedlycorrect past errors. In June 2008, a private con-tractor was convicted by a U.S. military courtunder the Uniform Code of Military Justice foroffenses committed in Iraq. This is the first timesince Vietnam that a non-member ofthe armedforces has been prosecuted under military law.And last year's revisions to the Status of ForcesAgreement mean that employees of companiessuch as Xe, ne Blackwater, may lose their im-munity from prosecution by Iraqi courts.

    None of this will solve the basic problemsinherent in outsourcing security, however. Thebest solution is the determination not to rely onprivate force in a war zone. If that requires alarger military, so be it. If that requires insteadthe United States to scale back its commitmentsand aspirations, so be it. But one way or an-other, matters need to be brought into balance,for private security contracting simply does notsuffice as a way to avoid the hard choices. Itsbenefits are either specious or fleeting, and itscosts are massive and manifest. Of all the les-sons ofthe Iraq war, this is perhaps the clearestone of all. iv

    Jrg Friedrichs is assistant professor at the Depart-ment of International Development at the Univer-sity of Oxford. Cornelius Friesendorf is fellow atthe Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control ofArmed Forces (DCAF).

    48 THE AMERICAN INTEREST