The Peace Corp.

Private security companies like Blackwater have thrived in Iraq, where
the US military has relied on them for everything from guarding convoys
to securing the Green Zone. But these companies recognize that the
demand for their services in Iraq will eventually diminish, and
Blackwater, for one, is looking for new markets….When Kofi Annan was UN undersecretary general for
peacekeeping, he explored the option of hiring the South African
private military company Executive Outcomes to aid in the Rwandan
refugee crisis. He ultimately decided against the option, declaring
that ”the world is not yet ready to privatize peace." 

The world still appears to be unready-and representatives of
private military companies believe that’s shortsighted. ”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. And that’s a private professional group,"
says Chris Taylor, Blackwater’s vice president for strategic

…When the world’s governments and multilateral organizations
have proven as ineffectual as they have in Darfur, should they turn to
the private sector for help? In the absence of a viable alternative, is
the international community’s aversion to what some call ”mercenarism"
stronger than its will to fight genocide?

From the Boston Globe.

No doubt there are some issues to be addressed but this objection from  David Isenberg, senior analyst at the British American Security Information Council, is farcical.

”How do you ensure oversight, compliance with international
humanitarian law, follow the rules of warfare, rules of engagement,
comply with the Geneva Conventions, and the whole bureaucratic panoply
of rules that come into play?"

How indeed.  But after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret CIA prisons etc. how can anyone claim that this is an argument against privatization?

Thanks to David Theroux for the pointer.

: Matt Yglesias has some sensible and surprisingly positive thoughts on the peace corp question. In the comments LaFollette Prog writes "If Doctors Without Borders decides to hire a regiment of Doctors With Heavy Artillery and starts capping some Janjaweed ass, it might improve their fundraising efforts in rural America…"


Epitaph On An Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

Alfred Edward Housman

OTOH, Adam Smith, Jane Jacobs, and Machiavelli thought it was a bad idea. That's enough consensus to at least critically examine such proposals before adopting them.

Did Machiavelli really think about peacekeeping troops? I think hiring mercenaries for warfighting is really dangerous, but international peacekeepers have a more tightly constrained role. In particular, the risk that mercenaries pressure the government into fighting more wars is lower when they have to influence five large governments with conflicting interests instead of just one.

It would really suck for the US if private armies gained the lobbying power of say the teachers' unions. Let alone the existing power of defense contractors, who are arguably better off in cold wars, since actual combat could reveal which of their expensive hitech weapons don't work in the field.

Sorry, I don't see the farce. It's a legitimate question.

How indeed. But after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret CIA prisons etc. how can anyone claim that this is an argument against privatization?

The failure of public services in relatively few cases is not a legitimate argument in favour of privatizing the service, as the experience with water services shows. And don't forget that Russian proverb (maybe there's also an equivalent English one, but I don't know it) -- "gold said: I'll buy everything; the sword said: I'll take everything". The Fuggers lent Charles V the money he needed to become emperor, but when he assumed imperial power he neglected to pay back.

I'm curious about the legal status of private soldiers in war, as opposed to unlawful combattants or regular soldiers. This breaks down into two questions:

a. Do private soldiers have any protections under the Geneva convention? If they're captured, can they be executed as unlawful combattants?

b. If Al Qaida starts paying their private soldiers, do we have to start treating them as real soldiers and obeying the Geneva convention with respect to their treatment?


In the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, US army investigators discovered that contractors were involved in more than a third of the proven incidents.

None of them has been prosecuted. Not quite civilians nor soldiers, they fall under a legal grey area.

Yaping about the Geneva Conventions would be more interesting if anybody but the US ever followed any of them.

A lot of concerns here center around the fear that contractors would not do what their country of origin wants them to do. Here's a proposal that might take care of such concerns:

Private peacekeepers can only operate with the permission of their host government. The overall decision of whether to fight in Darfur is still made by the same people. Only once that decision is made does the process differ from traditional peacekeeping: the private-run company does all the tactical stuff, and can raise funds from sources other than its government of origin.

Albatross writes:
> Do private soldiers have any protections
> under the Geneva convention?

"Don't do anything without your government's approval" might take care of this concern too. If private peacekeepers can only operate with the OK of their host government, then they would seem to deserve the same treatment as soldiers who were micromanaged (rather than merely macromanaged) by their host government.

Yes, how to encourage compliance with international law is a legitimate question (as I said in the post). The question, however, applies to governments just as much as it applies to private entities.

Sure. But it seems to me that it is inherently easier to enforce compliance on a government military force than on mercenaries. First, the regular soldiers are subject to a well-established set of laws governing their conduct, with rules of court-martial, etc. Mercenary operations are much more loosely controlled. Second, even if the government wants to enforce the rules on mercenaries there are questions about its ability to do so. Isn't part of the reason they have not been prosecuted the lack of clarity as to jurisdiction?

So yes, the question is worth asking in both cases, but that doesn't mean the issue is not an argument against privatization.

I think this boils down to two issues:

1) Would mercenaries be more willing to take on risky missions that would otherwise be politically unpopular (e.g. humanitarian missions in Africa)?
2) Would mercenaries be more likely to commit human rights violations than regular troops?

I think the answer to 1) is probably yes. As for 2), it depends crucially on the set of institutions that are in place and whether legal and jurisdictional issues are clear. As I understand it, mercenaries are not accorded the same protection as regular troops under international law, so a mercenary in Iraq, for instance, can be prosecuted for any violation of Iraqi law by Iraqi authorities while a U.S. soldier generally cannot (ultimately this would be determined by treaty obligations). On the other hand, it is less clear to me whether a mercenary can be prosecuted by court martial.

Ideally, there would be some certification process where mercenary companies with a record of rights violations could not do business with the U.S. or other rights-respecting countries. Whether this would deliver superior results from the top-down system in place in the Pentagon is an open question.

I would think that if some rich entity or corporation wanted a Private army, it would not be "mercenairies"
It would be people loyal to their employer. They have pay, benifits package, and retirement accounts. They believe in the "products" of the entity.
That would be a whole lot more troublesome than any mere mercenary.

What are you talking about, it's easy to keep a mercenary force from committing atrocities. You simply write it into the contract. If they commit atrocities, they don't get paid. Fair and simple.

Sure, you may have to pay them more because of it, but maybe they'll use non-lethal weaponry that a government can't or won't invest in, like millimeter-wave emitters or sonic weapons.

Private Military Companies (PMC) are already working well both for governments and along side normal armies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and others. There have been no notable atrocities. I worked in a similar capacity in Angola and Congo. We fulfilled a training and "special forces" type function for our employers. While I witnessed numerous atrocities by local troops our own book was clean. PMC's are a reality and there is perhaps a logic behind increased regulation. But their wider use is inevitable.

There was an article on this general subject in The New Republic a few weeks ago:

In case the link doesn't work, the short version is this: some Swarthmore students tried to raise money for Darfur. They raised the money, with the intention of giving it to the AU peacekeeping force there. Unfortunately, the AU said that while they were happy to take the money, they couldn't earmark it for anything specific; it would just go into the AU's coffers. The students didn't like that, and tried to find some other use for the money.

They ran into more discouragement than assistance, but the article never explained why they rejected the mercenary approach.

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