Cyberpunk Review » Corporations Privatizing the Military

May 24, 2006

Corporations Privatizing the Military

Robocop screen capture


Ted Koppel wrote an OP-ED for the New York Times earlier this week entitled “These Guns for Hire.” I would link to the New York Times, but they’ve gone to a pay-per-view model. Luckily, many political bloggers reprint the information - here’s a link to it. In this article, Mr. Koppel discusses a recent trend with respect to privatizing the military:


There is something terribly seductive about the notion of a mercenary army. Perhaps it is the inevitable response of a market economy to a host of seemingly intractable public policy and security problems.

Consider only a partial list of factors that would make a force of latter-day Hessians seem attractive. Among them are these:

*Growing public disenchantment with the war in Iraq;

*The prospect of an endless campaign against global terrorism;

*An over-extended military backed by an exhausted, even depleted force of reservists and National Guardsmen;

*The unwillingness or inability of the United Nations or other multinational organizations to dispatch adequate forces to deal quickly with hideous, large-scale atrocities (see Darfur and Congo);

*The expansion of American corporations into more remote, fractious and potentially hostile settings.

Just as the all-volunteer military relieved the government of much of the political pressure that had accompanied the draft, so a rent-a-force, harnessing the privilege of every putative warrior to hire himself out for more than he could ever make in the direct service of Uncle Sam, might relieve us of an array of current political pressures.


In the Op-Ed Koppel does a nice job of exposing the issues with having privatized firms maintain their own mercenary force. There is clearly a conflict of interest between a country’s interest (The US in this case) and a corporation’s concerns.


So, if there are personnel shortages in the military (and with units in their second and third rotations into Iraq and Afghanistan, there are), then what’s wrong with having civilian contractors? Expense is a possible issue; but a resumption of the draft would be significantly more controversial.

Moreover, contractors provide the bodyguards (most of them veterans of the American, British, Australian, Nepalese or South African military) and, in some cases, the armored vehicles and even helicopters that have become so necessary for the conduct of business by foreign civilians in Iraq. Such protective services are employed by practically every American news agency and, indeed, are responsible for the security of the American ambassador himself.

So, what about the inevitable next step — a defensive military force paid for directly by the corporations that would most benefit from its protection? If, for example, an insurrection in Nigeria threatens that nation’s ability to export oil (and it does), why not have Chevron or Exxon Mobil underwrite the dispatch of a battalion or two of mercenaries?


This linkage with oil companies is terrific in that watching the CEOs being interviewed about the insanely high oil prices, they flat out say their job is to make money for the shareholders, NOT to keep prices low. In discussing the possibility with a mercenary-for-hire company, the following exchanges took place:


Chris Taylor, the vice president for strategic initiatives and corporate strategy for Blackwater USA, wanted to be sure I understood that such a thing could only happen with the approval of the Nigerian government and at least the tacit understanding of Washington. But could Blackwater provide a couple of battalions under those circumstances? “600 people in a battalion,” he answered. “I could source 1,200 people, yes. There are people all over the world who have honorably served in their military or police organizations. I can go find honorable, vetted people, recruit them, train them to the standard we require.”

What then if the commercial interests of a company or foreign government hiring one of these security contractors comes into conflict with the interests of the United States government? Mr. Taylor of Blackwater doesn’t even concede the possibility. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we consider ourselves responsible to be strategic partners of the U.S. government.” To which he then added, perhaps a little more convincingly: “If we went against U.S. government interests we would never get another contract.”


This last line is the real issue. As long as this is profitable for a corporation, they will support their affiliated government. While I certainly don’t believe that lifetime soldiers of a country would ever go against it in any real numbers, this is a global economy - mercenaries can be outsourced. Corporations are multi-national. If there EVER was a REALY BAD idea that has been floated around recently, this is it. Talk about the start to a cyberpunked future! If the trend moves towards corporate control of our protection, we truly will be on a dystopic path.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by SFAM.


May 25, 2006

Hexxenn said:

If the trend moves towards corporate control of our protection, we truly will be on a dystopic path.

I think we’re already on that path. Just reading the newspaper, one can see examples every day of how corporations are now the ruling bodies in America. And when reading into non-mainstream news sources, it becomes blatantly obvious that we are now living in a cyberpunk-like dystopia where corporations decide the law and the government enforces it.

SFAM said:

Hi Hexxenn, I absolutely agree that there has been a significant increase in corporate influence over US government policy and operations over the last 20 years or so (especially in the last 10). That said, I think its a pretty significant step to outsource our troops. Influence like we’ve seen is certainly potentially disasterous. Allowing corporations to own mercenaries equals certain dystopia.

But yeah, the fact that we are even discussing this indicates that the trend is not a positive one.

May 28, 2006

Majestic 12 said:

I have to agree too. A mercenery army only answers to the highest bidder and that bidder will not always be in the intrests of the people of the United States (regardless of any political leanings).

August 3, 2006

DannyV_El_Acme said:

The commercialization and privatization of military force is one of the absolute most important themes in the Metal Gear series of games. In fact, the next game, Metal gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots, asks the question of what would happen should a company MONOPOLYZE military force. A truly frightening thought, huh?

SFAM said:

DEFINITELY a frightening thought! Outsourcing the military is just wrong on way too many levels.

September 20, 2006

mattness said:

I’m look on this topic since 2 years from now.
Fascinating. Frightening, but really fascinating. Russian ex-military pilots are mercenaries in african countries.
After battle they don’t get medals, but fee bonuses, and their company - references (I’ve read about one such casus, when PMC mercs succesfully defended some embassy in Africa).

This business is very strange. You can’t tell when is it private, and when supported by foreign countries (Rumsfeld and his company - I forgot the name - Blackwater? Halibuton?).

I’m RPG fan and gamemaster of futuristic, cyberpunk game system. So I must have a cision of future, to show players the game universum.
In case of battleground of tomorow I thing there will be no “G.I.”s in the line of fire.
Just unmanned vehicles (Predator, anybody?) with contracted mercs from PMCs as a “human element”.
The only looser (as always), will be countries of Third World :(

September 24, 2006

SFAM said:

Hi Mattness, I fully agree that the movement is toward unmanned weapon systems, but the nature of these weapon systems usually involves remote control. People will still be on the battlefield, but will probably be in the rear vice the front.

Regarding Mercenaries, I REALLY don’t think the US will go that route. We are doing it in Iraq only because we’ve run out of real military soldiers. Now corporations? Yeah, this is definitely a baaad trend.

September 30, 2006

mattness said:

SFAM, you said:
“movement is toward unmanned weapon systems, but the nature of these weapon systems usually involves remote control. People will still be on the battlefield, but will probably be in the rear vice the front.”

In Washington, or Langley - for example ;) . Is it still line of fire? Nah…

Private Warriors movie -

(There is another problem - when PMC “operatives” will kill somebody, what kind of law… will be subject of? …[Sorry - I couldn’t find proper english word]…)

List of killed “contractors”:

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