Blackwater & Peacekeeping Operations

Recently, Blackwater announced that it was willing, and could, provide a brigade size force for humanitarian interventions (HI), such as is needed in Darfur. The Blackwater pronouncement (I think it goes beyond ‘announcement’) is largely based on Tim Spicer’s observation, as quoted in the Green Paper: "too often the major powers won’t intervene or delay until it’s too late." What might the Blackwater deployment look like and how might it work?

First, let’s look at peacekeeping operations (PKO) as of December 2005. At the end of last year, the top three contributors to PKOs — Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India — contributed over one-third of ALL UN Peacekeeping Forces, including police, military observers and troops. The permanent members UN Security Council contributed only 3.7%, with China contributing more than the UK, US, and Russia combined. Sub-contractor nations, notably those not on the SC, contribute the bulk of the forces and receive +/- $1000 per man per month for their contribution. Their participation is further subsidized when considering they rarely have their own transport and too often need equipment provided for them. In practice, these are sub-contractors, contracting to the UNSC which established and mandated the mission — the GA has little to no role beyond advisory. Clearly, the SC already uses money to mitigate a deficit of political.

Peacekeeping Forces (PKFs) are compromised by rules of engagement (ROE) and unit interoperability failures and disconnects. The contributing country may specify incompatible ROE for their forces, may not submit to a unified command, or a host of other factors, including home country pressures (let alone host country pressures). For example, in Rwanda, Dallaire showed how only a handful of armed Westerners were able to, without firing a shot, hold off thousands, but yet he was instructed to do the opposite of what an HI mission requires. He was forced to pull out and protect his men. The Belgians, who were intentionally and successfully "Mogadishu’d", lobbied for the pull-out. The political will was drained effectively by the opponent, something PKFs are more susceptible to without a national attachment to the mission. Annan later said he wished he had troops he could have
deployed, because as was generally demonstrated, it did not take much
to prevent or quash activity.

If the UN were to stand-up a force under Article 43, an on-call force that never materialized, the force might be like a broader EUROCORPS. Considering the foundation and purpose of EUROCORPS, specifically its potential as an EU force (as opposed to NATO), it has an emphasis as an alternative to American forces. This is likely considering the need to manage the perception of the PKF within the AO. Wouldn’t Blackwater look like a very American force?

The Blackwater proposal was made because Coffer Black has his assets in place, or mostly so, and he’s looking to expand beyond Iraq. The deeper issue in Blackwater’s pronouncement is the problem of private military power: the need to use it. Unlike a government that can let assets sit idle, Blackwater as a corporation must find revenue to pay for the equipment, upgrades, back office, public relations, etc through its operations. The government, on the other hand (if we exclude the top tier of PKO contributors…) finance their military through other sources (i.e. taxes).

The ‘liberal’ counter to using the private sector for these missions is a) focused on the military aspect and not police (i.e. civilian law enforcement assistance / development) and b) the need to derive a sustainable profit on the means of war, defensive or offensive. A component to this argument, but perhaps separate into (c), is a limited desire or capacity (of the client or the provider) to absorb and spread the knowledge to not need the company. In other words, the company, like a chiropractor or security guard requires constant or repeat visits. Unlike a surgeon or a teacher who wants to see you once or to train you to fish yourself, the company is too incentivized to keep the trough open. That’s what I see as fundamental to the ‘liberal’ argument.

The fact that BW, or any other PSC, safely transported or protected their noun (person, place, or thing) does not make them especially capable to participate in or run a PKO. They have not secured any peace but simply provided a moving or static bubble of security within a world of turmoil. This is very different than most PKOs. 

We must not get too exuberant with the Blackwater proposal and forget about perceptions. One reason the sub-contractor nations are involved in PKOs their state as Third Country Nationals (TCNs). Blackwater is promoting its well-known roster of Western former-Special Forces (SF) and similar, most notably American, when especially in a polarized environment like this Administration has created today, the American may not be seen as a peacekeeper. BW is likely to be seen as an American force under some cover. Lest we forget the thought they may be ‘tagged’ as from some Other Government Agency (OGA), perception of the force is reality. Their reputation in Iraq, by the Iraqis and other nationals, is critical. Their reputation in the US means nothing, they aren’t peacekeeping in the US (well, they are / did along with other PSCs, but that’s not under the UN and outside of this discussion).

However, the perceptions will come to Blackwater’s advantage when the big American with their combat gear loom large over the combatants in the AO.

Let’s consider Blackwater wants to be just the tip of the spear, the peacemaking force. Once again, he’s just creating a temporary condition that requires, as was clearly absent in our adventure in Iraq, effective and immediately applied civil affairs units to establish the functions of state (or the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). This was absent in Iraq, hence the slide to hell and the opportunity for criminal behavior and problems of power vacuums (when there should never have been a vacuum). Remember Iraq was a secular state, we created a situation where people turned to other identities than Iraqi for protection and for a future.

The UN uses PMCs now, notably for transport. The root problem here is political will to expand their own troops. Much like the will to send their own troops is frequently lacking, leading to contracting to other nations (other GA members, varying the NATO contribution, or possibly money and services to AU).

Especially in Darfur, isn’t it likely the Chinese will want something else, possibly leading a ‘natural’ PKF rather than a private company, BW or not. But the Chinese led PKF is unlikely by US reckoning (and it would be ill-advised).

When asked if Blackwater’s announcement is something special, it is in the sense they’ve publically come out. They are not unusual in their offer, but they are in the forefront of creating a visibly branded force. The fact they have their own memorial garden, ever expanding training / proving grounds, and require oaths (in certain conditions) suggest a trajectory of more than a brand but a new identity. Is this the army of the borderless state, of the market-state, or a new Swiss Guards?

I don’t think Blackwater is being tactically brilliant here but rather being a businessman and with the ability to field a brigade of effective forces with their own air support and monitoring. I would bet BW would do this job as a loss-leader to create future opportunities. And that might be the problem of the future, much like some big consulting companies: go into a project with the most talented staff, wow the client, then slowly rotate in the newbies for a learning experience.

I would also bet the first mission, should / when it comes, would be held, by the company to start, to far higher standards than demonstrated by Custer Battles, Haliburton, etc. However, if they didn’t, there is limited recourse.

What will the Blackwater-led Peacekeeping Operation look like? Really good at first, but how will that quality be sustained without a substantial profit? If there is a substantial profit, are we using the wrong mercenaries and should we use the sub-contractor nations instead to bolster their economies?

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