Privatisation Of War
By Ian Traynor
10 December, 2003
corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that they are
now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after
the Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established.
While the official coalition figures list the British as the second
largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered
by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground.
has also discovered that the proportion of contracted security personnel
in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the first Gulf war.
In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 servicemen
and women; now there are 10.
The private sector
is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties
that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no return: the US
military would struggle to wage war without it.
While reliable figures
are difficult to come by and governmental accounting and monitoring
of the contracts are notoriously shoddy, the US army estimates that
of the $87bn (£50.2bn) earmarked this year for the broader Iraqi
campaign, including central Asia and Afghanistan, one third of that,
nearly $30bn, will be spent on contracts to private companies.
The myriad military
and security companies thriving on this largesse are at the sharp end
of a revolution in military affairs that is taking us into unknown territory
- the partial privatisation of war.
"This is a
trend that is growing and Iraq is the high point of the trend,"
said Peter Singer, a security analyst at Washington's Brookings Institution.
"This is a sea change in the way we prosecute warfare. There are
historical parallels, but we haven't seen them for 250 years."
When America launched
its invasion in March, the battleships in the Gulf were manned by US
navy personnel. But alongside them sat civilians from four companies
operating some of the world's most sophisticated weapons systems.
When the unmanned
Predator drones, the Global Hawks, and the B-2 stealth bombers went
into action, their weapons systems, too, were operated and maintained
by non-military personnel working for private companies.
The private sector
is even more deeply involved in the war's aftermath. A US company has
the lucrative contracts to train the new Iraqi army, another to recruit
and train an Iraqi police force.
But this is a field
in which British companies dominate, with nearly half of the dozen or
so private firms in Iraq coming from the UK.
The big British
player in Iraq is Global Risk International, based in Hampton, Middlesex.
It is supplying hired Gurkhas, Fijian paramilitaries and, it is believed,
ex-SAS veterans, to guard the Baghdad headquarters of Paul Bremer, the
US overlord, according to analysts.
It is a trend that
has been growing worldwide since the end of the cold war, a booming
business which entails replacing soldiers wherever possible with highly
paid civilians and hired guns not subject to standard military disciplinary
The biggest US military
base built since Vietnam, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, was constructed
and continues to be serviced by private contractors. At Tuzla in northern
Bosnia, headquarters for US peacekeepers, everything that can be farmed
out to private businesses has been. The bill so far runs to more than
$5bn. The contracts include those to the US company ITT, which supplies
the armed guards, overwhelmingly US private citizens, at US installations.
In Israel, a US
company supplies the security for American diplomats, a very risky business.
In Colombia, a US company flies the planes destroying the coca plantations
and the helicopter gunships protecting them, in what some would characterise
as a small undeclared war.
In Kabul, a US company
provides the bodyguards to try to save President Hamid Karzai from assassination,
raising questions over whether they are combatants in a deepening conflict
with emboldened Taliban insurgents.
And in the small
town of Hadzici west of Sarajevo, a military compound houses the latest
computer technology, the war games simulations challenging the Bosnian
army's brightest young officers.
Crucial to transforming
what was an improvised militia desperately fighting for survival into
a modern army fit eventually to join Nato, the army computer centre
was established by US officers who structured, trained, and armed the
Bosnian military. The Americans accomplished a similar mission in Croatia
and are carrying out the same job in Macedonia.
The input from the
US military has been so important that the US experts can credibly claim
to have tipped the military balance in a region ravaged by four wars
in a decade. But the American officers, including several four-star
generals, are retired, not serving. They work, at least directly, not
for the US government, but for a private company, Military Professional
"In the Balkans
MPRI are playing an incredibly critical role. The balance of power in
the region was altered by a private company. That's one measure of the
sea change," said Mr Singer, the author of a recent book on the
subject, Corporate Warriors.
The surge in the
use of private companies should not be confused with the traditional
use of mercenaries in armed conflicts. The use of mercenaries is outlawed
by the Geneva conventions, but no one is accusing the Pentagon, while
awarding more than 3,000 contracts to private companies over the past
decade, of violating the laws of war.
The Pentagon will
"pursue additional opportunities to outsource and privatise",
the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, pledged last year and military
analysts expect him to try to cut a further 200,000 jobs in the armed
It is this kind
of "downsizing" that has fed the growth of the military private
Since the end of
the cold war it is reckoned that six million servicemen have been thrown
on to the employment market with little to peddle but their fighting
and military skills. The US military is 60% the size of a decade ago,
the Soviet collapse wrecked the colossal Red Army, the East German military
melted away, the end of apartheid destroyed the white officer class
in South Africa. The British armed forces, notes Mr Singer, are at their
smallest since the Napoleonic wars.
The booming private
sector has soaked up much of this manpower and expertise.
It also enables
the Americans, in particular, to wage wars by proxy and without the
kind of congressional and media oversight to which conventional deployments
From the level of
the street or the trenches to the rarefied corridors of strategic analysis
and policy-making, however, the problems surfacing are immense and complex.
One senior British
officer complains that his driver was recently approached and offered
a fortune to move to a "rather dodgy outfit". Ex-SAS veterans
in Iraq can charge up to $1,000 a day.
explosion of these companies attracting our servicemen financially,"
said Rear Admiral Hugh Edleston, a Royal Navy officer who is just completing
three years as chief military adviser to the international administration
He said that outside
agencies were sometimes better placed to provide training and resources.
"But you should never mix serving military with security operations.
You need to be absolutely clear on the division between the military
and the paramilitary."
"If these things
weren't privatised, uniformed men would have to do it and that draws
down your strength," said another senior retired officer engaged
in the private sector. But he warned: "There is a slight risk that
things can get out of hand and these companies become small armies themselves."
And in Baghdad or
Bogota, Kabul or Tuzla, there are armed company employees effectively
licensed to kill. On the job, say guarding a peacekeepers' compound
in Tuzla, the civilian employees are subject to the same rules of engagement
as foreign troops.
But if an American
GI draws and uses his weapon in an off-duty bar brawl, he will be subject
to the US judicial military code. If an American guard employed by the
US company ITT in Tuzla does the same, he answers to Bosnian law. By
definition these companies are frequently operating in "failed
states" where national law is notional. The risk is the employees
can literally get away with murder.
Or lesser, but appalling
crimes. Dyncorp, for example, a Pentagon favourite, has the contract
worth tens of millions of dollars to train an Iraqi police force. It
also won the contracts to train the Bosnian police and was implicated
in a grim sex slavery scandal, with its employees accused of rape and
the buying and selling of girls as young as 12. A number of employees
were fired, but never prosecuted. The only court cases to result involved
the two whistleblowers who exposed the episode and were sacked.
never have been awarded the Iraqi police contract," said Madeleine
Rees, the chief UN human rights officer in Sarajevo.
Of the two court
cases, one US police officer working for Dyncorp in Bosnia, Kathryn
Bolkovac, won her suit for wrongful dismissal. The other involving a
mechanic, Ben Johnston, was settled out of court. Mr Johnston's suit
against Dyncorp charged that he "witnessed co-workers and supervisors
literally buying and selling women for their own personal enjoyment,
and employees would brag about the various ages and talents of the individual
slaves they had purchased".
There are other
formidable problems surfacing in what is uncharted territory - issues
of loyalty, accountability, ideology, and national interest. By definition,
a private military company is in Iraq or Bosnia not to pursue US, UN,
or EU policy, but to make money.
The growing clout
of the military services corporations raises questions about an insidious,
longer-term impact on governments' planning, strategy and decision-taking.
Mr Singer argues
that for the first time in the history of the modern nation state, governments
are surrendering one of the essential and defining attributes of statehood,
the state's monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
But for those on
the receiving end, there seems scant alternative.
"I had some
problems with some of the American generals," said Enes Becirbasic,
a Bosnian military official who managed the Bosnian side of the MPRI
projects to build and arm a Bosnian army. "It's a conflict of interest.
I represent our national interest, but they're businessmen. I would
have preferred direct cooperation with state organisations like Nato
or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But we had
no choice. We had to use MPRI."