The Browning, or not, of the private military debate
Regulation of Private Military Companies (PMCs) is overdue in the UK. It is important to remember that the ‘Options for Regulation’ Green Paper was released in 2002, during the premiership of Tony Blair and a year before the onset of the Iraq occupation. It is difficult to discern where PM Gordon Brown stands on the issue. The downgrading of the Defence Minister post to a part-time office, the over-tightening of the defense budget, and the continued emphasis on the social engineering program of New Labour suggest that the issue, for the time being, is likely not to figure in Brown’s agenda. However, if an unfortunate event brings British PMCs into the spotlight, Brown might rush to pass regulation more responsive to populist requirements than established patterns of cooperation with the private sector for the achievement of foreign policy goals.
Take me to your leader
Pyrotechnic announcements about what each one of the presidential candidates will do to ‘change’ current policies towards the use of US contractors in conflicts have been flying around since the events of last October, i.e. the Blackwater affair. However, it has been largely pyrotechnics rather than concrete and realistic policy aspirations. Let us wait and see what the eventual nominees actually propose when the issue takes centre stage once more. This time it should be for real. Hardly revealing news, we know, but it needs to be noted in any list about private military issues to watch in 2008.
George W Bush’s swan song
We have heard rumours about an olive branch concerning security contractors in Iraq to be handed by Bush to critics of his administration in the second half of the year – or to soft the ground for the Republican nominee. Scapegoats might be part of the lyrics. If you have been following the debate closely, use your imagination about the possible scapegoat(s). As for the rest, all things remain equal, tune yourself in for an unforgettable song.
The new kids on the block
The growing importance of the private military debate has engendered many experts: some of them are experts in their own right and some other bright individuals who were simply at the right place at the right time. We salute both of them. Nevertheless, it needs to be acknowledged that the need for expertise has moved many influential institutions to seek desperately for experts or to create them on the spot to fill the gap. In this respect, 2008 promises to be an interesting year. With a presidential election looming, the most unlikely choice can suddenly become a leading voice. We would only spoil the surprise if we tell you about a handful of leading contenders being currently groomed for top slots.
The coming of age of the wireless brigade
It was in 2007 that we witnessed the private military topic to metastasize in the popular psyche. It is not necessary to elaborate on the zillions of blogs that offered commentary about ‘contractors’ in Iraq alongside the latest gossip about favourite pop stars. The bloggers are coming of age. We can tell you that a largely quiet segment of this generation, far from externalising outcry at the use of PMCs, has demonstrated genuine interest in joining the private military industry one day or are supportive of the private military alternative. This unsuspected crowd is likely to start making its presence felt in 2008, incidentally catching presidential contenders and regular commentators out of guard.
The growing community of universal experts on PMCs has been disproportionate focusing on the role of this type of firms in Iraq. Africa, where the sector has experienced an equally impressive yet longer trajectory, hardly figures in the numerous reports and articles produced by them. Let us share a secret. The rent or loan a force approach of the Chinese, linked to their unmatched investment in African infrastructure projects, has turned these forces into quasi-PMCs. In other words, forces that one occasions belong to the private military domain but defy typological analyses produced so far. We sincerely hope that at least a wiz kid from the wireless brigade will get some funding to undertake this belated research project, as China’s role in Africa will continue to grow.
South Africa and Jacob Zuma
The election of Jacob Zuma as new leader of the African National Congress has necessarily worried many analysts. It has already turned domestic politics into a polarising battlefield. His populist vessel is likely to sail across private military waters in 2008. Has Mr. Zuma reached a conclusion about that little piece entitled the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity and Prohibition and Regulation of Certain Activities in an Area of Armed Conflict Bill? We know he has read it.
Somalia and fundamentalism
The African chosen destination for radical fundamentalists might prove more worrisome that conventionally thought. The piracy problem appears to be just one click away from engendering a maritime catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, namely when fundamentalist terrorism meets piracy. We invite you to consult a map and appreciate the strategic position of this lawless ‘territory’. In particular, see its potential for breeding and exporting mayhem.
PMCs go to Hollywood
Syriana brought to the big screen the polymorphic nature of international politics and business. Blood Diamond made the idea of old-fashioned mercenaries in Africa somehow actual and sexy. The Bourne Ultimatum made black ops and rendition one of the summer blockbusters’ themes. Moreover, Matt Damon, who currently enjoys the Midas touch, is toying with Imperial Life in the Emerald City. PMCs are inevitably heading to Hollywood big time in 2008. Feel uncomfortable about the uninspiring (we are being polite) view about PMCs already on script.
The green contractor
The environment and greening policies are mainstream issues now, which undoubtedly is a positive development. At corporate level, CEOs and firms are working hard to show and publicise their green credentials. In this light, it is only a matter of time before segments of the private military industry join them. We know already of a relative minority of firms that are working in linking de-mining and UXO disposal services to the green agenda. 2008 is likely to be the year a more coherent industry-wide strategy starts to gestate.
1 January 2008