Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Putting aside the regulatory nightmares presented by private military contractors for a moment, there's really something disconcerting about the way they use the world's post-conflict areas as recruitment pools. The Christian Science Monitor has a piece worth reading on how Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group (an outfit that's been contracted by the DoD to work in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also by Microsoft, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Pacific Gas & Electric) has set up shop in Namibia. And over the summer I flagged an article about how Blackwater was using subcontractors to recruit in Chile.
Of course, one of the ancillary consequences of resolving civil wars or replacing repressive police states with democratically elected governments is a large body of unemployed, highly trained paramilitary and military personnel. That they also happen to come from countries where, due to economic conditions and exchange rates, the best they can hope for is pennies on the dollar compared to what outfits like Blackwater and SOC-SMG pay only makes it easier to seal the deal.
The moral contradictions involved in using these personnel pools in a "democracy building" exercise such as Iraq or Afghanistan are obvious. But there are also more practical concerns. There remain very concrete distinctions between the functions these contractors fill and that of mercenaries. But the African continent's experience with mercenary groups -- who have been involved in "coup for hire" operations, arms trafficking and organized crime -- demonstrates some of the dangers that come along with a culture of private paramilitary organizations. It's a culture we're now nurturing. And it's the kind of chicken that eventually comes home to roost.