From Wed Nov 24 17:01:03 2004
From: Le Monde diplomatique <>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <>
Subject: Privatised violence
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 2004 15:29:08 +0100 (CET)

Privatized violence

By Sami Makki, Le Monde diplomatique, November 2004

The chaos in Iraq reveals the unprecedented scale at which the United States government has outsourced functions to private military companies. They make it easier to project force abroad, extend the technological influence of the great powers, elude the control of elected assemblies, increase the deniability of dirty tricks and replace shrinking standing armies. In developing countries their use reflects diminishing state power because of slashed budgets.

JUST a few months after the fall of Saddam Hussein there were some 20,000 people working in private security in Iraq. Their presence is mostly the result of United States troops' inability to maintain law and order, but they also cater for a rising demand from international organisations and US investors. As security has deteriorated private military companies (PMC) from western countries have proliferated. In Security Companies Doing Business in Iraq, published in May, the US State Department lists more than 25 firms, mainly from Britain or the United States. They are in practice the acceptable aspect of a murkier world.

Outsourcing by US armed forces has expanded since the end of the cold war, driven by an increasingly global market in arms and military services, and by troop cuts and defence budget rationalisation. Outsourcing is just an advanced form of subcontracting. In exchange for large sums of money, states share some of the risks of conflict with industry. In loftier terms military outsourcing is yet another application of the new public management methods that have been dictated by neo-liberal policy (1).

Such public-private partnerships (PPP) are supposedly a response to budget restrictions, releasing funds to modernise armed forces and to develop and purchase new weapon systems. In 2002 the US Defence Department claimed that outsourcing would save $11bn between 1997 and 2005. However, its main concern was to distract attention from the consequences of the changes in defence organisation and funding caused by cutting the number of federal employees and shifting responsibility to the private sector.

There was sharp criticism of the US Army decision in October 2002 to outsource more than 200,000 jobs as part of its third privatisation phase. Many experts are convinced that such radical measures will not bring a corresponding gain in efficiency (2). According to Bobby Harnage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees: “The contractor workforce now [early 2003] outnumbers the civilian workforce by four times. So this is not about saving money. It's about moving money to the private sector. It's not about eliminating jobs, it's about eliminating accountability” (3).

As part of the drive to outsource army departments to external bodies, successive administrations have signed more than 3,000 contracts with PMCs such as DynCorp, Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), and Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) over the past 10 years. Their emergence has led to a gradual increase in private-sector personnel operating alongside US armed forces on the battlefield, with responsibility for logistics, maintenance, engineering and weapon-system support tasks. During the Gulf war in 1991 the average ratio was about one private employee to 100 soldiers. By 2003 it had risen to one in 10. In the current military deployment in Iraq, PMC staff are the second-largest contingent, equivalent to 20% of US forces.

In economic terms, and despite budget savings of $4.5bn-6bn forecast by the Pentagon's Defence Science Board, the plan has failed to deliver. In several cases the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has shown that the real cost exceeded estimates by several million dollars and that abuses led to serious overcharging for certain services (4). In 2003 Halliburton (the multinational directed by Vice-President Dick Cheney until 2000) and its subsidiary KBR won contracts worth more than $1bn. Halliburton is suspected of involvement in malpractice that affected the award of contracts, suggesting there have been conflicts of interest between the Bush administration and US defence procurement firms (5).

A major strategic rethink is under way, reaching far beyond issues of budget rationalisation and the ideological pros and cons of outsourcing. The US is involved in a long-term, low-intensity war on terrorism. At the same time it must prepare its forces for major conflicts. It cannot afford to weaken its leadership by completely withdrawing from strategically less important theatres and must delegate certain tasks, leaving its armed forces free to concentrate on duties vital to national security.

Another aim of recent programmes has been to optimise the flexibility and speed with which forces can be deployed by eliminating time-consuming administrative checks and red tape. This also gives foreign policy greater leeway, bypassing Congress, which must approve overseas assignments for ground troops and clandestine operations. There is also scope for operations that are not consistent with official strategy. The Clinton administration made a show of its neutrality on Bosnia and became involved in peacekeeping operations with the Implementation Force. But behind the scenes it let MPRI facilitate arms trafficking, in violation of the UN embargo, and train the Croatian-Muslim federation's army in preparation for the decisive 1994 invasion of Krajina (6).

During the 1990s US firms (Vinnell Corp, MPRI, Cubic or Logicon) trained forces from more than 40 countries under military cooperation programmes (7). The resulting networks have been an ideal vector for building alliances, as circumstance dictates, and disseminating US military standards in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. In Africa PMCs take charge of US military logistics and manage experts supporting emergency operations. They have not neglected emerging markets in Europe and developing countries.

PMCs now play a vital role in US defence, particularly in support of expeditionary forces (8). Several firms have lobbied hard in recent years to establish themselves as reliable partners for the management of peace operations. In so doing they have blurred the already hazy distinction between development aid, humanitarian assistance and military operations.

The past five years have also seen major restructuring in the US defence industry, with many mergers and acquisitions (9). Drawing on their service activities, multinational firms promoting information and communications technology as the way to dominate tomorrow's battlefields have penetrated this lucrative market.

When L-3 Communications took over MPRI in 2000, CEO Frank Lanza said: “MPRI is a growth company with good profit margins and competitive advantages that no other training business can match and its services are complementary to our products. MPRI is also active on the international front, as changing political climates have led to increased demand for certain services. These programmes tend to expand and to lead to other opportunities” (10).

However a GAO report has highlighted the lack of control over PMCs, since there is no centralised system capable of keeping track of the innumerable outsourcing contracts passed by US agencies (11). International law is unequal to the task of combating abuses by private armies. In the US, though sales of military services are subject to controls, government agencies may exploit loopholes, particularly for the needs of intelligence and special operations (12).

The Bush administration sees these loopholes as a way of responding effectively to terrorism. But by depriving Congress of a say in military spending, outsourcing opens the way for the use of mercenaries. The budget-conscious, free-market front to this t rend may conceal serious abuses (13). The growing use of civilian resources to support drawn-out military interventions, making the greatest possible use of reserve forces and private firms, threatens the stability of the professional US army that was introduced after the Vietnam war. This year the employees of two US PMCs, CACI and Titan Corporation, were involved in the scandal surrounding the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

In an interview on 30 April Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: “If the Pentagon seeks to use private contractors in military or intelligence roles, it must ensure that they are subject to legal restraints. Allowing private contractors to operate in a legal vacuum is an invitation to abuse.” In 2000 a report by the National Defence University in Washington had acknowledged that privatisation was perhaps less expensive than military intervention but that the quality of results and respect for human rights might be compromised (14).

A distinction is usually made between outsourcing army support services and operational battlefield functions. But since the 9/11 attacks the dividing line has grown fuzzier. As a result of political and strategic decisions in Iraq, outsourcing and the use of mercenaries are merging into new operational doctrines, with private workers being involved in combat on several occasions.

After the defeat of the Iraqi army the US military quickly entrusted the security of sensitive sites in the country to private firms, although it lacked any real means of controlling their work. In September 2003 the US government announced that Erinys Iraq Ltd would be taking charge of training thousands of Iraqis to guard the facilities on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which were often under attack. Many former elite police officers left South Africa for Iraq to take up executive positions and train recruits for Erinys (see Africa: the frighteners, page 10).

Western military and security organisations are being seriously affected by this trend. Drawn by the promise of a tenfold increase in pay, members of the special forces resign to join the private sector (15). In the long term the drain on highly qualified human resources may lead to the loss of specialist skills (maintenance of sophisticated weapon systems, training of pilots) to the private sector.

An increasing number of US officers are concerned about the absence of any unity of command or control and the lack of standardised procedures for recruiting PMC personnel. Kidnapping and murder of corporate personnel are increasingly common and the military is in no position to protect these civilians; the four men lynched and burned by a mob in Falluja in March were employees of Blackwater Security.

The plan to disarm and demobilise former Iraqi soldiers was ill-conceived and disastrously implemented, creating a security vacuum. At the end of 2003 the Pentagon nevertheless announced that it had signed a $48m contract with Vinnell Corp to create and train the nucleus of a new Iraqi army. Other firms, such as MPRI, are involved in the programme as subcontractors. In April 2003 the State Department had awarded a similar contract to DynCorp Aerospace Operations to train the Iraqi police force.

With the increasing number of local militia groups and the intensification of what the US describes as an insurrection, Iraq is in a spiral of violence in which interventions by private security operatives are worsening instability. Iraq's security has become an extremely lucrative market, with individual salaries as much as $1,000 a day. Several thousand former soldiers are working under security contracts for western civilian agencies. Kroll and Control Risks are respectively responsible for protecting the staff of the US Agency for International Development and British diplomats and aid workers.

The crisis in Iraq shows that these private firms, involved in key phases of the conflict and its aftermath, are fulfilling a vital role in the US exercise of force. The proliferation of western PMCs in Iraq is the result of a deliberate policy to experiment with new types of intervention. But the policy has ignored the scale of the difficulties involved. In a tacit admission of failure the US Defence Department awarded a $293m contract to Aegis Defence Service in May (a PMC incorporated in 2003 and directed by a former British Guards officer, Tim Spicer). Its mission is to coordinate all the security operations of more than 50 firms and protect contractors working on reconstruction.

Many US and British diplomats are still unconcerned by rampant privatisation. At a conference in Paris in May a high-ranking civilian coalition official, speaking anonymously, claimed that the proliferation of PMCs was perfectly healthy and could be repeated elsewhere if it proved successful in Iraq. The privatisation of peacekeeping continues rapidly, constantly widening the limits of military outsourcing.

When Paul Bremer, the former civilian administrator of Iraq, framed the country's new legal system he deprived it of any control over private security firms. In the US the boom in private civilian and military service providers may serve the nation's strategic interests (and considering the volume of federal contracts, PMCs must display some loyalty to the government). But in countries such as Iraq it is a recipe for chaos and continuing conflict. Privatising violence jeopardises Iraq's future sovereignty.

It also highlights the impossibility of reconciling US economic aims with the political reality on the ground. PMCs offer specific solutions, from consultancy services to deployment in the field (which has been made necessary by the increasing concentration of expertise and the dual nature of computerised weapons systems). But their overall approach to conflict inevitably stresses technical factors and altogether disregards political considerations.

PMCs upset the balance of power between legislative and executive bodies, between politicians and the civil and military authorities, both in countries in crisis and in the West. Blurring the distinction between civil and military, private and public, these hybrid organisations often operate through informal networks that foster corruption and crime. The US strategic system of global intervention, in which PMCs play an increasingly pivotal role, generates instability, even chaos. It is insidiously legitimising the unilateral exercise of US power, globally and specifically in unsettled areas of the South where the CIA, US special forces and PMCs are waging low-intensity wars.

PMCs have emerged in response to a new form of conflict and a corresponding decline in the international influence of states. Although they cater for the needs of government policy, they foreshadow the spread of conflicts on the fringes of the global market. Privatisation of violence will play a decisive part in this process. For the leaders of the coalition the Iraqi experiment has provided an opportunity to test large-scale outsourcing of military functions. The next step is to make it a systematic process.


(1) Frank Camm, Expanding Private Production to Defence Services, Rand Report MR734, Santa Monica, 1996.

(2) John Deal and James Ward, “Second Thoughts on Outsourcing for the Army”, Army Magazine, Association of US Army, Arlington (VA), May 2001 and Michael O’Hanlon, “Breaking the Army”, Washington Post, 3 July 2003.

(3) Quoted by Maya Kulycky, “How Far Can a War be Outsourced?”, MSNBC News, 14 January 2003.

(4) US GAO, “Contingency Operations: Army Should Do More to Control Contract Cost in the Balkans”,

NSDIAD-00-225, Washington DC, October 2000.

(5) Walter Roche Jr and Ken Silverstein, “Iraq: Advocates of War Now Profit From Iraq's Reconstruction”, Los Angeles Times, 14 July 2004.

(6) See Sami Makki, Sarah Meek, “Private Military Companies and the Proliferation of Arms,” Biting the Bullet Briefing 11, International Alert, London, June 2001.

(7) Deborah Avant, “Privatising Military Training”, Foreign Policy in Focus, vol 7, n° 6, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC, May 2002.

(8) See Stephen Perris and David Keithly, “Outsourcing the sinews of war: contractor logistics”, Military Review, US Army Command, Fort Leavenworth, October 2001.

(9) See Murray Weidenbaum, “The Changing Structure of the US Defense Industry”, Orbis (Foreign Policy Research Institute), Philadelphia, Autumn 2003.

(10) “L-3 Com Announces Acquisition of MPRI”, Business Wire, 18 July 2000, quoted by Peter Singer, Corporate Warriors: the Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2003.

(11) US GAO, “Military Operations: Contractors Provide Vital Services to Deployed Forces but Are Not Adequately Addressed in DoD Plans”, Report GAO-03-695, June 2003.

(12) See Eugene Smith, “The new condottieri and US policy”, Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly, Carlisle (PA), winter 2002-3.

(13) Thomas Adams, “The new mercenaries and the privatization of conflict”, Parameters, US Army War

College Quarterly, summer 1999.

(14) National Defence University, Strategic Assessment 1999, Washington DC, 2000.

(15) See Courrier International, 10-16 June 2004.