Private Parts: The Private Sector and U.S. Peace Enforcement
Debates about peacekeeping policy in the United States arise whenever there is a new administration or crisis to consider. President Donald Trump’s reduction of funding for UN programs signals that peacekeeping and peace enforcement with the United Nations might have no role in a doctrine of “America first”. US-led peace enforcement operations, such as those in Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, are done so according to US or NATO doctrine, strategy, and interests. Although these operations received UN-authorization, they were US and NATO driven affairs. Questions as to whether the US should engage in enforcement actions to accomplish its objectives is related to but often separate from the question of enforcing with the United Nations. Although the cost, merits, and results of the interventions in Afghanistan, and Iraq have faced intense criticism in the years following their operation, their start received very little contention at the time in the United States.[i] UN-led or initiated operations are, in theory, the result of a global order managing global equities for the global good. In practice, enforcement operations are mandated through the UN Security Council where the United States is just one veto-wielding voice among five, and on which two US adversaries hold equal authority. Not every operation the UN embarks on is therefore likely to immediately benefit American interests.
The American people, the ultimate arbiters of US policy who have managed to reverse policy and courses of war, have been swayed by perceptions and misperceptions of the effectiveness, cost, and purpose of peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Many concerns are not without merit: US soldiers should not die in a war in which the United States itself is not at risk or under attack, the UN boasts a mixed track record at best, and the risk of being dragged into a quagmire is high. Stronger however are the arguments for greater intervention: it is better to address a problem today than worry about what it has developed into tomorrow, it is the responsibility of powerful states to prevent or stop genocide, and in a world of increasing geopolitical competition where new “great games” are cropping up across the globe, peace enforcement serves to project national influence.
This essay therefore holds the assumption that engaging in UN-led enforcement operations is to the geopolitical benefit of the United States and endeavors to answer the following question: If the United States chooses to contribute to UN peace enforcement operations, to what extent should this effort be privatized? To answer this question, this essay defines UN peace enforcement and examines the present and potential role of private military and security companies (PMSCs), as well as the role of PMSCs in the US's current enforcement model. The advantages and disadvantages of using PMSCs are then addressed, followed by a recommendation that the United States seek to privatize its UN peace enforcement contributions by engaging PMSCs.
In extreme cases of armed conflict or genocide, the UNSC may pass a resolution calling for peace enforcement. Peace enforcement authorizes the use of coercive measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to maintain peace, protect civilians, or protect the efforts and personnel of ongoing peacekeeping efforts (Bellamy et. al. 215, 2010). Put more generally: when the conflict environment has degraded to a point where programs cannot continue in relative security, enforcement measures may be used to create a more stable environment for their operation. A notable example is the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the resolution to which was passed as the March 23 rebel movement picked up steam. In a 12-page resolution, the FIB was formally authorized to “[neutralize] armed groups… to [reduce] the threat posed by armed groups to state authority and civilian security in eastern DRC and to make space for stabilization activities” (Resolution 2098 6, 2013).
The FIB was made up of three infantry battalions, one artillery battalion, and one company of special operators, and also included combat engineers to build roads, bridges, and remove unexploded ordnance (Garcia 11, 2018). South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania contributed the troops, while the force was led by Tanzanian Brigadier General James Mwakibolwa. The FIB managed to soundly defeat the M23 rebels and put another group, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) into retreat (Howell 29, 31, 2015). With the rebels defeated, the FIB turned its attention to another group, and then another, engaging a proverbial alphabet soup of militias and rebels[ii] until it became so bogged down that the ADF were able to re-emerge as a threat. The FIB mandate is a mix of decisiveness and confusion on behalf of the UNSC. For the first time, the UN designated an enemy, the M23 rebels, and called for its neutralization.[iii] However, the definition of "threat post by armed groups to state authority" is vague. By what measure is threat to be determined, which armed groups are to be included, and what of those with legitimate grievances against the brutality of the very state[iv] the FIB would be trying to preserve? This vagueness contributes to the very reason the FIB still exists today. Once the designated enemy of the enforcement mandate was destroyed, the FIB was able to turn to the next group it considered a threat to state authority and civilian security. The mandate itself technically allows the FIB to remain in the eastern Congo until the region is free of the 130 armed militias who roam it, so long as the resolution continues to be extended by the UNSC.[v]
The uncertainty of its mandate has essentially kept an international offensive brigade in-country for longer than was intended at greater cost than was expected. After a UN report assessing the effectiveness of the FIB, it was announced in June 2018 that the brigade would be restructured. The brigade would be made smaller,[vi] more mobile, and include a new Special Forces company and attack helicopter unit. The reduction has been criticized by South Africa[vii] while others criticize the FIB's inability to defeat the revitalized ADF and note the cost issues[viii] with sustaining such a force (Fabricius 2018).
Although it has met setbacks under different leadership and fighting a different enemy than it was originally mandated to do, its achievement in soundly defeating M23 and putting the ADF on the run is noteworthy. Luminaries and lawmakers alike continue to debate both the long-term effectiveness and propriety of peace enforcement missions – yet given the relative success of the FIB (and mixed opinions on similar enforcement missions in Mali [MINUSMA] and the Central African Republic [MINUSCA]) the trend is likely to continue.
Present and Potential PMSC Contributions to Enforcement
In enforcement the US could either contribute national forces, hire a PMSC in its place, or find a medium between these two poles. Presently, the private sector plays a largely unsung role in peacekeeping and peace enforcement. This does not mean that the UN is not deeply invested in the use of PMSCs. Notable examples include:
“Dyncorp providing helicopter transport and satellite network communications... Defence Systems Limited (DSL) provided both logistical and intelligence support... Pacific Architects & Engineers (PAE) provided general logistics in support of the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone in 2000 and 2003 and various logistical services to MONUC in 2001.” (Genser and Garvey 456, 2016).
However, the UN has yet to hire a PMSC to fulfill a specific enforcement role. In this field, the private sector could either take part in operations, or train and supply those who do. Thus far, only the latter has been attempted. In the Central African Republic, the Russian Federation has sent 170 civilian instructors, suspected contractors from Wagner Group,[ix] to train CAR service personnel (Kozhin 2018; Leviev 2018). The presence of Wagner in CAR is extensive. The company “took possession of former president Jean-Bedel Bokassa's house… and transformed it into a center to train thousands of soldiers” (Kharief 2018). In a clear delineation between contractor and mercenary, one Wagner soldier stated in an interview that those being sent to the Central African Republic will not carry weapons and will be strictly serving as instructors (Pushkarev 2018). And yet according to one expert, these same instructors have been deployed to protect some of CAR’s most valuable mineral deposits and to protect CAR’s president – tasks they ostensibly cannot do without firearms (Leviev 2018).
Aside from Wagner being a pseudo-state asset rather than a purely private sector actor, there is one major caveat to this private sector contribution to MINUSCA: it might not be a contribution at all and may instead be a parallel effort. In December 2017, Russia was granted permission to ship weapons and ammunition to the CAR national forces pursuant to UNSC Resolution 2127 – the same resolution which serves as the basis for MINUSCA’s mandate. When it made delivery in 2018, so too began the delivery of Wagner troops which may be a breach of the mandate. For its part, Russia does not believe this to be the case, and its Foreign Ministry has stated that “This assistance is provided in strict accordance with the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on the country. Russia’s assistance is carried out as part of the common efforts of the international community” (Kozhin 2018). France, which also sent weapons and trainers to CAR as part of MINUSCA, sees the move as a unilateral attempt to spread Russian influence (Reuters 2018). On the one hand, the contractors are not part of MINUSCA; on the other, MINUSCA is “the common effort of the international community” and these contractors are contributing to it according to the government that sent them. As with so many things in the tumultuous relationship between Russia and the West, the answer as to whether or not Wagner's operations amount to a nation-state contracting a PMSC to fulfill enforcement obligations or a unilateral action outside the framework of the United Nations depends entirely on who is asked.
Wagner’s involvement in CAR is the closest the private sector has come to directly contributing to a UN enforcement campaign, but there is great potential. Where the private sector might not be able to field all the elements required of a multidimensional PKO,[x] peace enforcement operations are relatively small with concentrated assets put towards a concentrated and offensive purpose. In 2006, Blackwater, the PMSC made famous for its exploits in the War in Iraq, stated that it was ready to provide brigade-sized forces on a moment's notice; and Executive Outcomes, the godfather of modern-day PMSCs, estimated it could have deployed 1,500 troops within six weeks to stop the Rwandan genocide (Isenberg, 2008). A more modern account of PMSCs deploying training and enforcement assets comes from Nigeria. After the kidnapping of 250 school girls from Chibok by the terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014, the Nigerian government turned to the private sector for a solution. Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, met with Nigerian government officials and "offered to destroy Boko Haram for a fee of $1.5 billion" (Barlow 2017). In the slides from his presentation to government officials, Prince offered policing support, air strikes, intelligence, close air support, counter-terror and "black" operations (Cole and Scahill 2016). Prince was rejected, but STTEP International, the successor firm to Executive Outcomes, was not.
Blackwater is a wholly American firm and its involvement in Africa could be regarded as a form of corporate colonialism. STTEP draws its ranks from the former South African Defense Forces (and current SANDF) and "the armed wing of the opposing African National Congress’s (ANC) Umkhonto weSizwe (MK)" and considers itself a "a true African PMC that provides African security solutions to under-siege governments" (Barlow 2017). In December 2014, STTEP was contracted by the Nigerian government to train an elite unit of the Nigerian military, a force eventually known as 72 Mobile Strike Force. STTEP was initially contracted to help rescue the Chibok schoolgirls but as Boko Haram advanced deeper into Nigeria, their mission became: "to halt Boko Haram’s rapid advance and create breathing space to enable the government to hold elections" (Barlow 2017).
In January 2015, the STTEP contractors got to work building an elite unit that had "its own organic air support, intelligence, communications, logistics, and other relevant combat support elements", and also fielded their own intelligence assets (Murphy 2016). Unlike the proposed Blackwater contract, STTEP was only contracted to train, advise, and assist. The 72 MSF was reliant on equipment from the Nigerian military which had little faith in its ability to fight Boko Haram. The Nigerian military had been trained by US and UK government personnel. The training they received, as described by the founder of STTEP Eeben Barlow, was "window-dressing, but when you look through the window, the room is empty" (2017). The Nigerian military had been trained in Western doctrine using Western tactics which were not suited for the bush war it was engaged in against Boko Haram. STTEP trained the 72 MSF in a tactic pioneered by Executive Outcomes called "relentless pursuit."[xi] Relentless pursuit is especially effective against rebel groups as it denies them the opportunity to rest or replenish their ranks and equipment. Using relentless pursuit, the 72 MSF would focus on engaging Boko Haram while the Nigerian 7th Infantry Division would hold and secure captured territory.
Ahead of direct operations, the 72 MSF was given three attack helicopters which it used to degrade Boko Haram's assembly positions and camps. By the end of February, the 72 MSF had begun operations and quickly recaptured Mafa, Bama, and degraded Boko Haram to the point where intelligence indicated they would soon revert to suicide bombing (Barlow 2017). STTEP soldiers fought alongside the 72 MSF, and senior STTEP personnel led the force in its opening stages to ensure effective coordination with the 7th Infantry Division. As Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan stepped down, the three-month STTEP contract came to an end.[xii] In three months, a private firm trained and fought alongside local forces and "during one month’s operations... recaptured a land mass larger than Belgium from Boko Haram" (Barlow 2017). The success STTEP left behind would not last long. The contract was not renewed under the new Nigerian president and the Nigerian military began losing territory to Boko Haram once again.
These examples show that PMSCs have the ability to provide "tip of the spear" services. Nigeria is not alone in understanding this. The United Arab Emirates has employed Spear Operations Group and Frontier Services Group (FSG) to fulfill its counter-insurgency and "black" operations in Yemen. Russia employs Wagner contractors in Syria and Ukraine, and China[xiii] employs PMSCs to protect its Belt and Road Initiative investments across the world. This trend owes much to the United States, which has one of the most robust private military sectors in the world. In 2014, contractors in Afghanistan outnumbered US uniformed troops three to one and represented 64% of all US combat deaths (Zenko, 2015). US Africa Command (AFRICOM) relies on twenty-one different PMSCs to provide “a range of services - intelligence, transport, logistics, medical evacuation, and sometimes more combat-focused missions.” (Kharief 2018). Where the US draws the line is in hiring contractors to conduct offensive operations.
PMSCs and the Afghan Model
With MINUSCA, MINUSMA, and the FIB, UN peace enforcement looks to be getting closer to counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations. Framing enforcement measures in this light has brought greater contributions and attention from the West. Combatting terrorism is a cause the West can get behind and the environment allows Western militaries to use the lessons learned and tactics perfected in Afghanistan and Iraq (Karlsrud 2015: 46). Terrorism is also a problem that touches the Western world directly whereas the exact political aspirations of a nameless rebel group may be of little interest. It stands to reason then that if the US were to contribute to a peace enforcement mission, it would do so according to its preferred counter-terror and counter-insurgency doctrine. Today, that doctrine is "The Afghan Model." The Afghan Model was first practiced in the War in Afghanistan in 2001 when a small contingent of US special forces were inserted to prepare the battlefield for a larger invasion by US marines. But by training and fighting alongside members of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and utilizing precision air strikes, this small group overthrew the Taliban regime and dispersed their 50,000-man army. The model is the brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency and uses special forces to train local troops and direct precision and close air support (Andres et. al. 129, 2006). The model is particularly useful in that it keeps low the cost of intervention and therefore "creates a more credible stick to use in coercive diplomacy against small- and medium-sized opponents" (Andres et. al. 127, 2006).
The model has been used over the past decade to great effect in Syria, Iraq, Niger, and Libya. AFRICOM's efforts throughout the continent rely on this model, utilizing small groups of Green Berets, Army Rangers, Delta Force and others to train, advise, and assist national militaries and pro-democratic rebel groups. In the Afghan Model too, PMSCs have their place though information on these activities is admittedly sparse. When asked about the role of PMSCs in AFRICOM in 2010, then-General William E. Ward stated flatly, "AFRICOM does not use private military contractors" (AFRICOM 2010). AFRICOM was established in 2007, it is possible that PMSCs had not yet become part of the system. Also possible is the difference in definition of what constituted a "PMC" between the reporter asking the question and the General answering it. However, from the outset it was acknowledged that, given the United States' growing reliance on PMSCs, it was only a matter time before AFRICOM would turn to them as well (Aning et. al. 621, 2008). As previously noted, by 2018 AFRICOM had come to rely greatly on PMSCs. In 2017, the US public became aware of operations in Niger when four Army commandos were killed in the Tongo Tongo ambush by ISIS fighters. Although media attention focused on the slain uniformed personnel, it was later reported that one of those who survived the ambush was a US intelligence contractor and pilots from Berry Aviation had flown the helicopters that were called in to provide emergency evacuation (Trevithick 2017).
The United States is not alone in its use of the Afghan Model. In fact, STTEP's involvement in Nigeria perfectly mirrors the model. STTEP deployed its employees to train, advise, and assist local Nigerian troops to beat Boko Haram. It utilized air assets to degrade enemy positions, employed its own intelligence network, had a small company footprint and relied on local forces to do the bulk of the fighting. In Syria, the US deployed its employees to train, advise, and assist Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Democratic Forces to defeat Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. The only tangible difference between the two efforts is the scale and sophistication of operations.
While STTEP was reduced to using Gazelle transport helicopters retrofitted with machine guns and a single Mi-24 attack helicopter, the US launched Tomahawk cruise missiles from Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers and conducted over 68,000 sorties using planes launched from Supercarriers (AFCENT 3, 2017). Where STTEP employed its intelligence assets on the ground, the US turned to the greatest intelligence alliance the world has ever seen, the Five Eyes alliance of United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. STTEP operated in eastern Nigeria, while US operations spanned Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. STTEP had no other international actors to contend with, while the US led a multi-national coalition and was faced with competition from Russia, Turkey, and Iran. While the Afghan Model may be replicated by PMSCs with relative success, such success is just that - relative to what the United States is able to accomplish using said model. It is therefore tough to make the case that, qualitatively, the US should hand over the bulk of its enforcement practices to the private the sector.
Advantages of PMSCs
Qualitative advantages of national assets do not negate the very real advantages of using PMSCs. Being private actors, PMSCs benefit from the general advantages of the private sector. The private sector relies on market research, is priced by supply and demand, and incentivizes cooperation between implementation teams and management. The marketplace provides its own method of accountability through "positive outcomes to reward units that innovate" and by dispensing "ramifications for failure" (West & Lu 2009: 2). The private sector can also move quicker to implement new strategies, as made evident in the Somali pirate crisis of the mid-to-late 2000's. When governments moved too slow and with wavering commitment to decisive action, the shipping industry hired PMSCs to provide armed security. To date, no vessel guarded by an armed contractor has ever been taken hostage.
The specific advantages of PMSCs over traditional peacekeeping and enforcement troops have been detailed and continue to be championed by advocates, but key benefits bear repeating. First, PMSCs are able to deploy better trained troops who are "less threatened by internal national tensions that plague multinational forces" (Bellamy et. al. 2010: 328). Second, after thirty-odd years of experience, PMSCs have robust institutional memories of working within the confines of a UN operation, including its authority, accountability, and coordination mechanisms. Third, national troops often defer to their national commanders and whether due to prejudice of doctrine, ethnicity, or competence, tend not to respect the dictates of a foreign commander (Bellamy et. al. 2010: 227). PMSCs answer to the authority of whoever holds their contract. In a scenario where the US hires a PMSC, it could transfer authority to the UN without needing to place uniformed Americans under the control of a foreign commander. Finally, PMSCs are not as beholden to the "body bag syndrome" as national forces are. After losing 18 soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu, the US famously retreated from Somalia. In 1994, the Belgian government withdrew its peacekeepers after losing just ten soldiers in the opening days of the Rwandan genocide. By comparison, Executive Outcomes lost "around fifty personnel during its operations in Angola" and it stayed the course[xiv] (Bellamy et. al. 328).
However, this might not be as great a problem when it comes to peace enforcement. In the DRC, African militaries have proven willing to suffer casualties. Casualties among the FIB have been low, but on December 7, 2017, the ADF launched an attack on Tanzanian forces in North Kivu. The Tanzanians lost 15 men with another 43 wounded. The attack was "the bloodiest attack against Monusco [sic]... and the worst against any UN force since the death of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in Somalia in June 1993" (Fabricius 2018). The men were mourned and given military honors, but the Tanzanians have not pulled their contingent.
The US public, consumed by a 24-hour news cycle, is a different matter. Although many still debate the veracity of what is known as "the CNN effect,"[xv] policymakers are all too aware of its potential effects. PMSCs have the distinct benefit of minimizing public scrutiny, therefore minimizing this phenomenon. PMSCs would be deploying into conflicts where there is no immediate national security threat to address. In these environments, "casualty figures beyond single digits are routinely seen as a political, and thus a military, defeat" (Singer 195, 2002). If these deaths were uniformed personnel, it might pressure the US administration to withdraw. This is where PMSCs are of great use:
"As one company executive explains, 'The end of the Cold War has allowed conflicts long suppressed or manipulated by the superpowers to reemerge. At the same time, most armies have gotten smaller and live footage on CNN of United States soldiers being killed in Somalia has had staggering effects on the willingness of governments to commit to foreign conflicts. We fill the gap'" (Singer 2002:195).
Not as often discussed but as important are the economic benefits to hiring PMSCs for the economy. The Department of Defense is the largest employer in the United States. Many of those employed include private contractors. In 2015, the DOD contracted with 50,000 companies with the top five contracting firms earning a combined $78.7 billion (CRS 2017). American firms have also fared well with the UN, earning over $7.3 billion since 2008 (UNPD website). The DOD and the UN employ tens of thousands[xvi] of American veterans and specialists to fulfill armed and unarmed security roles and logistics. Not only do company earnings contribute to American tax revenue, but so do those they employ. Moreover, contracting is an opportunity for highly skilled veterans to utilize their skillset to provide for their families and provide their children with greater education opportunities. Contractors are paid very well, and that money is mostly spent in the US economy.
There are other specific advantages of using PMSCs for the United States. The US is in a financial dilemma. The US is spending trillions to modernize its forces and nuclear triad. The US is having to spend more money to maintain its qualitative gap against countries like Russia and China who pay third-world prices to state-owned companies for their assets compared to America's first-world prices to private companies. Managing growing social commitments, power parity, and modernization are all concerns every modern military must contend with, but specific to the United States are the scale of these commitments combined with its obligations to a liberal global order.
Aside from effectively subsidizing the defense of Europe, whose low defense spending has been a thorn in the side of every US president since Ronald Reagan, the US is also the de facto protector of global trade and freedom of navigation. Liberal globalization relies on free trade and that trade goes by sea, thereby placing seapower at the heart of liberal globalization (Till 2007: 30). As the world's single greatest naval power, the responsibility has fallen on the United States to not just make the trade lanes safe, but to make them safe "for everyone but the enemies of the system to use" (Till 2007: 31). Freedom of navigation, the universal right for trade to pass through international waters regardless of cargo or country of origin,[xvii] is guaranteed by the US Navy which continues to face down challengers such as China which would see this right revoked in the South China Sea. The US is not the first to have this responsibility. The United Kingdom shouldered this same burden during the greatest days of its empire, as did the Mongols when the silk road was under their control. As all three would attest, such a responsibility is expensive.
The US is having to spend more on its people, on its modernization, and on its unique obligations, and yet this essay holds the assumption that it is in the interest of planners to invest more into UN peace enforcement to further US influence. If the US were to do so, it would be wise to do so at cost. The notoriously Byzantine public sector is rarely up for such a task. In theory, by outsourcing US contributions to the private sector, the US could reap the geopolitical rewards while spending far less than it would with national forces.
PMSCs have disadvantages which should be accounted for. Although some would argue the morality of using "mercenaries" to enforce peace, this essay makes the assumption that "victims of war crimes do not really care who stops their tormentors as long as they are stopped" (Bellamy et. al. 2010: 328). As such, this section will address two of the greatest issues facing PMSCs: accountability and the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
PMSCs dedicate many resources to keeping their organizations and activities out of the news.[xviii] As a result when they do manage to break into the 24-hour news cycle, it is usually for the wrong reasons. In 2007, Blackwater contractors killed seventeen civilians in Nisour Square in Iraq. In 2002, DynCorp employees were found to be running a sex trafficking ring in Bosnia; and in 1631, mercenaries under the Count of Tilly, Johann Tserclaes, killed 20,000 civilians in the Sack of Magdeburg. Mercenaries committing atrocities is nothing new, but there is also no evidence to suggest that mercenaries, or contractors, commit said atrocities at any greater rate than national forces. What sets them apart is punishment, or lack thereof as the case may be. The guilty DynCorp employees were simply shipped out of Bosnia while the firm continued to receive contracts from the US government (Bellamy et. al. 2010: 330). For the mercenaries at Magdeburg, the massacre and subsequent pillage was their reward for taking the city.
Demonstrating a new trend of holding contractors to account, the Blackwater contractors who committed the Nisour Square massacre faced a different fate. One contractor pled guilty of manslaughter while another four went to court. They too were found guilty of manslaughter and, oddly enough, of carrying automatic weapons. One contractor received a life sentence, and the other three received thirty-year sentences. The contractor who pled guilty and turned witness against his compatriots received a lighter one-year sentence. Granted, the preparation, accusation, appeal, trial, and verdict[xix] took seven years to complete, it is a great step forward in rectifying the accountability problem with PMSCs. Another issue of accountability lies in the frequency and ease with which guilty companies may reappear under a new name. After Blackwater became synonymous with human rights abuses and the Battle of Fallujah,[xx] it was bought by investors and renamed Academi. Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, then went on to found FSG.
Where possible, the private sector always chooses to self-regulate rather than be regulated by government. In this pursuit The International Stability Operations Association (ISOA) has become the premier PMSC trade association in this space. Although the ISOA does its best to enforce a code of conduct which includes making sure its members "respect the dignity of all human beings and adhere to all applicable international humanitarian and human rights laws", Triple Canopy, which now owns Academi, is a member of the ISOA as is Prince's FSG (ISOA Code of Conduct). There is no evidence to suggest FSG has breached ISOA's code of conduct, nor is there evidence that FSG breached international or humanitarian law. Whether or not the founder of one company who would not be allowed into the ISOA cannot be the head of a new company that adheres to such a code, or the status of said first company if it is acquired by a second company that meets ISOA standards, is a question for business ethics and beyond the remit of this essay. The private military and security industry has some way to go to ensure proper accountability for PMSCs, but between the ISOA and the conviction of the five Blackwater contractors, the evidence suggests that American[xxi] PMSCs are under greater scrutiny than many of the world's national forces.
When it comes to the use of force, it is generally regarded that the sovereign State should have a monopoly on its legitimate use. The argument goes that using PMSCs to conduct force erodes state authority over violence, and that since PMSCs work for contract it transfers this authority to the wealthy. In the developing world, the wealth can then "find it relatively easy to acquire military means with which to pursue their agendas" (Bellamy et. al. 2010: 331). Although states have endeavored for centuries to centralize the legitimate use of force, the factor wealth plays in this equation has not changed. If a wealthy actor were to pay for a military to conduct a rebellion, then it would do so regardless if those soldiers were mercenaries, contractors, or regulars. The American Revolution was one such rebellion where the wealthy elite gave locals money and land in exchange for military service in order to pursue their political agendas. The locals may have had more patriotic motives than profit, but profit was nonetheless a motive.
Earlier, this essay compares the differences between US and STTEP's use of the Afghan Model and purposely referred to their respective troops as "employees". The greatest philosophical difference between national troops and PMSC contractors are in the interpretation of this definition. Where STTEP was employed by a government to defeat rebels, the US donated its services to rebels to defeat a government, demonstrating that the definition and use of said "employee" is entirely flexible. STTEP aided the Nigerian government in re-establishing its monopoly on the use of force, while US special forces weakened the Syrian monopoly. There is therefore no inherent moral good to establishing or degrading this monopoly. It is true that the Thirty Years War was a largely mercenary driven affair[xxii] that led to a wealth of atrocities.
However, this was during a time when mercenary armies outperformed state armies qualitatively and quantitatively. Even if every PMSC active today combined into a single army, it is unlikely that force could defeat a single Marine Expeditionary Unit.[xxiii] PMSCs do not have the qualitative assets of modern states, nor do they have the quantitative resources or reserves. These PMSCs could very well take on some of the state militaries in Africa,[xxiv] but so too can the militias they are fighting. This is a problem rooted in the weakness of African states, not PMSCs. It is therefore tempting to reduce this philosophical difference to mere semantics. But for many, right or wrong, semantics make the world of difference.
Recommendation & Conclusion
For the United States, which has so thoroughly woven PMSCs into its warfighting, engaging PMSCs in its peace enforcement contributions is a given. What is left up to debate is the question of, to what extent? More specifically, whether PMSCs should be engaged to fulfill combat or training or roles. The US can accomplish more using national assets than it could using PMSCs. This approach would be more expensive and run the risk of an early withdrawal if casualties begin to mount. The critical argument in favor of using PMSCs is that although US national assets could do the job better, PMSCs could still do the job and save the US money while doing it. Some might argue that engaging contractors to fulfill its obligation is an abdication of state responsibility, but if the US is the one paying for the service and the contractors deployed are American nationals, is it really an abdication? The argument once again comes back to semantics. Aside from financial benefits, the pragmatic benefit of using PMSCs is that it allows greater flexibility of US policy. Not only could multiple PMSCs be deployed to multiple conflicts, but they would free up national assets to focus on more pressing concerns.
The final recommendation of this essay is that the US should privatize its contributions. The caution of due diligence is warranted, however. Accountability mechanisms must be enforced and, where possible, improved upon - such as tying US government contracts directly to ISOA membership, inserting a Department of Justice liaison with the association, or requiring all contractors to be US citizens. Further, the qualitative power available to PMSCs must never approach even a modicum of parity with any first world nation. This could mean tighter regulations on possessing certain military equipment, requiring PMSCs who take US contracts to lease their equipment directly from the US, or requiring PSMCs conducting intelligence to store all gathered information on a government-controlled database.
The signers of the Treaties of Westphalia were right to reject the use of mercenary companies as the principal method of warfighting. The Thirty Years War brought untold misery to millions and so totally threatened the concept of sovereignty that the sovereigns at risk birthed concepts of "statehood" which, 370 years later, is still referred to as "Westphalian sovereignty". Although these states never completely abandoned the use of mercenaries, the instinctual rejections of PMSCs today in the name of such sovereignty may be a case of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." PMSCs can be a saving grace, an immutable curse, or a simple alternative. To keep PMSCs from either pole of failure or necessity, the US need only practice moderation.
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[i] The decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan passed overwhelmingly in the US Congress. The 2011 US intervention in Libya is an outlier, having received intense criticism from both the public and US Congress at the start of operations.
[ii] Including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS).
[iii] A legally polite way of calling for its destruction.
[iv] The DRC military, the FARDC, often act more like their rebel enemies than any legitimate national force.
[v] The FIB mandate has been extended every year since its creation.
[vi] One of the infantry battalions would be cut entirely, while the remaining two would be made smaller.
[vii] South Africa currently leads the FIB.
[viii] For instance, the new attack helicopter unit would consist of old Russian-made assets, replacing the more expensive South African Rooivalk attack helicopters.
[ix] Wagner Group is owned by Dmitry Utkin, an ally of Vladimir Putin and a former GRU operative.
[x]The International Stability Operations Association would say this is debatable, as private sector actors have the materiel, experience, and numbers to fulfill a multidimensional mission. This would, however, require multiple companies across the industry working in concert with one another through clear lines of authority, communication, oversight, and accountability. A tough task for government, an arguably tougher task for competing multinational corporations.
[xi] The tactic is a result of EO's experience fighting bush wars and focuses on hit-and-run attacks and applying constant attrition to the enemy. Once the enemy retreats, "members of the strike force would be helicoptered into land ahead of them to cut off their likely escape routes, gradually exhausting them" (Freeman 2017). The tactic relies on bush trackers to know where the enemy is and which direction they are likely to retreat in.
[xii] In a bit of irony, the very space STTEP helped create led to the election of a new president who was not interested in renewing STTEP's contract.
[xiii] In 2016, China deployed 3,600 private contractors overseas.
[xiv] Not every PMSC has proven as durable. Executive Outcomes was contracted with Sierra Leone in the first place after another company left the country following several casualties (including their commander). There has been a great evolution in PMSCs since the 1990’s however, and modern PMSCs have shown willingness to remain in-theater despite taking casualties.
[xv] Writing in The Atlantic, Uri Friedman argues that the effect is overstated: "the Syrian government’s relentless bombardment of the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta has demonstrated just how muted the CNN effect is in Syria… And yet there has been little public outcry in the United States over the military offensive".
[xvi] According to CENTCOM, the DOD employed 42,700 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2016.
[xvii] With few exceptions, see: North Korea and/or smuggling of internationally-recognized contraband, such as chemical or nuclear weapon components.
[xviii] With Erik Prince (Blackwater) and Eeban Barlow (STTEP International) proving to be the exceptions.
[xix] Also known as due process as guaranteed by the US constitution.
[xx] Four Blackwater contractors were ambushed while patrolling through the city. Their bodies were burnt and hung from a bridge. In response, US Marines attacked the city. Twenty-seven soldiers died in the assault, and the US retreated. In the Second Battle of Fallujah, US Marines returned six months later with Iraqi and British reinforcements and finally captured the city.
[xxi] It should be noted that FSG is headquartered in Hong Kong and is a decidedly Chinese venture.
[xxii] Sweden's Gustavus Adolphus was a notable exception whose state forces contributed greatly to the evolution of modern warfare.
[xxiii] In the 2018 Battle of Khasham in Syria, Russian mercenaries and Syrian government troops advanced on a US position. The US troops called in air support and reportedly killed hundreds of Russian mercenaries and routed the force entirely. The US suffered zero casualties in the battle.
[xxiv] At the height of its operations, it is easy to consider Executive Outcomes one of the most powerful militaries in Africa.