Small Wars Journal

Are Mercenaries Really a Cheaper Way of War?

Are Mercenaries Really a Cheaper Way of War? By David A. Graham - Defense One

The founder of Blackwater says privatizing the 16-year war could save taxpayer money. History, both recent and farther back, suggests a different outcome.

The world is sliding in a strange direction when a Prince wishes to become a viceroy.

That’s Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary Academi, previously Xe, né Blackwater, who has been pushing a plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan. At 16 years, it’s the country’s longest war, it continues to cost huge sums of money—$40 billion this year alone—and there’s no obvious end in sight. So Prince’s plan is for the U.S. to turn the war over to mercenaries (perhaps, say, Academi) and to appoint a viceroy (perhaps, say, Erik Prince) to run the war.

USA Today reported Tuesday that Prince’s plan has the attention of the White House. One can see why that might be the case. Not only is Prince’s sister the secretary of education (she was Betsy Prince before she married and became Betsy DeVos), but President Trump has also reportedly expressed frustration about the war. “We aren’t winning. We are losing,” he said, according to NBC News, which also said he has considered sacking the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson.

Prince already floated this plan once before, in a May Wall Street Journal op-ed, but he reprised it with a short column in USA Today too

When Prince first suggested the plan, former mercenary Sean McFate wrote in The Atlantic that it was a bad idea—even if one left out the many black marks on Blackwater’s reputation from the conduct of the war in Iraq, and also even if one left out the fact that his exemplar for the viceroy role, General Douglas MacArthur, was fired by the president for abuse of power. Those legitimate worries aside, McFate warned that there plenty of other reasons to be wary: Mercenaries are susceptible to being hired away, tend to foment war where they go, and, essentially, lack the accountability that actual troops do…

Read on.


J Harlan

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 6:59pm

In this case they're more expensive. If Prince's plan includes removing three-four currently serving soldiers (at the equivalent ranks of the contractor so we're talking majors and above not privates) from the rolls there might be some savings but his employees (and a generous markup)would be added to US defence costs. They're aren't short term temps. Unless it's just a clever cover for a mid term total withdrawal this plan is designed to go on in perpetuity. The 90 plane plan is probably just the beginning. That's three aircraft per province so that number is far below what's required.

The actual HR cost hasn't been laid out. What would it cost to get a competent, healthy, fit retired USMC Lt Col who at least didn't hate Afghans to leave his home and family to live in a ANA run FOB for three years? $ 1200 per day? $ 1800 per day? Eight weeks in and four out would increase the number of people you needed by 50%. This is a far different business than sitting on a big American FOB or in the Green Zone with wifi, AC, quality health care and Burger King. I don't think Prince would get nearly enough volunteers of the right quality and when he filled the slots with sub-standard people the problems would cascade.

Instead of asking: "Are Mercenaries Really a Cheaper Way of War?"

Should we be asking, instead, "Are Mercenaries, in Certain Instances, Really a Better Way for the United States to Pursue and Achieve its National Security Objectives?"

These such national security objectives, broadly speaking, being to CREATE a world in which America -- and Americans -- can survive, thrive and prosper?

First, from NSC-68 of 1950:


II. Fundamental Purpose of the United States:

The fundamental purpose of the United States is laid down in the Preamble to the Constitution: ". . . to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.

Three realities emerge as a consequence of this purpose: Our determination to maintain the essential elements of individual freedom, as set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights; our determination to create conditions under which our free and democratic system can live and prosper; and our determination to fight if necessary to defend our way of life, for which as in the Declaration of Independence, "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." ...

VI. U.S. Intentions and Capabilities--Actual and Potential


Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one designed to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish. It therefore rejects the concept of isolation and affirms the necessity of our positive participation in the world community.


Next, compare the above (and note certain similarities) to testimony before the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017:


... America has always been about its principles. Its history has been the record of its struggle to realize these principles at home and to advance them abroad. ...

Political democracy and free markets were at the core of the rules-based international order that America and Europe created in the aftermath of World War II. And every war that America has fought since that time has been fought in the name of advancing the cause of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

America has never accepted the idea that it had to choose between its democratic principles and its interests. This is a false choice. Advancing freedom and democracy in the world also advances American interests. For a world that reflects these principles, is more likely to be a world in which America -- and Americans -- can thrive and prosper.



a. As to this exact such national security requirement, to wit: to CREATE a world where America, and Americans, can survive, thrive and prosper;

(A requirement which, as per NSC-68 above, is to be found in the Preamble to our Constitution. And, as Stephen Hadley notes above, relates to "advancing freedom and democracy in the world ... every war that America has fought since that time [WWII] has been fought in the name of advancing the cause of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.")

b. As to this exact such national security requirement, can mercenaries, in certain instances, do an as good -- or better -- job today than the U.S. military? (Only after addressing this question, to consider the issue of "cheaper?")

It's an interesting but ultimately not very significant idea. While the numbers are big by themselves, they pale and disappear when compared to the actual US budget - which is counted in *trillions". For example, counting only the Defense budget (otherwise it's an infinitely small fraction), the war costs about 8% of it; hiring Blackwater would reduce the cost to about 2%. Considering the fact that it's not an open war anymore but a low-intensity occupation with insurgents, which requires *a lot* of caution and intelligence, and Blackwater's track record, I think it's not a good idea. For example, the Nisour Square incident - which saw 17 confirmed civilians killed as well as 20 others wounded - was absolutely horrible, the biggest step backwards even considering all similar American and Coalition incidents. The deep, abrupt swerve in public opinion against the West and the resulting radicalization of even more population deeply hurt progress of the country's reconstruction and ended up costing US taxpayers.

Defense One is anti-American and always takes the anti-military use of force view. It is ideologically regressive liberal and socialist and a partner with pro-Islamist thinking. The attack on Prince is over reach, it is an attempt to make accidental family circumstance nepotism without substantiating any claims. The fact charges were dropped against 3 Blackwater employees from an incident in 2007 isn't even explored. 4 Blackwater employees were charged with 31 deaths after being ambushed. The sentence was not brought until 2014 so much for the right to a speedy trial, the entire tragedy was politicized by Obama as cause to justify abandoning Iraq; we all know how that has worked out.
Is Defense One partially funded by Iran.
Is McMaster's a practicing Muslim or submissive?
Often I find myself asking those questions and wondering why it is considered wrong to ask.
How deep are the Muslim Brotherhood's and its Islamist supporters pockets?
Prince suggested an Executive Outcomes like force (Executive Outcomes former employees were critical to the ouster of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the return of some of the "girls" Michelle promised would be freed, in the meantime half the girls died of various causes.). Prince recommended that a Brigade size contracted force subsided by the coalition with supporting arms could take the fight to the Islamic State years before Obama finally had a movement and began to put Brigade size numbers of American forces in Iraq. Would it have been cheaper for the world community to have continued doing nothing because Obama and the DNC gets constipated when military force need apply, would Europe be awash with refugees and the costs, hundreds of thousands dead and Obama offering nothing but talk while Iran positioned itself and exploited the circumstances, and who knows what "The Deal" really contains?
But lets bash President Trump for considering talking to Prince.