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A review of P. W. Singer's Corporate
Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Cornell
is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's
Arms Trade Resource Center (www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/).
She serves on the Coordinating Committee of the War Resisters
Talk about the right book at the right time. P. W. Singer's Corporate Warriors takes an in-depth look at an industry that would prefer to operate without oversight. Yet, Halliburton and Bechtel have become synonymous with fraud and war profiteering, and even corporate monikers like CACI, Titan, and DynCorp now conjure vivid and disturbing images of torture and abuse. In order to counter these merchants of death, we need to understand more about them.
The book is written primarily for an academic and policy audience, and some will find his book dry, cautious, and exhaustively detailed. But intrepid readers will close the book on page 242 with the most complete and detailed picture available of private military firms (PMFs).
Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, starts with a description of the army of King Shulgi of Ur more than four thousand years ago, which featured the first mercenaries in the historical record. He brings readers through to a very different present -- the post-9/11 world in which PMFs eschew the term "mercenary," operate within a trade group called the International Peace Operations Association, and enjoy a multi-billion dollar market. Singer notes that between 1994 and 2002, the Pentagon contracted out $300 billion to PMFs, outsourcing everything from laundry to intelligence collecting, shipments of fuel to maintenance on B-2 stealth bombers. As David Isenberg, an analyst with the British American Security Information Council, notes, PMFs are like the American Express card, "don't leave for the war without it."
But, the PMFs of today are not just "the old poison of vagabond mercenaries in new designer bottles," asserts Singer. In fact, they are worse. The rise of private military firms signal that "the state's hold on violence is broken," and now military capabilities can be "leased" to the highest bidder. The implications of this development are far reaching and troubling to the nth degree -- as is clearly seen in the war and occupation of Iraq.
There are more than 70 PMFs operating in Iraq, employing more than 20,000 individuals, according to Singer's estimates. On a side note: despite the industry's trade group and slick websites, the shadowy side of the mercenary business is hard to shake -- the Pentagon claims to have no idea how many PMFs operate in Iraq, and relies on Singer's figures for their own accounting.
With about 135,000 uniformed US troops in Iraq, the ratio of civilians to soldiers is about 1 to 7. During the 1991 Gulf War, that ratio was 1 to 100. The growing role of armed but un-uniformed actors in Iraq has a number of troubling consequences. As of the end of July, the Pentagon estimates that the war has killed 906 US military personnel. But that is just part of the picture. In an unprecedented report, the Department of Labor calculated that at least 85 PMF employees have also been killed. A USA Today article on the Labor Department report found that their figures do not include dozens killed in Iraq and Saudi Arabia in April, pushing the figures for Americans killed in Iraq to over 1,000 and counting. The use of PMFs allows Washington, already so deep into denial about the human costs of the war in Iraq, to perpetuate the myth of relatively painless waging of war.
But, Singer takes this one step further, noting that "PMFs allow leaders to short circuit democracy by turning over important foreign policy tasks to outside, unaccountable companies." In other words, PMFs make war easy. A retired Air Force Colonel, interviewed in a February 2004 New Yorker article, agrees. "When you can hire people to go to war there is none of the grumbling and political friction" that comes with large-scale mobilizations. Without private service companies like Halliburton, the US would have had to call up a much larger fighting force. "Think how much harder it would have been to get Congress, or the American public" to support the war if even more soldiers were mobilized, he concluded.
If PMFs make getting into wars easier, do they also make getting out of them harder? While Singer spends some time on the political power wielded by these firms, more recent data points to an unequivocal yes. According to a study published last year by the Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org), the 70 or so American companies that have won $8 billion worth of contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan have devoted the majority of their political capital to President George W. Bush, giving more to him than to any other politician. The influence goes even deeper. Nearly 60% of the companies receiving war contracts had employees or board members who served in (or had close ties to) the executive branch, members of Congress, or at the highest levels of the military.
It is no wonder then that anti-war protestors at the Democratic and Republican conventions are targeting these companies this summer. With free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to dissent confined to desolate barbed wire pens near the convention sites, protesters will target Halliburton, which has seen its Pentagon contracts jump over 700% -- from $483 million in 2002 to $3.9 billion in 2003. Raytheon, while not a PMF, is another good target. The company builds the Tomahawk missile that bombarded Iraq and was a Platinum level sponsor of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Building on these efforts, organizations like
the War Resisters League are beginning to develop and carry out
campaigns against war profiteering. So, while Corporate Warriors
does not detail activist efforts to counter these merchants
of death, a careful reading of this work will help us fuel the
organizing necessary to take the profits out of war -- as
one step towards ending war itself.