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Despite Fallujah The World Still Needs Mercenaries

David Miller Online

Despite Fallujah, The World Still Needs Mercenaries

The killing of Americans in Fallujah last week may prove to be the act of violence that draws American public opinion away from supporting the ongoing war in Iraq and could even cost George W. Bush the White House. The images of the mutilations rekindled memories of Somalia in 1993 except in this case the victims were private military contractors rather than service personnel. While there have been comparisons with Somalia and the ramifications for that mission, there has been little debate emerging over the use of private military contractors in Iraq and other trouble spots around the world. This is surprising given the negative publicity that often surrounds such activities often regarded as mercenary actions or the use of ‘soldiers for hire’. Nevertheless, the Fallujah killings are a demonstration that private contractors and soldiers are at risk as much as those in the armed forces but that they still play an important role in the world’s conflicts today.

Private contractors have been a feature in warfare for centuries and their role as hired guns has not changed. The Swiss Guard in the 15th Century fulfilled the same role that a company such as the US based Military Professionals Resource Incorporated and Blackwater does now, that is, sending personnel to serve in war zones for a price. The difference is that today’s private military organisations are marketed in a slick corporate fashion with services that include a host of military solutions ranging from battlefield leadership, training, tactical support and logistics. These companies have been active in trying to shift away from the perception of private contractors as freebooting, unruly armies running amok throughout Africa that has characterised them in many books and movies.

The debate over the use of mercenaries and whether the use is morally acceptable has not changed and a person’s perception often depends on their political orientation. However, despite this ongoing and seemingly never-ending debate the need for private soldiers has never been greater. This is due to three interlinking reasons. The first is the increasing reluctance of nations to commit their troops to war zones while the second reason is the failure of the United Nations in its peacekeeping efforts. The final point is that since 1990, warfare has become predominately intra-state and costly in terms of peacekeepers lives.

The undertaking of such missions by private contractors has gained currency with governments around the world. Washington now hires private contractors to handle support operations on most of its operational deployments. With a reduced body count amongst the military comes the diminished chance of public disillusion and voter backlash at the Presidential elections. The problem is that as the mercenary business has flourished the international legal framework that protects the contractors and those they work alongside has not developed. There is no current statute within international law that regulates or governs the actions of private military companies and as long as a company serves alongside the recognised government or regime then the label ‘mercenary’ does not apply. That only becomes an issue of the company is under contract to a rebel or non-government faction. Nor do those classified as mercenaries receive protection. If captured in a war zone then they will not be granted prisoner of war status under the Geneva Convention.

The situation in Iraq has heightened thrown the use of private contractors into sharper focus. This war, as with the one on terrorism, was not sanctioned by the United Nations and as more conflicts fall outside of the UN’s sphere fewer countries are likely to be willing to commit troops hence the need to recognise and accept the private soldier as an instrument of war. The opposition in New Zealand towards the war in Iraq has been intense and so has the resistance to the Government sending our forces there. However, the question that should be posed to those in opposition to the deployment is who or what body should keep the peace and try to maintain security in places such as Iraq. If it is not acceptable for our forces to be there then who should go in their place? The solution is private military companies.

Organisations, such as the UN, need to address the issue of soldiers for hire as it is one that is growing and heavily linked to the US defence establishment. There needs to be rules and laws for such activities that protect citizens of a country against any human rights violations that may be committed by private military personnel. Simply calling for an end to mercenary work or turning a blind eye is not good enough as it has been around for centuries and will continue to be. With so many votes at stake over conflict deployments and with the need to preserve soldiers lives having such political value, private soldiers will be in increasing demand. This is another reality of war.


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