Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Can Blackwater Save Darfur?

I'm not really sure what to make of this Michael Walzer TNR piece. He begins by making a pretty good point: People who oppose the use of private military contractors (read: mercenaries) often assume that the case for their argument is so self-evident that they don't actually have to make it. So Walzer offers a corrective by going ahead and making a pretty good case against the use of mercenaries in the conduct of war. The basis of his argument is the lack of accountability that results, both for the mercenaries themselves (which has been widely criticized) but also for the government that employs them (which has gotten less attention).

Simply put, the use of military force is a political act that should be part of the political calculus by which any government is judged. By using mercenaries (and Walzer uses Bill Clinton's use of them in the Serbo-Croatian war as an example), a government gets to enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of the outcome, but not actually be held politically accountable by its electorate, since the actual deployment is largely invisible.

Walzer also highlights the logical inconsistency of trying to stabilize a country like Iraq (an operation which as much as anything implies reining in private militias in order to return the monopoly on the use of force to the state), through the use of... private militias.

But just when I expected Walzer to wrap up and close the deal, he pivots:

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule...

Since neither the United Nations nor NATO has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries...?

Whatever Blackwater's motives, I won't join the "moral giants" who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur... But we should acknowledge that making this exception would also be a radical indictment of the states that could do what has to be done and, instead, do nothing at all.

Now I admit that after an initial "WTF?!?" double-take, I actually considered the proposition, and wondered whether it's not, after all, the kind of bold gambit that might actually be needed, given the diplomatic gridlock that's got the world sitting on its hands while a bunch of thugs go about the business of methodically committing crimes against humanity.

But in the final analysis, to believe that Blackwater or any other mercenary outfit could somehow lock down that corner of the world, given the highly complex ethno-sectarian-politico-tribal dynamics at play, involves a willing suspension of disbelief. The truth is, Darfur -- like Baghdad -- is a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing guys with guns to operate without any accountability. Adding Blackwater to what's already a bloody and tragic mix is simply adding more of the problem and calling it a solution.

Walzer's frustration and disgust with the world's failure to act is exemplary. But I think the rule he articulates stands up better than its exception. A military intervention might very well be necesssary in Darfur. But if it happens, it should be under the flag of a nation or the flag of a collection of nations, not that of a private militia operating under cover of political invisibility.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iraq   

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