Posts Tagged ‘Military Contractors’

Mercenary armies and the fate of nations

February 10, 2015

Kelly Vlahos wrote a disturbing article in The American Conservative about the Pentagon’s growing dependence on mercenary troops and about how mercenary companies are becoming just as important as regular troops worldwide.

Use of military contractors offers many short-term conveniences for governments and long-term dangers for the public.

authoritarianism9fd18cHiring mercenaries frees a government from the difficulties of recruitment or a military draft.   Mercenary companies are usually willing to do whatever they’re paid to do, without concern for such things as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Constitution, the Geneva convention or a sense of military honor.  Their activities are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The long-term danger is having your country’s national defense dependent on people whose services are for sale to the highest bidder.   That was the situation in the city-states of Renaissance Italy during the time of Machiavelli, and Sean McFate, a writer and former mercenary himself, thinks the world could be returning to that situation.  Very convenient—for the government in power.

The great sociologist Max Weber defined a sovereign government as the institution that had a monopoly on the legitimate use of lethal force within a given area.  But there is nothing that limits a military contractor to selling its services to a government.

Mercenaries can sell their services to anybody that can pay them, be they corporations, political parties, fanatic religious movements or international institutions.

Corporations nowadays operate like private governments and sometimes have the power to bend actual governments to their will, as the big banks are doing in Greece and Ukraine.  But while they have their own security forces, they as yet lack full-fledged armies.  If Vlahos and McFate are right, they might acquire them, too.


A Blackwater World Order by Kelley Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Book Review: Sean McFate’s The Modern Mercenary for Scholars and Rogues Literary Journal.

Blackwater Convictions Don’t Mean the End of Mercenary War by Sean McFate for The New Republic.

The nature of a corporation and how it changed in the 1980s by Matt Stoller for Ian Welsh.  About corporations as private governments.

Iraq, spies, defense: Links & comment 6/21/14

June 21, 2014

Is Iraq Actually Falling Apart? What Social Science Surveys Show by Mansoor Moaddel for Informed Comment.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose a breakup of their country, and that they think of themselves as Iraqis first and Sunni and Shia second.   They desire a government that will work for the good of the nation and follow the wishes of the people more than they want a government that follows religious law.  A majority of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, but not of Iraqi Shiite Arabs, believe that religion should be separate from politics.

In other words, most Iraqis want for their country the same things that I want for the USA.  The Iraqis might have a stab at getting it if not for foreign interference.  A majority of Iraqis think of both Americans and Iranians as bad neighbors.

Who has the power to give the Iraqis what they want?  If anyone, it is not Barack Obama.  It is the wise Iraqi leader, the Ayatollah Sistani.   Remember that it was peaceful demonstrations led by Sistani that pressured the American occupation authorities to allow elections in Iraq.

Cross-national intelligence and national democracy on Crooked Timber.

I have written before that multi-national corporations, and the international agencies such as the WTO and IMF, are the closest thing there is to a world government.  But there is another candidate, which is the world’s interlocking intelligence agencies.

My idea of the mission of an intelligence agency is to discover the military secrets of foreign governments.  But in the present day, intelligence agencies co-operate across national borders to spy on their own citizens.  The German BND can’t legally spy on German citizens, but the U.S. NSA can legally do so and share information with the Germans, while the British GCHQ can legally share information about American citizens with the NSA.

The danger of this is that the intelligence agencies have their own political goals, which are not necessarily what the people of their respective countries want, and, so long as they operate behind a veil of absolute secrecy, there is no way of reining them in.

Why Is the Defense Department Buying Weapons With Chinese Parts Instead of US Parts? by Victoria Bruce for TruthOut.

The reason is that many high-tech components depend on “rare earths,” a raw material that China produces and that the United States could produce but doesn’t.  The deeper reason is that the big U.S. military contractors also do business with China, and don’t want to disturb that relationship.

Fukushima’s Ongoing Fallout: an unprecedented radiation disaster by John LaForge for CounterPunch.


Defense industry CEO: nice work if you can get it

September 3, 2012

Click to enlarge

This infographic from the Project on Governmental Oversight, a watchdog organization, shows that the CEOs of the top five Pentagon contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon—received average compensation equal to 268 of their employees or 335 American active-duty enlisted personnel.

The Department of Defense does cap payments for contractor executive salaries at $750,000.  Anything the CEOs get over and above that comes out of profits, or out of work these companies do for other customers, not the U.S. taxpayer—at least, not directly.  But considering problems with cost overruns with major military contractors, I still have to wonder about the justification for such large compensation practices.

Click on Pentagon CEO Compensation Is Second to None for the complete POGO report, which is the source of the infographic.

Click on Lockheed Martin for a profile of the company and its scandals by Crocodyl, a corporate watchdog organization.

Click on Boeing for Crocodyl’s profile.

Click on General Dynamics for  Crocodyl’s profile.

Click on Northrup Grumman for Crocodyl’s profile.

Click on Raytheon for Crocodyl’s profile.

Hat tip for the infographic to Bill Elwell.

Privatizing the military

March 5, 2010

Another bit of change we’re not going to see in the Obama administration is the Pentagon’s contracts with the former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, despite massive charges of waste, fraud and abuse. One is a class action lawsuit by sick veterans who say KBR was responsible for untreated drinking water and toxic smoke from polluted burn pits, as well as at least one soldier who was electrocuted in a shoddy base shower built by KBR contractors; KBR denies these allegations.

KBR’s connections with government go way back.  The founders of one of the parent companies, the brothers George R. Brown and Herman Brown and their brother-in-law Daniel Root, were the political sponsors of Lyndon Johnson.  Brown & Root was in financial trouble because it undertook to build a dam on land that it turned out the government did not own and which the Bureau of Reclamation has no authorization to approve.  The company financed Lyndon Johnson’s 1938 campaign for Congress so that he could get the law changed, which he did.  Brown & Root continued to sponsor Johnson, and he continued to use his influence to get them contracts and protect them from government investigations.

Halliburton Energy Services absorbed Brown & Root in 1962.  Richard Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton with zero apparent qualifications in between being Secretary of Defense and Vice President. Several years ago Halliburton spun off KBR as an independent company.

But KBR has gone beyond needing political influence for its no-bid contracts.  They say they are the only company with the capability to do the work that they do, and they have worked themselves into a position where this is true.   There are more employees of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, of which KBR is by far the largest, than there are U.S. uniformed military, and the Department of Defense does not have the manpower to replace them. Because of the position KBR has carved out over the years, there is no alternate bidder waiting in the wings.

We as a nation made a decision a long time ago that we would have a professional army rather than a citizen army.  I have great respect for the career military; it is they who by and large have fought and brought to light the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.  But the size of a professional military is limited by the number of volunteers who can be recruited.  Our government’s military ambitions – maintaining a worldwide network of bases, pacifying Iraq and Afghanistan – exceed those limits.  So we have to depend on private contractors who are not subject to military discipline and who are motivated by profit as much as patriotism.  This will not change until we reduce the scope of those ambitions.