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A Mercenary Solution for World Security October 25, 2006

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Government Spending.

Max Boot today offers good arguments in favor of paying mercenaries to undertake the peacekeeping roles that have so taxed the United States military, and that United Nations forces have so completely bungled.

I am such a libertarian that I believe, given proper incentives, the private sector could be entrusted with national defense, and even the management of a strategic nuclear arsenal (and, of course, that it would do so more cheaply and efficiently than the government).  But you don’t have to be a libertarian to acknowledge how effectively private mercenary firms can manage security and peacekeeping operations in political hotspots around the world:

In 1995-96, Executive Outcomes, a South African firm working for the government of Sierra Leone, made short work of a savage rebel movement known as the Revolutionary United Front that was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. The now-defunct Executive Outcomes also helped the Angolan government quell a long-running insurgency by Jonas Savimbi’s Unita, leading to the signing of a peace accord in 1994. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian military offensive that stopped Serbian aggression.

Hired guns could be equally effective in stopping the campaign of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Sudanese government and the janjaweed militia in Darfur. In fact, several firms have already offered their services. They could be employed by an international organization like the U.N. or NATO, by an ad hoc group of concerned nations, or even by philanthropists like Bill Gates or George Soros.

A major impediment to the employment and success of national military forces for security, peacekeeping, and nation building, is the political baggage that they bring with them.  If you send the United States in to liberate Iraq, countries around the world take umbrage at American flags flying from bases in Baghdad, while American politicians bloviate about squandering American lives for a job that may not be essential to the security of the homeland.  Throw a bunch of national military forces together under the auspices of a diplomatic custerfluck like the United Nations and what you get is generally worse than no intervention at all.

National militaries are designed for national defense.  When the mission is something less than the strategic deterrence of adversaries, send in the mercenaries.  They will do the job faster, cheaper, and better.  And since they don’t fly a national banner, their funding can be shared by many different parties with vested interests.

Think of how much easier it would be to get the Europeans and Japanese to throw money behind a private Iraq security force, there to keep the peace until an international coalition can certify that a native government can stand up to secure its own citizenry and infrastructure.  In fact, some of the force’s bill could even be footed by the Iraqi oil and interim government it is protecting — a reasonable gesture that I assume is untenable when the security force is a foreign national military.

Politically this simplifies things immensely, essentially boiling the issues down to the question, “How much money do we want to commit to secure / liberate / protect this region or people?”

Responding to the obvious objection to large-scale mercenary missions, Max Boot notes:

Many also worry about abuses committed by mercenaries, who in some cases have tried to plunder or even take over small states. But the record of privateers compares favorably with that of U.N. peacekeeping forces, which have been distinguished more by their propensity for committing sex crimes than by any success in keeping the peace. To deal with potential abuses, private fighters could be hired under a contract that would hold them liable for war crimes in the International Criminal Court or some other jurisdiction. That would make them more accountable than U.N. forces, which operate with almost complete impunity.


1. federalist - September 1, 2008

Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, has stepped up to the plate, volunteering a private plan to quell the violence in Darfur:

Mr. Prince has a remedy. He believes that with 250 or so professionals, Blackwater can transform about a thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force. This force would also be equipped with helicopters and the kind of small planes that missionaries use in this part of the world. It would be cheaper than the hundreds of millions we are spending to set up a larger AU/U.N. force. And he says he’d do it at cost.

Blackwater would not do the fighting. Its people would serve as advisers, mechanics and pilots. Aid workers and villagers would be equipped with satellite telephones that include Global Positioning Systems. When they call in, the troops would respond.

“I’m so sick of hearing that nothing can be done,” he says. “The Janjaweed is a truly unfettered bully. No one has stood up to them. If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable.”

2. federalist - August 27, 2009

Dave notes that while the Constitution forbids the government to maintain a standing army, it explicitly provides for Congress to hire mercenaries:

What’s more, mercenaries have been a component of some of our most notable military operations throughout our history.

This is all about Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, where it clearly says that Congress can “raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years,” essentially forbidding the kind of long-term, established army we have had since the Civil War. It also authorizes Congress to “grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal,” which is 18th century terminology for hiring mercenaries, bounty hunters, privateers and assassins — essentially any kind of private contractor to exact revenge and attack the nation’s enemies for a reward or a stipend.

The vision which the framers of that document actually had for our military was that it would consist of a militia which was never deployed for any long term and would only be called up for specific short-term uses in the direct defense of the nation, while military operations outside of our borders would largely be carried out on a small scale by hired mercenaries.

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