Monday, October 22, 2007

The Perfect Pair?: Using Military Contractors For Humanitarian Missions

Private military contractors (PMC’s) have become an integral part of the Iraqi war effort. Contractors have also been blamed for impeding the war effort; military firm Blackwater USA has been involved in several shooting incidents that resulted in the Iraqi government calling for their removal, and Army general are even callingA the presence of private security firms counterproductive. According to Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution contractors are hated in Iraq and represent a negative factor to the US presence and the overall mission. “The US government needs to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate its use of private military contractors,” said Singer who has studied the private military industry for over a decade. Compounding the industry’s negative image is the fact that the business of war has never been so profitable; current estimates are that the private security industry reaps about $100 billion a year. (peace activist, right)

On the flip side are peace activists and human rights groups that have worked tirelessly to inform the world about the genocide occurring in troubled areas like Darfur. But full knowledge of Darfur’s dark secrets has done very little to spur the global community into action. Some international observers feel that only a well-armed peacekeeping force can effectively end the violence. But so far the US and NATO have chosen not to become militarily involved. Since the world’s nations have failed to stop the bloodshed in Darfur as well as past conflicts in countries like Rwanda and Somalia, could the answer to the peacekeepers’ prayers be in a grizzled, gun-for-hire mercenary? (private contractor, left)

Sending troops is not only an expensive venture, it can also be politically damaging to nations deploying armed forces. When soldiers are killed during a mission, the peacekeeping force is often withdrawn before any meaningful negotiations can take place. In the case of Rwanda, most of the 2,500 member force withdrew after ten Belgian soldiers were killed. The genocide continued unabated and the body count mounted to an estimated 800,000. Similarly in Somalia, the Clinton administration decided to withdraw American troops soon after eighteen soldiers were killed in Mogadishu. Private contractors on the other hand have no political ties to a particular nation and would likely not draw public backlash if violence ensued during the course of the peacekeeping mission. Deborah Avant, director of the Institute for Global and International Studies at George Washington University, wrote that ““”it is politically less costly to field private security contractors. Private contractors are seen to be working for profit, of their own choice, and sending them abroad is not held to the same standard than sending national troops, working for their country.” PMC’s can also deploy more quickly than the US military because political bureaucracy does not tie them down. This means a heavily armed force can rapidly stop violence when it flairs up and stay as long as need be, or as long as they are paid. (private contractor in helicopter in Iraq, below left)

Blackwater USA even proposed sending a small rapid-response force to places like the Sudan. Chris Taylor, the firm’s vice president, was quoted in the “Boston Globe” as saying “When traditional peacekeepers can’t provide an adequate response because of their home country obligations, there’s an alternative that should be openly and frankly discussed.” The idea was rejected by UN undersecretary general Kofi Annan. But sooner or later the humanitarian community must realize that relying on military support from more powerful nations has failed to stop some of worst violence in modern times. Using PMC’s to help solve humanitarian crises is of course not a magic or even glamorous solution. As security firms in Iraq have shown, there is serious accountability and legal issues that need to be addressed (see my previous post). Contractors need to follow clearly established rules of engagement and be punished when they are negligently broken. Also, while the contractors’ main goal is profit, the overall mission should be peace. For this reason the international community and the UN should be in charge of the peacekeeping mission, ensuring the PMC’s are doing their part to save lives and minimize violence, not spread it. Private contractors should not be used offensively but deployed solely for security in order to minimize bloodshed and give negotiators time to establish a lasting peaceful solution.

1 comment:

DCS said...

I believe your post is very well written. I think that the overall idea of finding a way to cut down on the violence and killing is a good idea. Now I'm not sure that I am understanding the whole idea of contractors versus soldiers but it seems that contractors are seen more neutral than a soldier. Your statement,"Private contractors on the other have no political ties to a particular nation and would likely not draw public backlash if violence ensued during the course of the peacekeeping mission" to me makes sense in the way that if these representatives try to negotiate without representing any one given country they can have a better chance to make a negotiation. I feel that sometimes countries hesitate to negotiate with other countries because they don't want to feel like they are giving in. The whole notion of power and who is mightier I think has a big role in the deals that are successfully implemented. I think that it is a good idea to have these PMC's work to protect human rights in these various countries through negotiations because it may turn out to be more effective than having a country like the United States engage in war with a country to "protect civilian rights." Over all I liked your post. I think that your posts are relevant because they deal with issues that people don't take the time to become aware of.

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