Sunday, July 1, 2007

Editor's Introduction - July 2007

“Outsourcing the War ” by Jeremy Scahill. The Nation. May 28, 2007.

An Annotation:

Among the many debates currently underway over the war in Iraq, recent research and investigation has brought to light the outsourcing of war to private security companies. These companies have been hired by the U.S. government to conduct missions, which military forces themselves will not and cannot do because of the risk involved. Individual contractors, under private chains of command, are neither given the training, nor held to the standard of the proper military, even though the U.S. government is ultimately responsible for payment. While the implications of this privatization for human rights and foreign affairs are profound, this trend is increasingly becoming the reality of modern warfare.

“More disturbing is what this means for our democracy: at a time when the administration seems unwilling to subject its war strategy to oversight by the Congress, we face the widespread use of private forces seemingly accountable to no effective system of oversight or law.”

Given what we know of the “fog of war,” accountability and centralized oversight are essential issues for any democracy when conducting war. Since there are laws of war, both domestically and internationally, freelance guns-for-hire represent a threat to these laws, which were developed for the purpose of making conflict as civil as possible. When the U.S. employs security forces that are not subject to these laws and the notions of humane warfare in which they are rooted, the symbolic and actual ramifications are enormous.

“In the current discussion in the Congress on this issue, what is seldom discussed is how this system, the privatization of war, has both encouraged and enabled the growth and creation of companies who have benefited and stand to gain even more from an escalation of the war.”

President Dwight Eisenhower, in 1961, prophetically warned against the dangers of associating the escalation of violent conflict too closely with profiteering. The “military-industrial complex,” of which he spoke, threatens democracy because the preparation for and waging of war is rewarded in the economic arena, thereby side-stepping the checks and balances of representative government. The fact that private firms are responsible for supplying all facets of war—from technology to armory and now troops—has a tremendous impact on future prospects for peace.

“As the country debates current and future Iraq policy, Congress owes it to the public to take down the curtain of secrecy surrounding these shadow forces that often act in the name and on the payroll of the people of this country.”

This notion of “shadow forces” patrolling Iraq, without a framework of accountability, has the potential to compromise the respect for human rights and the rule of law. Arranging the deals that bring together the U.S. military with contractor corporations, like Blackwater USA, is done around a boardroom table and not in a legislative assembly. These relationships are antithetical to the democratic values upon which the United States was founded and that are supposedly the subject of the struggle in Iraq.

Our panelists discuss these questions and more in this month’s Roundtable.

~ The Editors


Mercenaries and Other Ways of Breaking the Law: Why Our Blood Should Boil

by Judith Blau

“[Blackwater] became involved in the war in Iraq purely for profit—not on behalf of Iraqi welfare, and not for peace. Its business is war and peace is not profitable.”

Among the many consequences of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the absence of investigative journalism and critical reflection in the U.S. is, perhaps, the most troubling; though we are now seeing a reversal of this trend. Jeremy Scahill has been one of the brightest and best examples of this reversal, relentlessly pursuing a trail of wrongdoing involving the U.S. government and private corporations. In particular, he has reported (primarily in The Nation and in his new book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army) on the nefarious activities of Blackwater, focusing on the corporation’s activities as a subcontractor for the military and other operations in Iraq (as well as on its projects within the U.S., as a subcontractor for reconstruction in New Orleans).

In his May 10, 2007 testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Scahill describes Blackwater as the major player in the escalating privatization of the war in Iraq. This privatization accompanies immense corporate profits, which have far-reaching, toxic effects. When war and conflict become the objects of wealth creation, the consequences are inevitably tragic. Blackwater is neither accountable to the American public, nor in any routine way to Congress, as its employees are not in the military chain of command. The corporation became involved in the war in Iraq purely for profit—not on behalf of Iraqi welfare, and not for peace. Its business is war and peace is not profitable.

It has been mostly journalists, not academicians, who have taken the lead in making the connections involving profit-making, multinational corporations and the war. Scahill has been joined by other journalists documenting privatization of U.S. military operations more generally, including a new book by Rasor and Bauman; an article by Adam Howard published in June 2007 in Alternet, documenting Blackwater’s role in transporting prisoners to jails in Poland and Romania for the purpose of torture; and Daniel J. Callahan and Marc P. Miles’ recent published account of the Blackwater lawsuit against the families of U.S. contractors brutally murdered, decapitated and hung from a bridge in Fallujah in March 2004 (Blackwater is suing for the purpose of stifling investigation into the incident). With persistence and focus these journalists have engaged and pursued such important stories in their work as investigatory reporters, while they also open up space for academics to pursue topics related to what President Dwight Eisenhower famously called “the military-industrial complex.

While journalists have pursued these investigations into Blackwater by appealing to their readers’ sense of “Right” and “Wrong,” an alternative way of casting the journalists’ accounts is to highlight how international laws are being violated by the exposed practices. Let us start with international laws on mercenaries. The United States is not party to the 1979 Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention, which defines mercenaries and cautions states against using them, nor has it ratified the 2001 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenarie, which unequivocally prohibits states from hiring mercenaries. But this turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg of U.S. roguishness.

This is nothing new, however, since the U.S. has a notorious reputation when it comes to multilateral agreements: the superpower has not ratified the Rome Statute or the Kyoto Protocol; and the U.S. has ratified few, if any of the fundamental conventions under he auspices of the International Labor Organization and the U.N. Environmental Programme. It is true that the U.S. has ratified a few of the human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but these ratifications mean nothing whatsoever since when the U.S. ratifies a U.N. human rights treaty it exempts itself from the provisions of the treaty. The legal language is “non-executing.”

Thus, contrary to rhetoric, the United States is not playing a facilitating or cooperative role in the international community when it comes to multilateral agreements; on the contrary, it serves as more of an obstacle to the advancement of global cooperation in matters of development, poverty reduction, sustainability, human rights, and peace. Never has cooperation been as important as the world is experiencing an unprecedented level of interconnectedness.

Jeremy Scahill’s investigative reports on Blackwell, mercenaries, and the privatization of war present three crucial implications from which academics can learn important lessons. First, Scahill and other journalists have taken on ambitious projects to educate the public and confront the U.S. government about its abandonment of the democratic principles on which our nation was founded. Second, that they have not yet addressed the issue within a broader, contemporary international context, there is a clear opportunity and need for such work to be done. Third, privatization plays out in other arenas besides the war in Iraq and it has done so with horrendous consequences to human populations: dumping practices in African countries that benefit U.S. agribusiness; the sweatshops of multinationals; international financial speculation; support of “big pharma;”structural adjustment programs; mega-dams built at the insistence of investors that trigger immense population dislocation; the imposition of genetically modified seeds on farmers; and on and on.

Mary Wollstonecraft offers us some useful language, still appropriate after more than two centuries. It is the “iron law of property,” she wrote in her 1790 letter to Edmund Burke (in Vindication of the Rights of Man), that is crushing “benevolence, friendship, generosity, and all those enduring charities which bind human hearts together.” Humans have, she writes in her vitriolic attack, “enduring, unconditional, and undisputed rights.” These rights—“birthrights”—belong equally to all, while property belongs only to the few. “My blood boils” is the metaphor she hurls at Burke. Boiling blood is not a bad thing for American academics to have these days.

Judith Blau has published three books on human rights with Alberto Moncada: Human Rights: Beyond the Liberal Vision (2005); Justice in the United States: Human Rights & the US Constitution (2006); and, Freedoms and Solidarities: In Pursuit of Human Rights (2007). She is Director of the Social and Economic Justice (interdisciplinary) Undergraduate Minor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Blau and Moncada are now working on a volume on human rights that will be published by Paradigm. Outside of her academic work, Blau also serves as President of Sociologists without Borders.


Can the Next American President Switch the Tracks?

by Harry Kreisler

“Like Rome and Great Britain in the heyday of their power, the U.S. confronts a choice between democracy and empire, for empire requires military power without constraint to police the globe while democracy requires accountability.”

For decades the Washington mantra has been privatization. As Secretary of Defense in Bush 41’s administration and as CEO of Haliburton, Dick Cheney was influential in the application of this idea to defense policy. Now as Vice President of the United States, he and his coterie of followers have taken the idea to a new level. According to Jeremy Scahill, the United States has reached a tipping point in waging the Iraq war, with dire consequences for defense policy, democratic accountability, and the global perception of who we are and what we stand for.

The success of the privatization idée fixe calls to mind Max Weber’s insight that “not ideas, but material and ideal interests, directly govern men’s conduct. Yet very frequently the ‘world images’ that have been created by ‘ideas’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest.”

Privatization is occurring in an international environment where, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, America’s global power has been unmatched and unbalanced by any other major power or group of powers. In the last six years, under the guise of responding to an act of terror on American soil, the Bush administration has used this power to act unilaterally and with disdain, not only for international institutions, but also for the other branches of American government.

Like Rome and Great Britain in the heyday of their power, the U.S. confronts a choice between democracy and empire, for empire requires military power without constraint to police the globe while democracy requires accountability. This choice is analyzed in Chalmers Johnson’s book Nemesis and Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. As the U.S. defines its role in the world, the privatization mantra and its implementation obscure the financial and moral costs of empire. In the hands of foreign policy mandarins, privatization skews America’s choice in favor of empire and away from democracy.

Can the next President, to use Max Weber’s metaphor, switch the track along which America is moving? Does dependency on private campaign financing make that impossible? Is the allure of empire impossible to resist?

With these contradictions at work, it seems appropriate to offer 10 questions and one scenario to focus the next President’s attention like a laser beam:

* What are the consequences of private contracting in the national security

* What is the process of selecting contractors and what are the terms being negotiated in the various contracts?

* What exactly are the functions being performed by military contractors,
especially in battle zones?

* What is the chain of command once the contract is negotiated?

* What rules of American and international law apply to contractors, especially
in military zones?

* Under what circumstances does a contractor become an autonomous force
in a zone of intervention?

* What are the patterns of recruitment within the military and from the military
to the private contractors? Who defines the rules? And what is the
movement of personnel from government to private sector?

* What is the involvement of private contractors in implementing the so-called “revolution in military affairs”?

* Who are the owners of the military contracting firms? Are these firms multinational? Where is their management located? How can we determine

when they are no longer American firms? And what is their impact on political campaigns?

* If military contractors are market-driven, what will prevent them from offering
their services to the highest bidder, and what would be the strategic
of this result?

These questions become of particular importance given the following possible scenario: the Chinese government becomes a major shareholder of the military contractor Blackwater. The Chinese hire Blackwater to guard oil facilities and personnel in Sudan. Simultaneously, the U.N. imposes sanctions on the Sudan, and deploys a U.N. force to stop the genocide and the selling of Sudanese oil, with the U.S. providing logistical support. The Chinese, operating through Blackwater, decide to aid the Sudanese government by supplying intelligence to a group like the Janjiweed and military support to the Sudanese government as it repels the U.N. force. The Blackwater personnel, who are former American military, trained in the use of U.S. technology and strategy, serve Chinese interests. Consequently, the U.N. mission fails in a major blow to U.S. foreign policy. This type of situation is realistic and demonstrates the pitfalls of increased privatization in the military sector.

Unless the next President finds answers to such questions, suggested by the recent reporting on private contracting, American decline in the emerging multi-polar world will be hastened. In that environment, the new President, despite his/her campaign slogans, will not be able to “switch” tracks as U.S. power hurls forward on a fatal course mapped by privatization. Democratic accountability at home and international law abroad will be the early casualties. Then the President will surely confront Hamlet’s insight: “For ‘tis the sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard” (Hamlet - Act 3. Scene IV).

Harry Kreisler is Executive Director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. In that role, he shapes, administers, and implements interdisciplinary academic and public affairs programs that analyze global issues. He is also creator, executive producer and host of Conversations with History, an interview program, broadcast nationally every Thursday evening on sattelite television, and on cable throughout California. Conversations with History is also a critically acclaimed online archive containing more than 360 one-hour interviews with distinguished men and women from all over the world who talk about their lives and their work. Harry Kreisler is also Executive Producer of Connecting Students to the World, a World Wide Web -based program that introduces students and retirees to leading figures in international affairs through online curricula, preparatory workshops, and Internet conversations.


Private Military Industry and the Laws of War

by Mahmood Monshipouri

“War outsourcing has also created the corporate equivalent of Guantanamo Bay—a virtual rules-free zone in which perpetrators of torture are unlikely to be held accountable for breaking the law.”


Rooting the Privatization of War in a Broader Political Context

by Ali Wyne

“It seems reasonable to suggest that the President’s hesitation to wage war will continue to diminish as the ability to pursue this course in a clandestine manner increases.”

On the issue of military outsourcing, I think that it would be valuable to place Jeremy Scahill’s research and critique in a broader context. In particular, his concern about private soldiers’ lack of accountability offers a point of departure for issuing two observations:

* The war in Iraq has been conducted in an unusually secretive manner; and
* The current American grand strategy has its roots in post-Cold War neoconservatism (based on the characterization that its proponents have offered, neoconservatism is a persuasion that inclines one to advocate the spread of American values and the advancement of American interests, relying heavily on force and unilateral assertion).

The United States intends to establish its largest system of military bases in Baghdad, an important fact that has elicited little attention in the mainstream media. Furthermore, it has recently come to light that President Bush has expressed interest in a “Korea model” for Iraq, whereby American troops would be stationed there indefinitely to provide security between the warring factions. The war has already inflamed international opposition against American foreign policy in the Middle East, and establishing a quasi-permanent power structure in the region’s heart is likely to exacerbate such sentiments. Even if one accepts the conventional wisdom that neoconservatism’s influence is receding, its consequences for American legitimacy and power are likely to be enduring.

Indeed, it bears mentioning that the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq follows hawkish prescriptions that were formulated in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. Even though neoconservatives had been agitating to imbue American foreign policy with a more assertive character during the Clinton administration, the relative calm of those eight years ensured that they could not. In a January 1998 letter to President Clinton, 18 of the Project for a New American Century’s (PNAC’s) founders urged him to address a “threat in the Middle East [that is] more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War” by demonstrating “a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy.” The threat to which they were referring, of course, was Iraq.

While most individuals viewed the United States’ demilitarization during the 1990s as a natural response to Soviet implosion, PNAC warned that it represented complacency in the face of growing threats (in particular, they judged, those that emanated from the Middle East). When Clinton assumed office in 1993, defense spending accounted for 4.8 percent of our Gross Domestic Product; by 2000, that proportion had fallen to 3 percent. During that same time period, the number of American troops deployed overseas fell from 295,000 to 210,000. Citing this data, among other developments, PNAC’s leadership called for a restoration of America’s “eroded” military. While acknowledging that the 1990s were a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity for the United States, they warned that “no moment in international politics can be frozen in time; even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself.”

These ideas found a sympathetic ear in President Bush, whose 2002 National Security Strategy reaffirmed America’s hegemonic imperative. It is encouraging to note that criticism of that document (and the policies to which it gave rise) transcends partisan divisions. Indeed, many in the intellectual establishment would concur with the assessment that it set forth “a neoimperial vision.”

While most Americans have become disenchanted with the prosecution of the global “war on terrorism,” they tend to believe that neoconservatives have suddenly emerged and “hijacked” the Bush administration’s decision-making processes. The reality is that many of today’s influential policymakers were equally, if not more, influential during the Reagan administration (which similarly proclaimed the necessity of democracy promotion).

This disconnect—between perception and reality—is one of the chief characteristics of war. However, it has reached an alarming level in the case of the Iraq war. In his testimony, Scahill remarks, “ I think it is a disturbing commentary that I have received phone calls from several Congress members asking me for government documents on war contractors and not the other way around.” If the sole organ that is authorized to declare war knows so little of the manner in which it is being conducted what must we conclude about the state of our national security?

If present trends persist, the privatization of war, of which Scahill and others are fearful, will likely continue. From 2001 to 2006, the defense revenue of the world’s top 10 defense companies doubled from $90 billion to $180 billion. As the security situations in Afghanistan and Iraq deteriorate, the demand for these companies’ services will rise. It seems reasonable to suggest that the President’s hesitation to wage war will continue to diminish as the ability to pursue this course in a clandestine manner increases. This prospect demands greater vigilance not only from our elected leaders in Congress, but also from ordinary citizens who profess their commitment to democracy.

Ali Wyne is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is pursuing dual degrees in Management and Political Science, as well as a minor in Economics. He serves as Vice-President of the Undergraduate Association, and as Editor-in-Chief of the MIT International Review, MIT’s first journal of international affairs. He will be contributing a chapter, “How World Opinion Challenges American Foreign Policy,” to a forthcoming volume, The Public Diplomacy Handbook (Routledge 2008). He maintains a blog on global problems and solutions, “The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting.”