Mercenaries in New Orleans – “nation building” at home

In Private military industry continues to grow, Rafael Enrique Valero describes the growth industry of people who fight and spy for private gain, mercenaries.

The mercenary corporations have a trade association and lobbying arm, with the Orwellian name of International Peace Operations Association. They held their annual convention in October 2007, attended by among others, Army Lt. Col. James Boozell.

. . . Army Lt. Col. James Boozell, a branch chief of the Stability Operations/Irregular Warfare Division at the Pentagon, said that the U.S. military was in fact experiencing a “watershed” moment in its 200-plus-year history — nation building was now a core military mission to be led by the Army.

. . . his presence at the association’s trade meeting sent a clear message — boom times for nation building are here to stay . . .

The Army understands this. Globalization has weakened borders and ratcheted up commerce even as it breaks down a country’s physical and psychological security. Transnational actors such as Al Qaeda are seeking bases in failed and feeble states worldwide. Africa is particularly vulnerable.

Of course there are a variety of transnational actors, including the oil companies. In Africa these actors are trying to co-opt African resources. That is why Africa is particularly vulnerable.

“Peace operations” and “nation building” are what the military and the mercenaries call their activities. But just like Bush’s “healthy forests” and “clear skies” initiatives, the names mean the opposite of what they do.

While African states are trying to put the culture of military rule behind them, the United States appears determined to demonstrate that most civilian activities in Africa should be undertaken by armed forces.Samuel Makinda

Right now, the debate is about private security contractors — in particular, Blackwater’s shooting of civilians in Iraq — and how to control these corporate warriors in a theater of conflict. Maybe that’s the least of our worries.

. . . as stability operations become the norm worldwide, it is certainly possible that civilian and military interests could blur into a self-perpetuating, symbiotic relationship. Experts wonder if it could lead the United States into a period of “liberal imperialism” that oddly mirrors the British, French, and Dutch East India companies of the 1600s and 1700s — private entities sanctioned by governments to do their bidding.
. . .
MPRI advertises that it works only on international projects endorsed by the U.S. government, and that claim is true as far as it goes. But the company’s well-connected executives, most of them former military brass, know how to lobby Congress to get the contracts they want. Indeed, DynCorp, MPRI, and other private security contractors are heavily staffed and run by former officers who maintain close ties to the men they once led.

. . . after MPRI requested a license to evaluate Equatorial Guinea’s defense department in 1998, the State Department denied the permit because of the West African country’s poor human-rights record. MPRI ex-generals then lobbied Congress and the State Department, arguing that engaging the country “rather than punishing it” would, Avant writes, “foster better behavior in the future and enhance U.S. oil interests.” The application was then approved but was quickly flagged by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. MPRI executives again pressed their case to the right people; in 2000, although Equatorial Guinea’s human-rights record had not changed, State approved the contract.

“I think that the thing you’re pointing out with MPRI’s contract is the degree to which a company with a commercial interest can have influence on policy,” Avant said in an interview. “Now, of course, that happens all the time. But I think it nonetheless opens the question of whether U.S. foreign policy is in the pursuit of ‘U.S. interests’ by some objective definition, or whether it’s in pursuit of interests of a smaller number of people.
. . .
President Bush, . . . has directed the Pentagon to create the U.S. Africa Command by late 2008 to “help coordinate the work of other U.S. government agencies, particularly the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development” to assist African governments and their young rapid-reaction African Standby Force, meant “to provide security and respond in times of need” to troubled nations.

— private relief and development groups and other organizations might not want to work with the U.S. military. Relief groups are steadfast about their neutrality when they are working in war zones in unstable countries; they don’t want one side accusing them of helping the other. In an essay, Carolyn Bryan of USAID writes that contractors and NGOs may not want to compromise their neutrality, because “it increases their risk of being targeted by insurgents.” This separation between the military and the NGOs is called “humanitarian space,” Bryan says, “and is not always understood by the military, who would prefer to join forces with the NGOs and their activities.”
. . .
The private contractors “contradict the military culture’s foundation of sacrifice for the collective good,”
. . .
. . . in the blurry asymmetrical wars of the future, how long will it be before a president decides to “go off the books” and hire a small private army to fight a war. It wouldn’t be hard to do.

“The big risk is not what the companies are going to do in and of themselves,” Avant said. “The big risks are what the consumers are going to ask them to do.”

Of course presidents have already gone “off the books” to fight their wars. That is what Reagan’s Iran Contra was about. A lot of Bush’s Iraq war is off the books, look for the missing billions. It looks like this pattern could become a lot worse.

That is one reason why:

AFRICOM is not about large forces, or large military bases. “It’s not about troops. Its really about headquarter staff, military and civilians; people who oversee programs, they do planning and coordinate security assistance programs.”

AFRICOM can be the pass through vehicle for covert actions and “off the books” operations, “security assistance programs”. That is the reason Bush/Cheney want a huge and thriving mercenary industry. And when they are gone, the industry will still be thriving.

2/2008 – You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.