Let’s get this out of the way first: Erik Prince and Reflex Responses is driven primarily by profit, NOT by patriotism. Any private military or security company is driven by profit because ultimately it is a business and this needs to be understood first and foremost.
The reason why that has to be established first and foremost is because discussions about private military companies, private security companies, mercenaries, freelancers, contractors, whatever you want to call them, are muddled by thinking they are driven by anything else than monetary gain. This is not to say that some have other reasons, but they wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the money. Otherwise, guys like Prince would still be in the military.
The privatization of force is not something that can really be discussed in one blog entry (it took 75 pages for my undergraduate thesis and I didn’t even really get to make a dent in exhausting the issues that surround this industry). I will however focus on two main points regarding these companies in light of Erik Prince’s alleged new venture. (REF: NY Times | Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder).
Prince’s ability to start new companies is a reflection of weak regulations and enforcement. The “let the markets decide” and self-regulation argument DOES NOT work.
One of the major arguments by the “let the markets decide” and the self-regulation camp is that private military companies, in the interest of drumming up future business, will not want to have a negative brand image of human rights violations or war crimes. After all, companies are a brand conscious bunch and they do not want to be cut out of future deals because of all the bad press that would be related to it. Additionally, nobody wants to be charged with and imprisoned for war crimes either.
Except that Prince’s ability to either get involved with other companies such as Saracen in combating piracy off the coast of Somalia, and his current venture, Reflex Responses, tells us that the key players in a company that stand to invest and make money don’t give a crap about brand image. Why? Because as Prince has shown, it is really easy to just sell the damn company and get involved somewhere else. Granted Blackwater lost its biggest cash cow in Iraq, Prince made millions in a short span of time. By selling the company Prince can now move on to investing elsewhere.
Like the Saracen and Reflex Responses ventures. Where is the deterrence towards individuals like Prince and other investors from putting their money into such companies? Where is the incentive to ensure strict compliance to Rules of Engagement or the Laws of War?
PW Singer from the Brookings Institute wrote a book called “Corporate Warriors” that pretty much outlined this problem (among others) regarding private military companies. The book came out around during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The newer versions of the book has an additional chapter on what he thinks about contractors in Iraq, since the original book did not include the Iraq War.
Was Singer a prophet? Did he have amazing foresight on these matters? No. There were plenty of examples of how self regulation and market forces deciding that did not work. Just think of the Executive Outcomes (EO) members in Angola and then Sierra Leone. How many of the former members just went ahead and made other companies. Out of EO some members made Sandline International, which were kicked out Sierra Leone after a scandal over arms embargoes that got the British Foreign Secretary fired. Where are they now? I will list them all another time but they all just made new companies and are operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, and worldwide.
Singer was just pointing out the obvious and yet there are those that think self-regulation and market forces work.
Reflex Responses is precisely what the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries sought to guard against.
The purpose of the Convention was to prevent states from using mercenaries to suppress the self-determination of peoples. Now, the Convention fails to actually define what a mercenary is that can be properly applied. In fact, Reflex Responses and other private military companies would not be classified as mercenaries through the convention’s definitions.
So fine, let’s not call them mercenaries. De jure we cannot do so, even if they are de facto mercenaries.
But let’s discuss what the purpose of the convention was for and what Reflex Responses does….No let’s just say it. Their purpose and use are not any different from them mercenaries used by Qadaffi to assault rebel positions, nor are they different from the Pakistani “security” contractors in Bahrain that were being used to crush the protests there as well. Okay there is a difference: level of training. It’s important that we stay honest here.
So to put it simply, states that are afraid to rely on their military to crush unrest (could be rabble rousers, could be pro-democracy movements) will rely on hired guns. You can package it nicely if you’d like by calling it something other than hired guns or mercenaries, but the purpose they serve is the same. I mean what regime wants to end up like Mubarak? Where he could not even get the army to crush the uprising. The Bahraini’s seems to have invested well in Pakistanis. And now it looks like the United Arab Emirates are planning the same with Reflex Responses.
What is funny is that there are those who talk about how the government encroaches into people’s lives. People who think of Guy Fawkes or other American Revolutionary War figures about how the government should fear and respond to its people.
And they are completely ok with people like Prince and the type of services he provides.
I will resume further discussion another day (tomorrow?), but there is simply too much ground to cover with all this.