[Marxism] The Privatisation of War

Tony Abdo gojack10 at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 31 04:43:02 MST 2004

Robert Fisk's reporting today got me reinterested in this subject and the 
company Global Risk International.  That, and the pickets at the local area 
military bases complainning about their 'labor rights' being violated by the 
Pentagon and White House.   Tony Abdo

The privatisation of war

· $30bn goes to private military
· Fears over 'hired guns' policy
· British firms get big slice of contracts
· Deals in Baghdad, Kabul and Balkans

Special investigation
Ian Traynor
Wednesday December 10, 2003
The Guardian

Private corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that they are 
now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the 
Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established.

While the official coalition figures list the British as the second largest 
contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered by the 
10,000 private military contractors now on the ground.

The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted 
security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the 
first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 
servicemen and women; now there are 10.

The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and 
peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no 
return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it.

While reliable figures are difficult to come by and governmental accounting 
and monitoring of the contracts are notoriously shoddy, the US army 
estimates that of the $87bn (£50.2bn) earmarked this year for the broader 
Iraqi campaign, including central Asia and Afghanistan, one third of that, 
nearly $30bn, will be spent on contracts to private companies.

The myriad military and security companies thriving on this largesse are at 
the sharp end of a revolution in military affairs that is taking us into 
unknown territory - the partial privatisation of war.

"This is a trend that is growing and Iraq is the high point of the trend," 
said Peter Singer, a security analyst at Washington's Brookings Institution. 
"This is a sea change in the way we prosecute warfare. There are historical 
parallels, but we haven't seen them for 250 years."

When America launched its invasion in March, the battleships in the Gulf 
were manned by US navy personnel. But alongside them sat civilians from four 
companies operating some of the world's most sophisticated weapons systems.

When the unmanned Predator drones, the Global Hawks, and the B-2 stealth 
bombers went into action, their weapons systems, too, were operated and 
maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies.

The private sector is even more deeply involved in the war's aftermath. A US 
company has the lucrative contracts to train the new Iraqi army, another to 
recruit and train an Iraqi police force.

But this is a field in which British companies dominate, with nearly half of 
the dozen or so private firms in Iraq coming from the UK.

The big British player in Iraq is Global Risk International, based in 
Hampton, Middlesex. It is supplying hired Gurkhas, Fijian paramilitaries 
and, it is believed, ex-SAS veterans, to guard the Baghdad headquarters of 
Paul Bremer, the US overlord, according to analysts.

It is a trend that has been growing worldwide since the end of the cold war, 
a booming business which entails replacing soldiers wherever possible with 
highly paid civilians and hired guns not subject to standard military 
disciplinary procedures.

The biggest US military base built since Vietnam, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, 
was constructed and continues to be serviced by private contractors. At 
Tuzla in northern Bosnia, headquarters for US peacekeepers, everything that 
can be farmed out to private businesses has been. The bill so far runs to 
more than $5bn. The contracts include those to the US company ITT, which 
supplies the armed guards, overwhelmingly US private citizens, at US 

In Israel, a US company supplies the security for American diplomats, a very 
risky business. In Colombia, a US company flies the planes destroying the 
coca plantations and the helicopter gunships protecting them, in what some 
would characterise as a small undeclared war.

In Kabul, a US company provides the bodyguards to try to save President 
Hamid Karzai from assassination, raising questions over whether they are 
combatants in a deepening conflict with emboldened Taliban insurgents.

And in the small town of Hadzici west of Sarajevo, a military compound 
houses the latest computer technology, the war games simulations challenging 
the Bosnian army's brightest young officers.

Crucial to transforming what was an improvised militia desperately fighting 
for survival into a modern army fit eventually to join Nato, the army 
computer centre was established by US officers who structured, trained, and 
armed the Bosnian military. The Americans accomplished a similar mission in 
Croatia and are carrying out the same job in Macedonia.

The input from the US military has been so important that the US experts can 
credibly claim to have tipped the military balance in a region ravaged by 
four wars in a decade. But the American officers, including several 
four-star generals, are retired, not serving. They work, at least directly, 
not for the US government, but for a private company, Military Professional 
Resources Inc.

"In the Balkans MPRI are playing an incredibly critical role. The balance of 
power in the region was altered by a private company. That's one measure of 
the sea change," said Mr Singer, the author of a recent book on the subject, 
Corporate Warriors.

The surge in the use of private companies should not be confused with the 
traditional use of mercenaries in armed conflicts. The use of mercenaries is 
outlawed by the Geneva conventions, but no one is accusing the Pentagon, 
while awarding more than 3,000 contracts to private companies over the past 
decade, of violating the laws of war.

The Pentagon will "pursue additional opportunities to outsource and 
privatise", the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, pledged last year and 
military analysts expect him to try to cut a further 200,000 jobs in the 
armed forces.

It is this kind of "downsizing" that has fed the growth of the military 
private sector.

Since the end of the cold war it is reckoned that six million servicemen 
have been thrown on to the employment market with little to peddle but their 
fighting and military skills. The US military is 60% the size of a decade 
ago, the Soviet collapse wrecked the colossal Red Army, the East German 
military melted away, the end of apartheid destroyed the white officer class 
in South Africa. The British armed forces, notes Mr Singer, are at their 
smallest since the Napoleonic wars.

The booming private sector has soaked up much of this manpower and 

It also enables the Americans, in particular, to wage wars by proxy and 
without the kind of congressional and media oversight to which conventional 
deployments are subject.

>From the level of the street or the trenches to the rarefied corridors of 
strategic analysis and policy-making, however, the problems surfacing are 
immense and complex.

One senior British officer complains that his driver was recently approached 
and offered a fortune to move to a "rather dodgy outfit". Ex-SAS veterans in 
Iraq can charge up to $1,000 a day.

"There's an explosion of these companies attracting our servicemen 
financially," said Rear Admiral Hugh Edleston, a Royal Navy officer who is 
just completing three years as chief military adviser to the international 
administration running Bosnia.

He said that outside agencies were sometimes better placed to provide 
training and resources. "But you should never mix serving military with 
security operations. You need to be absolutely clear on the division between 
the military and the paramilitary."

"If these things weren't privatised, uniformed men would have to do it and 
that draws down your strength," said another senior retired officer engaged 
in the private sector. But he warned: "There is a slight risk that things 
can get out of hand and these companies become small armies themselves."

And in Baghdad or Bogota, Kabul or Tuzla, there are armed company employees 
effectively licensed to kill. On the job, say guarding a peacekeepers' 
compound in Tuzla, the civilian employees are subject to the same rules of 
engagement as foreign troops.

But if an American GI draws and uses his weapon in an off-duty bar brawl, he 
will be subject to the US judicial military code. If an American guard 
employed by the US company ITT in Tuzla does the same, he answers to Bosnian 
law. By definition these companies are frequently operating in "failed 
states" where national law is notional. The risk is the employees can 
literally get away with murder.

Or lesser, but appalling crimes. Dyncorp, for example, a Pentagon favourite, 
has the contract worth tens of millions of dollars to train an Iraqi police 
force. It also won the contracts to train the Bosnian police and was 
implicated in a grim sex slavery scandal, with its employees accused of rape 
and the buying and selling of girls as young as 12. A number of employees 
were fired, but never prosecuted. The only court cases to result involved 
the two whistleblowers who exposed the episode and were sacked.

"Dyncorp should never have been awarded the Iraqi police contract," said 
Madeleine Rees, the chief UN human rights officer in Sarajevo.

Of the two court cases, one US police officer working for Dyncorp in Bosnia, 
Kathryn Bolkovac, won her suit for wrongful dismissal. The other involving a 
mechanic, Ben Johnston, was settled out of court. Mr Johnston's suit against 
Dyncorp charged that he "witnessed co-workers and supervisors literally 
buying and selling women for their own personal enjoyment, and employees 
would brag about the various ages and talents of the individual slaves they 
had purchased".

There are other formidable problems surfacing in what is uncharted territory 
- issues of loyalty, accountability, ideology, and national interest. By 
definition, a private military company is in Iraq or Bosnia not to pursue 
US, UN, or EU policy, but to make money.

The growing clout of the military services corporations raises questions 
about an insidious, longer-term impact on governments' planning, strategy 
and decision-taking.

Mr Singer argues that for the first time in the history of the modern nation 
state, governments are surrendering one of the essential and defining 
attributes of statehood, the state's monopoly on the legitimate use of 

But for those on the receiving end, there seems scant alternative.

"I had some problems with some of the American generals," said Enes 
Becirbasic, a Bosnian military official who managed the Bosnian side of the 
MPRI projects to build and arm a Bosnian army. "It's a conflict of interest. 
I represent our national interest, but they're businessmen. I would have 
preferred direct cooperation with state organisations like Nato or the 
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But we had no choice. 
We had to use MPRI."

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