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Experts debate increasing use of mercenaries Print
April 20, 2006

BY MARA REVKIN
On Monday night, two of the most prominent experts on the proliferation of privatized military service providers gave a joint presentation entitled “America’s Mercenaries: Private Military  Contractors, Iraq, and Genocide.” Dr. Peter Singer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), presented their differing opinions on the transformation of modern warfare due to the entry of private corporations into the globalized military “market.”

Singer, who wrote the first major book on the subject, “Private Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry,” discussed the potentially detrimental consequences of deploying large numbers of private contractors to conflict zones such as Iraq. Brooks responded with the argument that private military companies have repeatedly proven their ability to perform vital humanitarian functions in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where  
major military powers have often abstained from peace-keeping efforts.

The presentation was moderated by Professor James Kurth of the Political Science Department. Singer and Brooks were allotted 20 minutes each in which to present their remarks “in the way that Washington people talk to each other, which is through Powerpoint,” Kurth said. The talk concluded with a question and answer session.

Andrew Sniderman ’06, co-founder of the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net), made arrangements to host the two speakers with funding from the Swarthmore College Forum for Free Speech, the Departments of Political Science and Economics, Peace and Conflict Studies and the President’s Office.

Sniderman said he became interested in bringing Singer and Brooks to campus after exploring the topic of private military companies in a directed reading with Professor Kurth last semester. This study prompted Sniderman to consider whether private military companies might in fact possess the peace-keeping capabilities to introduce stability into Darfur, an area that has became the focal point of GI-Net’s campaign to provide relief to Sudanese civilians. “My work with Professor Kurth raised the question: If our goal is to protect citizens, should we hire military companies to intervene in Darfur?”  Sniderman said.

After a fruitful fundraising campaign fueled by favorable publicity from the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine yielded over $500,000, GI-Net’s organizers were eager to employ these funds toward an efficient and sustainable resolution to the crisis in Darfur. GI-
Net’s initial strategy was to allocate the funds to the African Union for the purchase of general supplies, provisional shelters and communication technology.

However, it became clear that the AU would simply absorb the GI-Net contribution into a lump fund, making it impossible to earmark the GI-Net dollars for specific purchases.

It was at this point that GI-Net began to explore the options for contracting private military companies, which have the technology and personnel to provide stability in conflict zones.

However, Sniderman quickly found that stability comes with a price tag. “We spoke to a number of firms who were very interested in providing services if the price was right,” Sniderman said. For the steep sum of $22 million, Evergreen International could provide four  
unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance of the Janjaweed militia.

Singer’s remarks on Monday night echoed many of the concerns that prompted GI-Net to pursue alternatives to contracting a private military company (PMC), defined by Singer as “a business provider of professional services intricately linked to warfare.”

Singer argued that the privatization of military services is transforming the face of modern warfare, and with potentially devastating consequences. “Any actor on the global political stage can access military capabilities that used to be limited to the state and they can do it by writing a check,” Singer said.

Singer added that the personnel employed by PMC’s operate under conditions of minimal regulation. He cited the abuses at Abu Ghraib as an instance in which contractors were implicated in violations of U.S. military code, but owing to their unique corporate status, were  
not subject to the legal ramifications that soldiers would face for comparable infractions.

Jesse Gottschalk ’09 said that Dr. Singer’s comments made him “very nervous about the potential for these private contractors to behave inappropriately or dangerously. If a military soldier behaves inappropriately or dangerously, he or she can be court-martialed and punished; if a private contractor’s soldiers act in the same way, often the worst that can happen is that they lose their jobs, and that scares me,” he said.

Brooks, as founder and president of IPOA— a nongovernmental association of PMCs that lobbies policy-makers and enforces regulatory standards among its constituent members — offered an industry perspective, countering Singer’s argument with the assertion that PMCs provide critical peace-keeping services in high-risk areas where Western nations are not willing to intervene. “If you’re not going to use private sector, who are you going to use?” Brooks asked rhetorically, adding that PMCs can provide vital services more efficiently and cheaply than many governments. “The only countries that do provide peace-keeping services are among the poorest countries in the world, so it’s no small wonder that UN peacekeeping
fails,” Brooks said.

In response to Singer’s criticism that the corporate military model contains no mechanism of accountability, Brooks cited “contracts, bonuses, incentives” as motivating tools that promote control of PMCs. “This is the only industry that craves regulation,” Brooks said, explaining that the credibility conferred by routine audits codes of conduct within corporations results in more lucrative contracts.

The event was well-attended by students and faculty, with many audience members resorting to floor space to find seating in the packed Science Center lecture hall. “I was extremely pleased with attendance, especially by faculty members,” Sniderman said, estimating that the crowd exceeded 100 people.

Jeffrey Murer, Assistant Professor of Political Science, was pleased that the event featured two alternative perspectives on the issue. “Hats off to Andrew for getting both Singer and Brooks,” he said. “I think it was especially important for Swarthmore students to hear Brooks’ side of the story, given that they might have a natural tendency to sympathize with the Singer perspective that prioritizes peaceful strategies for conflict resolution.”

In the question and answer session, Singer and Brooks expressed agreement that the increasingly pervasive presence of PMCs will bring about permanent changes in global military infrastructures, although they disagreed as to whether these changes would be positive or negative.

Sniderman added that he was pleased with the quality of the dialog generated by the questions from the audience. “I thought the questions were good, except that I wished someone cold have asked the speakers directly about what the private security companies could be doing to improve the situation in Darfur.”

Gottschalk said that overall, he was “very impressed by both the speakers.” He added that the lecture provided a window into an industry that has managed to evade scrutiny by the public and media.
“It was shocking to me to see just how widespread the use of private military contractors is, considering how little I had heard about the issue,” Gottschalk said.

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