The Wikileaks community and Wikileaks watchers are actively and likely inadvertently the myth that Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and front-man, is giving a “keynote” at the UN this week. They are forwarding a Tweet from @Wikileaks that includes a link to a Reuters “Factbox” article that appears to indicate Assange is speaking at the UN. In fact, he is not giving the “keynote” or otherwise speaking at the UN Human Rights meeting but at a press conference put on by the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR), a nongovernmental organization registered in Switzerland. A minor detail.
Briefly, in an article on UN peacekeeping titled UN says still trying to get peacekeeping right, the Associated Press’s John Heilprin writes that “U.N. figures show the 10 biggest troop-contributing nations to U.N.-mandated operations are the U.S., Pakistan, Bangladesh, Britain, India, Italy, Germany, France, Nigeria and Nepal.” This is completely false, unless perhaps the author includes the peacekeeping operations before the end of the Cold War, for which I have not analyzed the data. Even then, I doubt the author is correct. The article also fails to properly attribute failures in UN peacekeeping as it glosses over “controversies” while ignoring the underlying systemic problems.
The top 10 “troop-contributing nations” look more like this sample from the end of 2009: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, Nepal, Ghana, Uruguay, and Italy. If the consideration is “police-contributing”, then the top 10 states are: Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, India, Senegal, Ghana, Philippines, and Zambia. If the top 10 is overall contribution of forces, then this is the list with their contribution for December 2009 in parenthesis: Pakistan (10,764), Bangladesh (10,427), India (8,757), Nigeria (5,807), Egypt (5,155), Nepal (4,311), Jordan (3,798), Rwanda (3,671), Ghana (3,633), and Uruguay (2,513).
The Security Council permanent member contributions in December 2009 was: China (2,136), France (1,610), United Kingdom (282), Russia (365), and US (75).
I wrote about the challenges and mercenary-nature of most of the peacekeeping forces in a 2008 magazine article that also raised the fact Blue Helmets are outside (not just beyond) the law of armed conflict. The UN Security Council’s share of peacekeeping forces have been historically low, especially since the end of the Cold War – the only time that really matters now. More recently, I wrote about an evolution in peacekeeping that may be both promising and reinforcing.
- Gold for Arms: More on Peacekeeper Immunity from 27 May 2007
- How Peacekeeping Works from 18 April 2007
- An Interview with the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations from 25 November 2006
Certain countries, China in particular but also potentially Brazil and India, are increasingly leveraging UN peacekeeping as an opportunity to engage local populations to further national interests. China, for example, has followed through on its word to increase its UN activities to further its image as a responsible power and to create awareness and connections with individuals and countries alike.
At World Politics Review (subscription required), I have a short article that explores what may be the third transformation of UN peacekeeping. From its inception as means to keep an agreed upon peace between two warring parties (hence the name), to peacemaking, some countries are using opportunities facilitated by wearing the Blue Helmet to build relations in troubled places that posses valuable resources and, secondarily, markets.
A subtle evolution of United Nations peacekeeping operations is underway. …
The global movement of people, information, goods, and services creates new opportunities, but also new threats for peacekeepers. With the immediate and persistent availability of information, peacekeepers and their home countries will be increasingly held accountable for their actions, as well as their failure to act — a situation countries were long able to avoid. …
This public diplomacy component of peacekeeping, which connects with the general public and leaders alike, is potentially transformative and empowering for a country’s agenda, as increased contact creates awareness of culture, language, and narratives. This facilitates greater understanding, as well as personal and institutional connections, potentially opening markets and access to resources through the development of formal or informal relationships.
The Chinese state media has highlighted an interesting point as part of their growing public diplomacy campaign to win the hearts and minds of the world, and not least of the impovrished and non-G8 that have important resources China needs. In the last six months, China has had generally 1,000 troops or police on United Nations peacekeeping missions.
A Chinese scholar said Tuesday that China has sent out more than 3,000 troops and policemen to United Nations peacekeeping missions since the late 1980s, reflecting its firm support of the UN’s role in maintaining world peace and security.
"China has contributed the largest number of troops to UN peacekeeping operations among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council," said Yang Mingjie, a Chinese researcher in international relations…
Chinese peacekeepers have won extensive accolades because of their
strict discipline and high work efficiency. In January 2005, Chinese
peacekeeping riot police in Haiti were awarded a UN peace medal for
their outstanding performance in the crisis-torn country, the highest
honor granted by the UN to peacekeeping missions. [emphasis added]
By the way, the Chinese seem to prefer to participate in African PKOs (peacekeeping operations).
The recent AEGIS video possibly showing inappropriate behaviour (allegations until proven) is further opening the eyes of the public on private military companies. One proported reason for the expanded use of these companies is that private enterprise can provide services quicker and at lower costthan public enterprises is rooted in the American corporate experience.
However, the “low-cost” advantages of private military forces fail to
provide net cost savings when the entire engagement is included in the
calculus. Consider the value of military procurement when the two
options are private firms or public agencies and the private pitch is
high efficiency at a lower face value than public agencies.
Not included in this first level of analysis is the loyalty and trust of the public agency, for example the US Marine Corps and soldiers on kitchen duty. Additionally, dollar for dollar comparisons oversimplify long-term costs of private markets which fail to be perfectly competitive with hidden and substantial transactional costs. Hidden costs of the private-public partnership include higher finance costs (the government can always can borrow money at lower rates), vendor incentives to skimp on quality or adhere to the letter of the contract not the spirit, future public costs to return outsourced skills in-house, and transactional costs of writing, enforcing, and monitoring contracts. Most important is a lack of committed loyalty to the project or consequences of under-performing. Further, the private business may seek contractually-allowed alternatives when uncertainty is likely in any war situation when other outcomes are desired by the client. This, along with unpredictability of warfare, results in expensive cost-plus contracts.
The cost of returning the outsourced task to the public agency is actually two-fold. The obvious expense of retraining aside, once the private sector has the ability to conduct war operations (especially large scale war) without the state it is likely to seek clients and projects for its skills, a dangerous situation as the larger the private firm grows, the more influence it wields and the more its is able to shape policy and further inoculate themselves from oversight. Military equipment and training has little value in alternative civilian uses, limited their marketability and companies must seek revenue streams to make a profit and diplomatic costs of this new private ability are likely to be very high in the long run.
While at least one private military company now requires an oath of allegiance of its employees for United States’ paid missions, the company is still for-profit, still outside of military control, a vendor to the civilian leadership, and more frequently, not wholly or even partially infused with US Armed Forces trained and indoctrinated professional soldiers. Missions may now be performed in the name of the state but short-staffed not because of tactical concerns, but because of contractual limits and profit motives. The four Fallujah contractors killed in March 2004 allegedly died in part because their employer did not provide a fifth man for rear cover to save money, did not provide adequate situational intelligence, and did not allow the contractors to become familiar with the territory. The decision of a private military force to withdraw from a combat zone because of rising interest rates, leverage for contract negotiations, or loss of the contract may seriously damage and reduce military capacity with virtual impunity. Outsourcing to private parties shortens the decision making horizon into immediate “commercial concerns and lobbying rather than real gains to the nation and citizens” that encourage the use of companies that “lack verification and mandatory evaluation safeguards to deliver promised results”.
As the accountability tests illustrates, an additional cost is lack of accountability through the military command structure, military legal system, or in-country legal system of the private military force. Hidden costs from the accountability issue includes the impact on moral of public troops, lack of steadfastness in time of need, and public diplomacy and image problems resulting from conduct.
That being said, there are valuable uses of private military companies. They simply should not be used willy-nilly but for specific purposes, with oversight and monitoring. The opportunity for abuse is too substantial but their value is too great to ignore.
The issue of private military companies, private security companies, or private military firms brings up the question of accountability. This question can be asked in different dimensions: moral, legal, ethical, and command and control. This is a brief draft on the legal accountability of private military forces, divorced from any profit motives. It is my belief that private military forces fall into the same "loophole" (really a misnomer, it is an intentional gap) in regulation in which non-governmental forces "approved" by the international community, namely Blue Helmets, are also found.
Conventional wisdom has been going away from general war for a while now. Low-intensity warfare impacting all four networks of power (economic, political, religious / ideology, and military / violence) will be the dominant form of conflict. In this age of instant communication, increasing diasporas, and short travel times, conflict even in remote regions have some trickle-down effect on the US. Kofi Annan, writing in Foreign Affairs, in discussing his proposed changes to the UN Security Council acknowledges the clear and present dangers of ignoring challenges in the periphery. Thomas P. M. Barnett is apparently making a living, at least in part, on the actual and perceived division between the ‘core’, ‘periphery’, and ‘non-integrating’ gap in his new map.