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Brilliant foundation, commands further studies
on May 30, 2005
Throughout history, private interests have performed military duties and always proved a critical political factor. Celts and Germans worked in the Roman Emperor's personal Praetorian Guard, King Edward I employed professional companies of archers, and the Swiss fought all over Europe, and are still guarding the Vatican. It's only in the 19th and 20th centuries that the state has become the sole legitimate agent in the conduct of military operations. The 1990s, however, have witnessed the emergence of private organized interests at every level of military operations. The twist comes because today these private military firms (PMFs) are organized as twenty first century corporations, with business plans and long term profit objectives.
Singer's analysis begins with an account of private military interests in ancient and modern times. This gets us used to the idea that PMFs have been around before and are really nothing new. In the second section, Singer classifies PMFs in three segments, each characterized by how far its activities are from actual fighting. First and most obvious there are the military provider firms that place frontline military units (e.g. Executive Outcomes) second there are the consulting firms who train and shape a client's military (e.g. Military Professional Resources Inc.) and third there are the firms that provide logistical and support services such as food delivery (e.g. Brown and Root).
Lastly, Singer examines the implications of using PMFs, which of course being corporations are motivated by profit. Singer illustrates how seemingly simple precepts result in fiendishly complex moral problems.
Do we feel uneasy at for-profit military firms? Of course we do and so we are tempted to dismiss any question of using them. But In 1994, one of the more unsavory firms, Executive Outcomes, created a plan that for some 150 million dollars could have stopped the Rwandan genocide and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.(*) The UN Security Council balked at the costs, nothing was done until the genocide was well under way and half a million people were butchered.
Do we support relief organizations such as CARE? Do we give them money? I do. But how should we feel about the Red Cross and CARE using that money to hire PMFs as protection? Is it right for them to support PMFs? Is it right of us to expect them to go into dangerous situation with inadequate UN or local military protection?
Singer's conclusions are only tentative, and given the emphasis he's placed on how complex the moral dilemma is, this is only proper. He neither condemns nor supports the rise of PMFs, he merely states that they exist and are on the rise, he describes how they operate, and he points out the practical and moral dilemmas that arise from making use of them. He ends with a rewording of the proverb that war is too important to be left to generals: war is too important to be left to private industry. In other words, he warns us that while PMFs are here to stay we must keep them in check and on a leash.
Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
(*) See comments for more on this.