Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can Mercenaries Save Darfur?

An interesting possibility has emerged in the conundrum over what to do about Darfur, and other humanitarian crises that seem to demand international peacemaking. Sadly, politics being what it is, states are unwilling to commit their own soldiers into situations that might costs lives for issues that are not directly seen as being part of the national interest. Thus, states tend to look the other way and pass the buck to international organizations, as happened in Rwanda and is happening in Darfur. When states go ahead and get involved anyway, they tend to do so in a half-assed manner, as the US did in Somalia. Even when IOs, like the UN or the African Union, deploy peacekeepers, they are often ineffective, underfunded, undermanned, and underequipped, hampered by restrictive Rules of Engagement necessary to reach political consensus and soothe states fearful of having their soldiers killed, and are beholden to the whims of sovereign states (for example, despite approving a 26,000 strong peacekeeping force, Sudan's insistence that the force be made up predominantly of African troops has prevented the UN from deploying a sufficiently strong enough presence in Darfur). In short, while the UN may be good at peacekeeping, the (perhaps) more important task of peacemaking is beyond its abilities, and outside of the political will and interest of states that do have the necessary capabilities.

Which brings us to a meeting of bizarre bedfellows last month: the actress and Darfur activist Mia Farrow and Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the government contractor, Blackwater Worldwide. According to an ABC News report:

Farrow told ABC News that Blackwater, despite its controversial history and allegations of murdering civilians in Iraq, might be able to help the "hopelessly under-equipped" African Union forces deployed in Darfur with logistics and training.

"Blackwater has a much better idea of what an effective peace-keeping mission would look like than western governments," Farrow told ABC News from a refugee camp in near the Darfur border. Farrow said those governments have been unsuccessful in standing up to the Sudanese government and bringing peace to the region.


Prince, meanwhile, has reportedly said that with about 250 professionals, Blackwater could transform roughly one thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force.

"I'm so sick of hearing that nothing can be done," Prince told the Wall Street Journal last month, calling the Janjaweed, a militia force backed by the Sudanese government, an "unfettered bully."

"No one has stood up to them," he told the Journal. "If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable."

Prince also told the Associated Press in July that the military "can't be all things to all people" all the time. "There are always going to be some pieces that the private sector can help in."

The possibility of involving a private contractor like Blackwater in a crisis like Darfur has, unsurprisingly, ruffled many feathers. J. Steven Morrison, a Sudan expert for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argued that "It's preposterous to think there is some magic silver bullet that takes the form of Blackwater or any other private military contractor to solve the problems in Darfur." Furthermore, Blackwater's troubled record in Iraq has led other to question the wisdom of involving this specific company:

Blackwater employees have been involved in two deadly incidents in Iraq that proved to be public relations disasters for the company.

The first was the slaying and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in 2004 in Fallujah that led to congressional hearings about the protection Blackwater provided its employees.

The second, a September 2007 shooting at a crowded Baghdad intersection that killed 17 Iraqis, triggered congressional hearings and investigations from more than a dozen federal agencies.

Federal prosecutors have sent target letters to six of the security guards involved in the September shooting, indicating a high likelihood the Justice Department will seek to indict at least some of the men, according to reports by the Washington Post on Sunday.

An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the security contractors fired without provocation. Blackwater has said its personnel acted in self-defense.

The question Blackwater in particular is not really one which I am equipped to engage. But the general antipathy to the use of private military trainers and personnel -- mercenaries, if you will -- is, I believe, misplaced. Morrison's worry is one of standard political paralysis: There's no guarantee that a new idea will work, so better to stick with the old idea, even if it's not working. And clearly, international peacemaking efforts aren't working. While the UN dithers and tries to raise enough soldiers and equipment, the janjaweed continue their reign of terror against the people of Darfur. And it's not like the UN has a much better track record than Blackwater: numerous allegations of rape, prostitution, child pornography, and other sexual abuses have dogged UN peacekeepers for years. And, even when UN peacekeepers have been on the ground, events like Srebrenica and Rwanda indicate the limits of their willingness to fight to protect their charges. And waiting for states to get involved hasn't been much better.

So, why not turn to private firms? Note that what Blackwater is discussing here isn't putting its own people into the situation, but rather training the African Union peacekeepers to be competent at their jobs. A private company will not be hampered by a lack of political will or fears of alienating public constituencies. While the world may not yet be ready to use mercenaries for the job itself, using a firm like Blackwater to train those who are willing to go into situations like Darfur should certainly be seriously considered.


qwerty said...

The Financial Times inaccurately reported on June 18, 2008 that Farrow met with Blackwater. [Read the inaccurate Financial Times story; other media also misreporting this based on the Financial Times story.

Handing over peacemaking or peacekeeping operations to mercenaries and private armies is an oxymoron. Mercenaries and private armies profit from violence and conflict. They have no incentive to actually fulfill such missions. Profit must be removed from war and conflict, period.

Rather than giving up on the role of governments in UN peacemaking and peacekeeping operations, people should urge that they be strengthened [see United Nations Peacekeeping: US Passing up a National Security Bargain].

For more information on Blackwater, visit Blackwater Watch.

Anonymous said...

A private army for hire would have an incentive to complete the project, because their employers would fire them for incompletion or incompetence. They would also gain a reputation for not doing their job inhibiting their ability to get work (however, the existence of states willing to fund these organizations in spite of their performance due to politics as usual messes things up). The problems that Blackwater has had in Iraq could be attributed to their association with the USA. The US government is notorious for wasting money and rewarding people and departments for gross incompetence.

aiwn said...

first, lets not get carried away, the blackwater guys would only provide the training and not do the fighting.
second, there are examples of mercs who finished the job and did so because it meant good reputation and therefore more business - see "Executive Outcome" in Sierra Leone (