Contributor Kevin Knodell writes:
In 2006, mercenary firm Blackwater offered to send employees to Darfur to assist in peacekeeping efforts. This offer led to wide discussion about the potential of using Private Military Companies, pictured, to help play a role in protecting populations (rather than VIPs and corporate facilities) in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Two articles were published by Max Boot advocating for a deployment of mercenary forces. Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times was less optimistic about the prospect, but was not entirely dismissive of the idea either.
However, the discussion was short-lived, partly due to misconduct on the part of several contractors in Iraq the following year. PMCs still are proactively attempting to get themselves on the ground in unstable areas where they think they can help — and make some money along the way. Blackwater wants to send a ship to the Gulf of Aden to fight pirates, and other firms have offered their services. History Channel recently aired Shadow Force, a reality show focusing on the operations of a small team of mercenaries operating in Africa under contracts with various governments. Shadow Force portrayed such varied operations as the tracking of ivory smugglers, anti-piracy operations off Liberia and training Congolese troops to better protect refugee camps.
It’s not likely that mercenary forces are going to replace multinational peacekeeping forces any time soon. It is feasible though, to consider using them to help fill the sizable gaps in these forces. In both the Congo and Darfur, peacekeeping forces are under-manned and under-resourced, and aid convoys are being plundered regularly. It is possible that a group of soldiers of fortune could be employed to help reinforce existing missions. They could be used to protect facilities to free up regular peacekeeping forces, or they could join the peacekeepers as a blue-hat contingent. Another possibility is that the U.N. could open a new agency (like the existing UNHCR, UNICEF, and countless others) that would function like a PMC, but be fully funded and operated by the U.N., and utilized at the discretion of the U.N. Security Council.
They would, of course, need to be held accountable for their actions. As Boot suggested, their contract with the sponsoring organization should set parameters for their conduct. If such steps were taken, we could have ourselves a freemarket solution to the chaos of the post-cold war world.
The most common argument against something like this is that they only care about money. This is a gross oversimplification of a complex and (re)emerging profession. They are able to go into countries that most western militaries are unable to go into, due to the lack of political interest by their own governments. This is something that many PMCs take pride in. In my discussions with contractors who’ve been in Iraq, their proudest memories are often the same as those of coalition troops: guarding infrastructure and reconstruction projects, and watching the country rebuild. They are professionals with families to provide for, most are just trying to make a living, and possibly help out along the way.
There are, of course, potential negative consequences. There is the risk that we would be creating an industry that is dependent on the existence of instability, war, and failing states. In such a situation, the companies would find it better for business to “manage” the conflicts rather than bring them to an end. Even the most well meaning soldier of fortune (and there are many) could find their jobs threatened if they did their job too well, and they would have to find another way to make ends meet.
I’m not saying that this is what should or shouldn’t be done, only that a discussion needs to be had by policy makers in national governments, and in the UNSC, which currently has ruled against the expansion of private military endeavors.
(Photo: David Axe)