Privatisation Run Riot

I am normally a pretty staunch supporter of privatisation. I just provide the double pronged caveat: where it is well thought out, and where it makes sense. Juan Cole has a contract tender specification posted which for me defies all reasonable explanation. It is for a private contract force to protect the Green Zone, the headquarters of the American administration of Iraq in Baghdad. This seems beyond comprehension in its absurdity, but I am sure someone out there will be only too willing to try and put me straight.

The threats that the private security force will be asked to meet provide a summary of the dangers facing U.S. and coalition personnel 10 months after President Bush declared the main fighting over. The contractor, according to the bid proposal, must be prepared to deal with vehicles containing explosive devices, the improvised explosives planted on roads, “direct fire and ground assaults by upwards of 12 personnel with military rifles, machine guns and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], indirect fire by mortars and rockets, individual suicide bombers, and employment of other weapons of mass destruction . . . in an unconventional warfare setting.” To meet that challenge, the bidders’ personnel must have prior military experience, and those involved directly in force protection must have “operated in U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization or other military organizations compatible with NATO standards.”

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

8 thoughts on “Privatisation Run Riot

  1. Actually, using private companies for security is not a bad idea. But why not expand on it even more to include mercenaries for more directed missions? If we expand on that, it kind of makes sense:

    One of the difficulties in fighting a supranational enemy like Al Qaeda is that it is a stateless entity – especially with the fall of Afghanistan. As the US has struggled with an approach that fits the bill (using special forces in Afghanistan, eliminating Iraq as a possible AQ ally by conventional invasion, treating AQ prisoners as non-combatants falling outside current definitions of war), it should consider the feasibility of putting a profit motive on the hunt for Al Qaeda. Putting a bounty on their heads is a start, but should be expanded on even more by recruiting those kinds of people who would actually enjoy this line of work. And we all know that such people exist.

    Mercenaries have been used for thousands of years. In fact, it was the norm in warfare, and in some epochs often served as a reason for generals to be sparing in bloodletting, relying instead on superior tactical manoeuvers, and “gentlemanly” surrenders, simply because mercenaries cost money. It was, after all, the advent of the nationalist, citizen-conscript armies, which linked national identity with military duty, when the real carnage began.

    Mercenaries would have the added advantage of undertaking supranational missions, such as assassinations in countries were regular troops and agents could not, for political reasons, ever go.

    In fact, mercenaries would level the playing field with Al Qaeda. For didn’t they, also, essentially begin their careers as mercenaries?

    The main problem with mercenaries, though, is that they can always swing to the highest bidder. But as long as a country is rich and stays rich, that should not be much of a problem.

    The use of mercenaries would also relieve leaders of democracies from the burden of having to answer to constituencies who have been lulled to sleep by the good life, and would rather choose appeasement than action. This would definitely be of use for European leaders.

    The US should definitely pursue this kind of thinking further. It is the kind of thinking that actually embodies “metis”, as has been discussed earlier on this site.

  2. The use of mercenaries would also relieve leaders of democracies from the burden of having to answer to constituencies who have been lulled to sleep by the good life, and would rather choose appeasement than action. This would definitely be of use for European leaders.

    So it’s a good thing for democratic governments to have armed forces operating outside democratic control or scrutiny. Isn’t this slightly, you know, anti-democratic?

  3. Not at all, if a democratic government endorses the use of mercenaries, and an electorate approves. It would not be too difficult to sell the concept to an electorate: rather than send your conscript sons and daughters to die on a mission they might even disagree with, let’s hire professionals who would love to go on such a mission.

    The missions can be run like a government contract, with ground rules, stated goals, and incremental payments based on performance. Breaking the rules would mean a monetary loss, so performance can be controlled through financial incentive.

  4. Then we have the problem of the mercenaries not being held to the same standard (low enough!) that our troops are held to. Dyncorp’s mercs in Colombia and Bosnia did not, um, represent us well. We do need to make sure that the American people are connected to and ultimately responsible for the actions of their soldiers, whether these troops are part of a private army or in the regular military.

  5. Is it possible that there is a political consideration here, in that US troops are to be withdrawn, yet protection is needed, while limited Iraqi troops will have more pressing demands to meet than protecting ’embassies’, US or other?

  6. I believe it was Anthony Cordesman on NPR this morning who was saying that we need a much larger ground force rotating in and out of Iraq and that we just don’t have it. So… the UN.

    A private army would, at this point, be a really bad public relations move.

  7. Don’t want to worry anyone but:

    “SYDNEY, Australia – Osama bin Laden’s terror network claims to have bought ready-made nuclear weapons on a Central Asian black market, the biographer of al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader was quoted telling an Australian television station.

    “In an interview scheduled to be televised Monday, Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir said Ayman al-Zawahri claimed ‘smart briefcase bombs’ are available on the black market.” – from (hat tip

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