Rueters October 21, 2012
* Iraq, Afghan withdrawal may mean leaner times for contractors
* Shift to guarding private sector’s oil fields and mines
* Some see big shakeout in private security industry
* U.N. member states wary of private security forces
By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – On a rooftop terrace blocks from the White House, a collection of former soldiers and intelligence officers, executives and contractors drink to the international private security industry.
The past decade – particularly the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – provided rich pickings for firms providing private armed guards, drivers and other services that would once have been performed by uniformed soldiers.
But as the conflicts that helped create the modern industry wind down, firms are having to adapt to survive. They must also, industry insiders say, work to banish the controversial image of mercenary “dogs of war” that bedevil many firms, particularly in Iraq.
“This industry has always gone up and down,” Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA), told Reuters on the sidelines of its annual conference in Washington. “What we’re seeing now is that it is becoming much more mature – and much more responsible.”
The free-for-all atmosphere that pervaded the industry, particularly in the early years of the war in Iraq, insiders say, appears gone for good. A string of high profile incidents – often involving armed private guards firing on sometimes unarmed Iraqis – trashed the reputation of firms such as Blackwater, a Virginia-based firm since renamed several times, as well as the wider industry.
Members of the ISOA – which include some but not all of the major contracting firms as well as smaller players – subscribe to a code of conduct that they say helps identify responsible firms.
Despite these efforts, industry insiders and other observers say quality remains mixed. Some firms providing armed guards for merchant ships passing through the Somali pirate-infested Indian Ocean, for example, only hire elite personnel who have served in the Marines or special forces. Others, however, have a reputation for being less discriminating and for unreliable staff and weapons.
What does the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have to do with the private military and security contracting industry? At first glance, nothing at all. But philosophically it nicely illustrates one of the enduring debates about the PMC industry, i.e., just how free does one let the free market be and to what extent does and should government regulate PMSC activities.
If your politics swing toward the right then you might consider it the latest culture war. Certainly Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute believes that is the case in this Washington Post op-ed he wrote, published yesterday. In his view:
Those old battles have been eclipsed by a new struggle between two competing visions of the country’s future. In one, America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise — limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.
Of course, if he thinks a marketplace that often trades in organized violence (i.e., security contracting) should be left to the marketplace, well, AEI, needs a new president; preferably someone who understands history. The reason we have nations in the first place was to take violence out of the private sector. Read this in full here