Monday, April 04, 2005

Outsourcing War

By P. W. SINGER From the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs
The world's most dominant military has become increasingly reliant on private military firms (the Pentagon has entered into more than 3,000 such contracts over the last decade), the industry and its clientele are not just American. Private military companies have operated in more than 50 nations, on every continent but Antarctica. European militaries, which lack the means to transport and support their forces overseas, are now greatly dependent on PMFs for such functions. To get to Afghanistan, European troops relied on a Ukrainian firm that, under a contract worth more than $100 million, ferried them there in former Soviet jets. The British military, following in the Pentagon's footsteps, has begun to contract out its logistics to Halliburton.

“The tales of war, profit, honor, and greed that emerge from the private military industry often read like something out of a Hollywood screenplay. They range from action-packed stories of guns-for-hire fighting off swarms of insurgents in Iraq to the sad account of a private military air crew languishing in captivity in Colombia, abandoned by their corporate bosses in the United States. A recent African "rent-a-coup" scandal involved the son of a former British prime minister, and accusations of war profiteering have reached into the halls of the White House itself.

Incredible as these stories often sound, the private military industry is no fiction. Private companies are becoming significant players in conflicts around the world, supplying not merely the goods but also the services of war. Although recent well-publicized incidents from Abu Ghraib to Zimbabwe have shone unaccustomed light onto this new force in warfare, private military firms (PMFs) remain a poorly understood--and often unacknowledged--phenomenon. Mystery, myth, and conspiracy theory surround them, leaving policymakers and the public in positions of dangerous ignorance. Many key questions remain unanswered, including, What is this industry and where did it come from? What is its role in the United States' largest current overseas venture, Iraq? What are the broader implications of that role? And how should policymakers respond? Only by developing a better understanding of this burgeoning industry can governments hope to get a proper hold on this newly powerful force in foreign policy. If they fail, the consequences for policy and democracy could be deeply destructive.

PMFs are businesses that provide governments with professional services intricately linked to warfare; they represent, in other words, the corporate evolution of the age-old profession of mercenaries. Unlike the individual dogs of war of the past, however, PMFs are corporate bodies that offer a wide range of services, from tactical combat operations and strategic planning to logistical support and technical assistance.

The modern private military industry emerged at the start of the 1990s, driven by three dynamics: the end of the Cold War, transformations in the nature of warfare that blurred the lines between soldiers and civilians, and a general trend toward privatization and outsourcing of government functions around the world. These three forces fed into each other. When the face-off between the United States and the Soviet Union ended, professional armies around the world were downsized. At the same time, increasing global instability created a demand for more troops. Warfare in the developing world also became messier--more chaotic and less professional--involving forces ranging from warlords to child soldiers, while Western powers became more reluctant to intervene. Meanwhile, advanced militaries grew increasingly reliant on off-the-shelf commercial technology, often maintained and operated by private firms. And finally, many governments succumbed to an ideological trend toward the privatization of many of their functions; a whole raft of former state responsibilities--including education, policing, and the operation of prisons--were turned over to the marketplace.

Nowhere has the role of PMFs been more integral--and more controversial--than in Iraq. Not only is Iraq now the site of the single largest U.S. military commitment in more than a decade; it is also the marketplace for the largest deployment of PMFs and personnel ever. More than 60 firms currently employ more than 20,000 private personnel there to carry out military functions (these figures do not include the thousands more that provide nonmilitary reconstruction and oil services)--roughly the same number as are provided by all of the United States' coalition partners combined.

The PMFs that arose as a result are not all alike, nor do they all offer the exact same services. The industry is divided into three basic sectors: military provider firms (also known as "private security firms"), which offer tactical military assistance, including actual combat services, to clients; military consulting firms, which employ retired officers to provide strategic advice and military training; and military support firms, which provide logistics, intelligence, and maintenance services to armed forces, allowing the latter's soldiers to concentrate on combat and reducing their government's need to recruit more troops or call up more reserves.

Although the world's most dominant military has become increasingly reliant on PMFs (the Pentagon has entered into more than 3,000 such contracts over the last decade), the industry and its clientele are not just American. Private military companies have operated in more than 50 nations, on every continent but Antarctica. For example, European militaries, which lack the means to transport and support their forces overseas, are now greatly dependent on PMFs for such functions. To get to Afghanistan, European troops relied on a Ukrainian firm that, under a contract worth more than $100 million, ferried them there in former Soviet jets. And the British military, following in the Pentagon's footsteps, has begun to contract out its logistics to Halliburton.”

President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" might thus be more aptly described as the "coalition of the billing."

…Nowhere has the role of PMFs been more integral--and more controversial--than in Iraq. Not only is Iraq now the site of the single largest U.S. military commitment in more than a decade; it is also the marketplace for the largest deployment of PMFs and personnel ever. More than 60 firms currently employ more than 20,000 private personnel there to carry out military functions (these figures do not include the thousands more that provide nonmilitary reconstruction and oil services)--roughly the same number as are provided by all of the United States' coalition partners combined. President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" might thus be more aptly described as the "coalition of the billing."

The wide scope of critical jobs that contractors are now carrying out is far more extensive in Iraq than in past wars. From war-gaming and field training U.S. troops before the invasion, to logistics and support during the war's buildup, we've become completely dependent on contractors.

“The massive U.S. complex at Camp Doha in Kuwait, which served as the launch pad for the invasion, was not only built by a PMF but also operated and guarded by one. During the invasion, contractors maintained and loaded many of the most sophisticated U.S. weapons systems, such as B-2 stealth bombers and Apache helicopters. They even helped operate combat systems such as the Army's Patriot missile batteries and the Navy's Aegis missile-defense system.

PMFs--ranging from well-established companies such as Vinnell and mpri to startups such as the South African firm Erinys International--have played an even greater role in the postinvasion occupation and counterinsurgency effort. Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root division, the largest corporate PMF in Iraq, currently provides supplies for troops and maintenance for equipment under a contract thought to be worth as much as $13 billion. (This figure, in current dollars, is roughly two and a half times what the United States paid to fight the entire 1991 Persian Gulf War, and roughly the same as what it spent to fight the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish-American War combined.) Other PMFs are helping to train local forces, including the new Iraqi army and national police, and are playing a range of tactical military roles.

An estimated 6,000 non-Iraqi private contractors currently carry out armed tactical functions in the country. These individuals are sometimes described as "security guards," but they are a far cry from the rent-a-cops who troll the food courts of U.S. shopping malls. In Iraq, their jobs include protecting important installations, such as corporate enclaves, U.S. facilities, and the Green Zone in Baghdad; guarding key individuals (Ambassador Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, was protected by a Blackwater team that even had its own armed helicopters); and escorting convoys, a particularly dangerous task thanks to the frequency of roadside ambushes and bombings by the insurgents.

PMFs, in other words, 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. But they have also been involved in some of the most controversial aspects of the war, including alleged corporate profiteering and abuse of Iraqi prisoners.…”

The question of profit in a military context.

The incentives of a private company do not always align with its clients' interests--or the public good. In an ideal world, this problem could be kept in check through proper management and oversight; in reality, such scrutiny is often absent.

The question of lost control.

Even when contractors do military jobs, they remain private businesses and thus fall outside the military chain of command and justice systems. PMFs retain a choice over which contracts they will take and can abandon or suspend operations if they become too dangerous or unprofitable; their employees, unlike soldiers, can always choose to walk off the job. 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. At other times, PMF employees endured greater risks and dangers than their military counterparts.

There are insufficient controls over who can work for these firms and for whom these firms can work.

The recruiting, screening, and hiring of individuals for public military roles is left in private hands. In Iraq, this problem was magnified by the gold-rush effect: many firms entering the market were either entirely new to the business or had rapidly expanded. Many PMF employees are extremely well qualified. A great number of retired U.S. special forces operatives have served with PMFs in Iraq, as have former members of the United Kingdom's elite sas (Special Air Service).

But the rush for profits has led some corporations to cut corners in their screening procedures. U.S. Army investigators of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal found that "approximately 35 percent of the contract interrogators [hired by the firm caci] lacked formal military training as interrogators."

There have been cases where, investigations of contractors serving in Iraq revealed the hiring of a former British Army soldier who had been jailed for working with Irish terrorists and a former South African soldier who had admitted to firebombing the houses of more than 60 political activists during the apartheid era.

Problems can occur with PMFs' clientele.

Military contractors have worked for democratic governments, the UN, and even humanitarian and environmental organizations. They have also been employed by dictatorships, rebel groups, drug cartels, and, prior to September 11, 2001, at least two al Qaeda-linked jihadi groups.

An episode in Equatorial Guinea illustrates the problems that PMFs can run into in the absence of external guidance or rules. In 2004, Logo Logistics, a British-South African PMF, was accused of plotting to overthrow the government in Malabo.

A planeload of employees was arrested in Zimbabwe, and several alleged funders in the British aristocracy (including Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of Margaret Thatcher) were soon implicated in the scandal. They have been accused of trying to topple Equatorial Guinea's government for profit motives. Their would-be victim, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is a corrupt dictator who took power by killing his uncle and runs one of the most despicable regimes on the continent--hardly a sympathetic victim.

PMFs also create legal dilemmas.

On both the personal and the corporate level, there is a striking absence of regulation, oversight, and enforcement. Private military firms and their employees are now integral parts of many military operations, but, they tend to fall through the cracks of current legal codes, which sharply distinguish civilians from soldiers.

They are not quite civilians, given that they often carry and use weapons, interrogate prisoners, load bombs, and fulfill other critical military roles. They are not quite soldiers, either. One military law analyst noted, "Legally speaking, [military contractors] fall into the same grey area as the unlawful combatants detained at Guantánamo Bay."

This lack of clarity means that when contractors are captured, their adversaries get to define their status. The results of this uncertainty can be dire--as they have been for three American employees of California Microwave Systems whose plane crashed in rebel-held territory in Colombia in 2003. The three have been held prisoner ever since, afforded none of the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Meanwhile, their corporate bosses and U.S. government clients seem to have washed their hands of the matter.

Such difficulties also play out when contractors commit misdeeds. It is often unclear how, when, where, and which authorities are responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and punishing such crimes. Unlike soldiers, who are accountable under their nation's military code of justice wherever they are located, contractors have a murky legal status, undefined by international law (they do not fit the formal definition of mercenaries). Normally, a civilian's crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the country where they are committed. But PMFs typically operate in failed states; indeed, the absence of local authority usually explains their presence in the first place. Prosecuting their crimes locally can thus be difficult.

Iraq still has no well-established courts, and during the formal U.S. occupation, regulations explicitly exempted contractors from local jurisdiction. It is often just as difficult to prosecute contractors in their home country, since few legal systems cover crimes committed outside their territory.

Not one private military contractor has been prosecuted or punished for a crime in Iraq (unlike the dozens of U.S. soldiers who have), despite the fact that more than 20,000 contractors have now spent almost two years there. Either every one of them happens to be a model citizen, or there are serious shortcomings in the legal system that governs them.

In the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse case, all of the translators and up to half of the interrogators involved were private contractors working for two firms, Titan and caci. The Army found that contractors were involved in 36 percent of the proven incidents and identified 6 employees as individually culpable. More than a year after the incidents, not one of these individuals has been indicted, prosecuted, or punished, though the U.S. Army has found the time to try the enlisted soldiers involved. There has not been any attempt to assess corporate responsibility for the misdeeds. The only formal inquiry into PMF wrongdoing on the corporate level was conducted by caci itself. Caci investigated caci and, unsurprisingly, found that caci had done no wrong.

http://www.nytimes.com/cfr/international/20050301faessay_v84n2_singer.html?pagewanted=all&position
con·cept: Outsourcing War