War on Want report: Operation Enduring Profits

The last decade has seen a global boom for private armies who are making a killing working for governments and corporations in war zones around the world. But what are the implications of outsourcing the military? And is this the first step towards the privatisation of war?  By Yasmin Khan, Senior Campaigns Officer, War on Want

War is one of the chief causes of poverty, bringing misery to millions of people around the world, denying them their right to live in peace and destroying any prospect of development.  But not everyone is made poorer by war. Multinational corporations are complicit in wars throughout the world, putting profit before people and often legitimising and fuelling conflict.

Today big businesses’ influence over warfare is greater than ever as governments such as the UK increasingly outsource their war efforts to private companies. The last decade has seen a global boom for private armies who work in war zones taking part in direct combat, military training, providing security to convoys, intelligence and surveillance gathering, operational and logistical support and post-conflict reconstruction.  They also stand accused of taking part in rendition operations and the interrogation and torture of detainees in the war on terror. Private armies have become so much a part of modern conflicts that countries like the UK would struggle to wage war without them.

“It is often said that war is too important to be left to the generals. But what about the CEOs?” P.W. Singer author of Corporate Warriors: The rise of the privatised military industry

Since the Second World War, Western public opinion has shown an increasing unwillingness to accept the costs of conflict, especially the death and personal loss which war entails. Yet Western governments have shown an undiminished appetite for military interventions to further their national interests around the world. To overcome this tension, Western governments are increasingly turning to private armies to take on conflicts that are too costly — in terms of resources or public opinion — to undertake themselves, with the advantage that lines of accountability become increasingly blurred. Private armies allow governments to evade responsibility and maintain economic and strategic interests in a country long after their armies have been withdrawn. Unlike the widely publicised casualty figures for UK soldiers, the death toll for contractors working for private armies is much harder to uncover.   In Iraq there are still over 12,000 security contractors working on behalf of the US government. UK companies like G4S are preparing to make a killing through setting up lucrative deals to protect Iraqi oil and gas reserves.

Getting Away with Murder

During the occupation of Iraq hundreds of human rights abuses by private armies were exposed. This includes in 2003 employees of Titan and CACIwere implicated the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. In November 2005 contractors working for UK company Aegis Defence Services randomly shot at civilian cars from the back of the firm’s vehicle on the road to Baghdad airport. Employees of the notorious American mercenary company Blackwater (renamed XE in 2009) shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad in September 2007.  In November 2007 contractors working for UK company Erinys opened fire on a taxi near Kirkuk, wounding three civilians.

There are now similar abuses taking place in Afghanistan. In November 2008, a contractor in Afghanistan shot deada handcuffed detainee. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter but walked free from a US court in May 2009. Don Ayala was working for Strategic Analysis Inc, a subcontractor of BAE Systems, Inc. Contractors working for Paravant, a subsidiary of Xe have been accused of firing at a car and killing two Afghani civilian and wounding another in Kabul in May 2009.

Troops out(sourced)

In the last few years the UK government has spent more than £148 million of taxpayers money

on private army contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the US and UK plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, more private armies are likely to be used.

The recent and rapid expansion of private armies means that there is an urgent need to bring their activities under legal and democratic control. UK companies are some of the biggest players in the industry but remain unregulated and unaccountable. The United Nations has repeatedly called for governments to introduce legislation to regulate private armies. As the British government is plunged deeper into conflict in Afghanistan, national regulation is urgently needed to hold these corporate warriors to account.

The previous Labour government recognised that there was a problem with private armies but rather than introduce straight legislative controls to regulate their behaviour and hold them to account for their actions, instead they proposed a voluntary code of conduct for companies.

But a voluntary set of protocols for men with guns working in war zones for the British government is not enough. We now have a ridiculous situation where the UK government makes you get a license to sell ice cream or watch television, but not to set up a mercenary company and send you out to a war zone like Afghanistan.

Voluntary code of conduct could leave civilians in war zones exposed to further abuses by mercenaries working for private armies and fails to address the serious issues raised by the outsourcing of war to private companies. So War on Want is campaigning to get private armies regulated and individually licensed.  We think legislation should be introduced to ban private armies taking part in direct combat and that any government department which outsources a service to a PMSC should be responsible its conduct.

We must make sure that the new government makes regulation of private armies a priority. Self-regulation of men with guns working in war zones for the British government is not an option. 

For more info visit www.waronwant.org

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