Privatizing the Military


A Dutch journalist named Peter Speetjens writes in the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, that private military forces are a much bigger segment of the world’s armies than ever before, and he estimates that as many as 10% of the US forces in Iraq are civilians.

According to Peter Singer, author of the book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, there are some 90 companies worldwide offering military services and expertise to an overall security market worth upward of $100 billion. The reasons for this spectacular expansion are, on the one hand, the post-Cold War trimming of national armies (as a consequence of which there are some 7 million fewer soldiers under arms today than in 1989); and on the other, the fact that the world seems far less of a safe place, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.The post-Cold War gap between supply and demand has been quickly filled by private military companies, most of which are based in the US, England, South Africa, Russia and the Ukraine, where laid-off soldiers are abundant. The firms operate anywhere in the world to secure people and assets. Yet by far their most lucrative market today is Iraq. According to Singer, 10 percent of US soldiers in Iraq are civilians, which is ten times more than during the Gulf war of 1991. This makes the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, the most privatized conflict in the last 250 years.

One’s initial reaction is liable to be, “Well, they’re probably just providing support services, running mess halls, washing uniforms, transporting real soldiers from one place to another, that sort of thing.” But one would be wrong.

Apart from offering military support services, thousands of civilians, most of whom have a military past, operate Predator spy planes, maintain B-2 Stealth bombers, de-mine, destroy enemy ammunition and, last but not least, protect individuals and companies active in the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the last job of which they have actually seen combat. Eight of these private soldiers have been killed in military actions since the start of the Occupation. Viceroy Paul Bremer, in fact, is not protected by Army troops or Marines “but by a contingent of Ghurkas and former SAS commandos working for the British firm Global Risk International.”

This trend is growing, and Speetjens thinks the reasons are simple enough: advocates claim it’s cheaper to outsource the kinds of tasks they take on. Whether it is or not is debatable.

Dyncorp, an American company founded by former Los Angeles police officers, won a contract worth $50 million to train the Iraqi police force. The company needs 1,500 former policemen to do the job and offers an average tax-free salary of $150,000 a year. Likewise, the British-American firm Armorgroup recently paid an ex-Special Forces soldier $150,000 a year to protect a senior member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Compare this to the average salary of a regular American or British soldier.

Mercs used to crawl around on the fringes of military society. Now, under Bush/Cheney/Halliburton, they are moving centerstage. This is a troubling development on many fronts, not the least of which is the growing identification of these corporate armies with corporate rather than public goals.

The links between private military companies that benefit from insecurity, instability and warfare, and a political establishment tightly linked to the corporate world, can be disturbing. Take KBR: In 1992, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney commissioned the firm to research (at a cost of $3.9 million) the privatization of US Army logistics. KBR concluded that privatization would be much cheaper than allowing the armed forces to carry the task out themselves. Subsequently, Cheney granted the firm a contract to implement its own recommendations, mainly in overseas US operations.As KBR followed the US Army around the world, Cheney became chief executive of Halliburton in 1995, remaining in the post until he became the US vice-president in 2000, when he was paid a bonus of $35 million. Cheney was one of the main advocates of war in Iraq and the fact that both KBR and Halliburton have profited hugely from its aftermath raises serious questions about the possible conflicts of interest involved.

As one surveys the close links between private military companies, the corporate world and political establishments, the image that comes to mind is not so much that of an individual gun-for-hire like Denard, but that of the British East India Company and its Dutch equivalent in Indonesia, both of which controlled large armies. Jan Coen, the former governing general of the Dutch colonial empire, put it succinctly: “There’s no trade without war; no war without trade.”

Explains a lot, don’t it?

Step 1: Cheney commissions a firm to “research” military privatization.

Step 2: The firm (surprise! surprise!) concludes that privatization would be cheaper.

Step 3: Cheney hires said subsidiary to carry out its own recommendations and promptly becomes CEO of the parent company, keeping all the money nicely in-house.

Step 4: As Veep, Cheney vigorously supports a war that will keep that subsidiary very busy.

Step 5: Cheney sees to it that that subsidiary is awarded fat contracts in a no-bid process that totally eliminates the possibility that said subsidiary will face competition.

Neat, huh? A closed loop that begins–and ends–with Cheney and his (sort of) ex-company. Given the total lack of legitimate rationale for the Iraq War, isn’t it at least possible that between the oil, the reconstruction contracts, and the “security” business, Bush/Cheney and Co took us into this thing because it was good for their bottom lines? It wouldn’t be the first time. The British East India Company was finally dissolved because of its willing use of force in backing company interests that were in direct conflict with the interests of the British govt. Corporations have their own agendas, and democracy isn’t even on the list. Do we really want them brandishing their own private armies?

(Thanks to Major Barbara for the link)

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