Singer – Corporate Warriors: The Rise and Ramifications of the Privatized Military Industry

This week, we consider Peter Singer’s keystone piece in the study of private military contractors (PMCs). It is important to distinguish them from mercenaries, who are usually individuals employed to fight, whereas a PMC usually has a corporate business structure and are employed to provide a whole host of military-related services, from intelligence gathering and analysis, combat support, and providing security.

Although this is the first post in a series of comments to pieces on the theme of ‘Industry and Security’, this will be the final post of 2017. We are taking a break over Christmas, and will be back posting in January. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading and contributing to posts, and we look forward to more fascinating discussion in the new year.

On to what we think of the article…


This excellent article explores some of the many issues surrounding ‘privatized military firms’ (PMFs) operating within warzones across the globe. According to the author, these PMFs represent the ‘new business form of war’ in which market forces play an increasingly important role in the global military, and political landscape. Indeed, it could be argued they change the landscape completely, for with the rise of PMFs so State accountability takes a back-seat, and war loses any remaining ideological  motivation it may have previously had.

One particularly interesting question for me, is the recruitment and retention of soldiers / operators / employees (call them what you will!) within these PMFs. While the author raises the question of responsibility and the problematic of balancing ‘getting things done’ with having a good human rights record, there is also then the issue of responsibility when it comes to the actual training of these troops in the first place.

Here in the UK, the National Health Service pays to train doctors and nurses, and yet once they have been trained, these same doctors and nurses are effectively free to go and work wherever they so choose. This same problematic would seem to arise with the modern-day PMFs. If an militarily advanced Western State invests hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds in training high quality soldiers, what happens when these same soldiers decide to work for a PMF? What can States do to stop these same expensive soldiers one day coming back and fighting for the ‘enemy’ further down the line? Where does responsibility for these soldiers begin and end? And how on Earth can you hope to hold a PMF, and its ‘employees’ to account?

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University


The article is a little bit older, so the question is of course what relevance it still has for the present-day situation.  The article came at a time where much of the debate on global conflicts centered on warlords and civil wars in the Global South, while current analysis of warfare has a very different focus. However, it is one of the earliest articles describing the role of private military companies in security practices, and as such has been very important for that field. For people interested in more articles on this subject, I would recommend the work of Anna Leander.

I appreciate how the author points out the larger historical trends towards privatisation of government services, the transformation of type of conflicts, and the effects of the end of Cold War on military systems. It creates a clear picture on how private military industry has developed. I think a larger discussion on the influence of globalisation would have also fit well into this picture, as well as an analysis of the changing structure of the international arms trade in the 1990s. Considering it is written in 2002 however, it is remarkable how many of the implications and problems mentioned – such as a lack of oversight, imperialism by invitation or human rights violations – have also occurred during the US invasion of Iraq, which saw a high amount of private military contractors too.

I find the concept of Private Military Industry as used by the author very slippery however. Singer purposefully talks about “industry” instead of corporations to include actors offering other types of military services, as well as the overall industry instead of subsections.  But what falls under this exactly? When does something become corporate, only when it is registered as an official company? That is a very Western view on what falls under the private sector as it ignores the informal economy, and thus does not necessarily apply worldwide. Does this include all actors involved in war working for a profit? Smuggling is a huge component in many conflicts, and it often cannot be precisely determined whether resource extraction and sales are the cause of a conflict or just a means to finance conflict – when do profit-oriented motives of warlords turn them into private military actors? Defence companies have always played a large role in warfare, from supplying weapons to maintaining and sometimes operating them (as the author rightly points out), but then what are the new developments? Where does the military-entertainment complex fit in here? Of course, a lack of an airtight framework is one of the lacunas that Singer points out, but he does not really criticise the concept or define it more closely. If everything is private military industry, the concept is analytically meaningless.

Maaike Verbruggen, Vrije Universiteit Brussels


The idea of the corporate warrior fascinates me no end. It is a clear example of the state monopoly on violence crumbling, and the increasing capabilities which powerful individuals can have at their finger tips.

Most of the discussion about private military companies focusses on a corporate-industrial-military complex, however a couple of years ago there were discussions about the potential for their use for humanitarian reasons. During the lightening ISIS advance, a large group of the Yezidi group were trapped on Mount Sinjar. At the time, it was politically difficult for any state to deploy military forces for a humanitarian intervention. However, financially powerful individuals could have organised their own humanitarian intervention through the use of a PMC.

This would have been a unique moment. The fact that it is even possible shows that the state monopoly on violence is long gone. The ramifications of this could be that financially powerful individuals could use PMC power not just for their own security, but to realise their political ambitions as well. Potentially, this could result in a larger number of civil wars, rebellions, or even annexation and fiefdoms and created all using PMC power and purely because somebody with enough money and desire wanted it. What then will become of the international system when some big players do not play by the rules of traditional statehood? Or quasi-states are created purely as a toy for the rich and powerful?

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University


Let us know what you think in the comments below.

What is the most significant terrorist tactic of the 21st century so far?

Following on from our discussion last week about the most significant counter-terrorist trend, here we discuss terrorist tactics. There have been many significant tactics used by terrorists in the Global War on Terror. Of course, hijacking planes and using them as a weapon at the outset of GWOT was a massive change from hijacking for money or a political platform. As it has progressed, improvised explosive devices, car bombs, suicide attacks, gaining and holding territory, cyber-crime/hacking and multi-site ‘rampage’ style attacks have all been used by terrorist groups. All of these have been significant changes, and show terrorist groups as both innovative and dangerous in the face of massively more powerful state-actor adversaries. Unfortunately, all of this makes the job of securing populations by state-actors all the more difficult.

Here’s what we discussed at out reading group, followed by some individual thoughts.


  • Technology is neutral (much in the same way that counterinsurgency doctrine suggests ‘The Jungle is Neutral’). It has, however, been repurposed by terrorist groups for nefarious means. Thus, it would seem wrong to try to re-forge technology to be the tool of states – learning how to adapt to it and find ways of preventing adversaries from carrying out terrorist or cyber-crime activities would be a better approach.
  • Approaching cyber-terrorism with a repressive approach may work in the short-term, but in the long-term people always tire of authoritarianism and overthrown such leaders. Furthermore, use of repression or oppression to deal with adversaries puts terrorists on the same side as campaigners for civil rights, leading to tyrannical groups of innocent people as adversaries.
  • The democratisational ability of technology has de-centralised some power, particularly prevalent in this discussion is violent power, from states to individuals. The ability for the stereotypical teenage bot in his bedroom hacking a major corporation or piece of national infrastructure is evidence of this. However, de-centralised power has also created democratised promotional platforms upon which extremists can use as a soap box to feed their messages to impressionable people.
  • This democratised and de-centralised power allows for networks to expand and diversify. The use of the internet soap box allows messages to be accessed by whoever can find them, or can have the message pushed to them – with present day social media, this is far easier than in was in the past. In terms of diversification, the expansion of network into the realm of criminality expose terrorism to organised crime as markets for resources such as weapons and explosives. A question here is what other markets or services become available to terrorists as such networks expand.

The most overt terrorist tactic of the 21st century so far is certainly the suicide bomber – so much so that the bomber is synonymous with both the terrorist and the subsequent ‘war on terror’.
However, beyond the suicide bomber I would suggest that the most significant tactic of the 21st century so far is the computer hacker or cyber warrior. Such is the subtlety and subterfuge with which the cyber warrior wages war we struggle to even know what group the hacker belongs to or whose cause he or she is fighting for. Even as I write this now, there are news items published today suggesting the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks may be attributable to North Korea. But even then, do we know that for sure, and even if we did, what could or should we do about it?
There are also of course suggestions that the American presidential election may have been influenced by cyber warriors, either fighting for themselves or for larger groups. Whichever the case, I suggest the potential impact of attacks such as these actually goes far beyond the direct physical impact of the suicide bomber, and will prove to be our greatest challenge in the coming years.
Mike Ryder, Lancaster University


I’ve recently been thinking about the efficacy of networked command structures. As terrorists do not need to match militaries and law enforcement who have strict command structures, they have the ability to go outside of this traditional model, and function as networks, rather than hierarchies. This arrangement enables most members of a terrorist group to remain hidden and still move forward with their plans, even if one of their number is arrested/captured/killed. Thus, why the rapid operational tempo used by JSOC and other special forces during house raids to try and eliminate networks of terrorist groups rapidly in order to eliminate an entire network, rather than just capturing one or two members at a time. During the Iraq War, special forces would raid terrorist houses, and use the information gleaned to find more targets, raid that house, and then do the same until they brought down terrorist networks. The speed required for this meant that special forces were often raiding 10 properties per night at the height of their campaign.
Furthermore, networking allows for (semi-)autonomous groups to function under a leadership, without strong communication links. This means that there is less chance of plots being found, as less communication will be happening between attackers and known terrorist leaders. Thus, resulting in the need for intelligence services to resort to mass surveillance to find terrorist plotters amongst the crowds of the general public.
Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University.


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What is the most significant counterterrorism trend of the 21st century so far?

We decided that constantly reviewing books and articles was getting a bit on the monotonous side, so we decided to look at answering questions to be a bit more thought-provoking and generate a bit more discussion.

We’ve also decided to incorporate the points made at our face-to-face reading groups into the main posts, rather than a separate post.

 

Considering that counterterrorism has shifted considerably since the beginning of the ‘Global War on Terror’ from being an almost exclusively police affair, with a bit of military support, to having military forces at the forefront of the fight against international terrorism, we thought it was something we needed to think about.

 

Here’s what we talked about at our reading group, followed by some individual thoughts from members:


  • The larger role of military counterterrorism seems to have been the biggest trend.
  • Anthony Dworkin suggests that military counterterrorism used to be similar to counterinsurgency, where the winning of hearts and minds was as important at neutralising ‘irreconcilable adversaries’. However, due to there being zero political will for boots on the ground in order to carry out the required role in winning hearts and minds, only the targeted killing of irreconcilables can be carried out.
    • This approach of stopping key adversaries, but not having the power, or political will, to affect a societal change in order to eliminate the root causes of terrorism has a parallel with organised crime. Police forces often ‘keep a lid’ on organised crime so that they do not grow too powerful, but cannot eliminate it completely because it is expensive in both manpower, cash, and political backing. Also, the risk that when one organised crime group is removed, other will then fight for their territory, businesses and power can be too great – it seems a similar approach is being taken towards international terrorist groups.

 

  • The rhetoric of the ‘Global War on Terror’ immediately put Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden into a war with the US, rather than being seen as criminals. This gives them more perceived power, as they are in a war with the US which gives them a greater platform, and possibly an assumed equal playing field. This doesn’t reflect the truth in that Al Qaeda were, although effective, just a small group of relatively poor and ill-equipped ex-mujahedeen fighters.
  • In terms of language, both Osama Bin Laden, and George W. Bush used very similar rhetoric to persuade people to join their side.

 

  • The use of the term ‘loser’ for terrorists by President Trump is, although blunt, probably an accurate description for what are often just young disaffected young men with no prospects and no hope – whether through their own failures, or structural difficulties in their societies. This links in with greater global challenges surrounding the role of men in modern societies, which many young men are struggling to deal with.
  • For some of these people, being subject to targeted killing could become a ‘badge of honour’, in that they have managed to make such a mark with their actions that a foreign government is out to kill them.

 


Profiling and surveillance are two key areas that have seen massive growth in the 21st century. Harnessing cloud computing and big data, these technologies have given law enforcement agencies access to tools that make them more effective and more efficient at what they do.

And yet these technologies come with great risks. The biggest perhaps is an overreliance on technology, and a prevailing sense of confidence that the technology will always come out on top. This technology has also given successive governments an easy method to justify cuts, relying on the greater efficiency of these new systems, while neglecting the need for community engagement and responding to community concerns.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

 


Manhunting/ Kill or Capture. Although these tactics have been around for a long time, they were never the main strategy of fighting the enemy. Yet, in today’s modern counter-terrorist conflicts, it seems that this is all there is. There’s no expansion into counter-insurgency, and trying to win hearts and minds, just the killing of the ‘irreconcilables’. Potentially, the ‘outsourcing’ of the friendly parts of COIN to parts of the state such as DFID make it too great a distance for people to see the link between being nice and not having to fight future wars. Also, the number of aid workers at DFID, rather than defence people mean that the running of international aid could be focussed on helping those in need, rather than those we want to dissuade from becoming adversaries – although this is, of course, a good aim. As long as the military doesn’t do any nation building, and there isn’t the money available for any sort of mass re-building, pure lethality might be the only thing on the table.

 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University


 

As always, let us know what you think in the comments below, or e-mail us to join the network.

British Torture in the War on Terror – Blakeley and Raphael

Today, we discuss British torture in the ‘war on terror’  by Ruth Blakeley and Sam Raphael, from the European Journal of International Relations 2017, Vol. 23(2) 243–266.

It is available here.

This article describes the way in which British Intelligence has been complicit in US torture of terrorist suspects.


Here’s what we said about the article at our reading group:

 

  • This gives flesh to the bones of something that everybody really knew was happening behind their beliefs in liberal values, and provides it in fascinating detail.
  • Is it worse to be doing something repugnant, or allow it to happen when you have to power to stop at least part of it? It is essentially the same thing?
  • The US, which directly performed torture at least tred to justify their actions, whereas allies who profited from the intelligence gathered often just pretend it never happened whilst they collude and benefit. This is pure freeriding in the international relations sense. It does however show that the countries do care about the rule of law. The US at least creates a legal justification, even if it is an invention, and their allies hide involvement to avoid difficult questions. However, this could be reversed to see human rights as a façade.

 

  • Informed citizens are as complicit as those who profit from torture intelligence if they do not challenge bad activities happening. To what extent should the electorate be responsible for the administration they elect and retain in the face of moral wrongs?
  • Should people challenge an administration caught performing bad activities, or wait for democratic accountability at the next election? We see that political challenge can be exceptionally dangerous for many people who are not in free countries, e.g. the Arab Spring

 

  • Where human rights may be difficult to implement or comply with, is it always worth it?
  • Post 9/11 interventions may not have been worth it to implement human rights in middle-eastern countries. Is the abidance with human rights always worth risking the deaths of others, such as in a ticking-time-bomb scenario? The law would say yes, but morals and ethics are murkier.
  • If Western powers think that the imposition of human rights onto the developing world is a good thing, and deaths are necessary to do this (whether through direct conflict, or causing subsequent conflicts), they are essentially creating a hierarchy of human life, where those who live in countries which respect human rights are ranked higher than those who do not. This is despite those living in countries that do not respect human rights being most in need of them.
  • Although the unintended consequences of imposing human rights are massive, is their imposition always bad? After all, legal equality does not equal social equality. As UK Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins forced through the legalisation of divorce, homosexuality and abortion, in the face of massive opposition because he knew it was the right thing to do. Could the same logic be applied to the risks associated with the imposition of human rights, even if it is seen as a Western imperial project?

 

  • The article suggests that everyone was complicit in systems such as torture, which contrasts Hannah Arendt who suggests that the bureaucracy involved in the Holocaust retained knowledge of it.
  • Ignorance of the law on torture is not a defence, and does not equate to ignorance of state policy, or actions.
  • UK intelligence officers may have been given specific instructions so they did not become legally complicit, but they can be seen as morally and ethically complicit.
  • State responsibility of the UK for US actions would require a high standard of proof that may be impossible to reach.

 

  • The use and complicity in torture exposes that the priority of states is not human rights, despite often promulgating them. This exposes the necessary hypocrisy of being a liberal state in that public liberal politics gives a humane face to policy, whereas the realpolitk behind closed doors is far more concerned with practical realities, whether morally good or not. States are almost required to be hypocritical to get on as a big player in the international system.
  • This links with the Crandall article we discussed. Is it better to kill one terrorists to prevent an attack, or torture five to prevent the same attack? Killing is morally ‘cleaner’, but is it better to be tortured than to die? However, torture and killing have different purposes – one is to prevent future activities by adversaries from happening, the other is to gain intelligence in order to launch operations to stop those activities. But, if torture worked, we would still see it being used.

 

Here’s what we thought individually:


While this paper is very well written in the descriptive, it lacks somewhat in the analytical, and is laden with left-wing politics presented as non-political fact. The use of sources – Butler in particular – is problematic, for the single Butler work they cite is itself polemical in its nature and is used as a platform for Butler to express her own (arguably excessive) liberal ideals.

Away from the issues of bias and politicisation, my other major problem with this paper, linked to my opening statement, is that it lacks in depth in its discussion surrounding sovereignty, and uses incredibly loaded terms without ever really interrogating them (excuse the pun) to any reasonable extent. ‘Petty sovereigns’ for example is a phrase loaded with meaning, and goes to reflect as much Butler’s own political standpoint as anything else. It is surprising indeed that for a paper so littered with use of the term ‘state of exception’ that the authors don’t ever engage with Giorgio Agamben at all – instead relying on Butler (again) and her own politicised interpretation of Agamben’s work.

There is then, for me, a much wider problem with this paper, and its publication that reflects on academia as a whole. This funded research, published in an esteemed political journal is laden with politics and what I can only refer to as ‘pseudo analysis’ of terms that warrant much greater attention, while also distracting the reader from counter arguments relating to sovereignty and defence. It is no wonder that the field of academia is so often seen as home of the liberal elite.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University


This article is both a fascinating and repugnant look at how UK intelligence has structured its policies and the behaviour of its officers to avoid a concrete link with US and allied torture, whilst enabling and profiting from it’s occurrence. The prohibition of torture is a jus cogens norm, and cannot be breached for any reason. This does, of course, raise a question as to whether there is a jus cogens prohibition on assisting torture – I should think with the mass of human rights requirements around preventing torture, assisting I  it would be completely unlawful whether or not it is explicitly prohibited as a jus cogens norm.

I certainly do not condone torture, but it is interesting that the discourse on whether torture is effective is essentially closed. The assumption is that torture/enhance interrogation/harsh interrogation does not work as those subject to it will say anything for the pain to stop. Yet, this assumption seems to come from those with no experience in torture. The CIA, their supporters, and their then political masters, maintain that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ worked (despite a Senate report offering an opposite view), and Paul Aussaresses who was in charge of the French torture programme during the battle for Algiers remained steadfast in the opinion that although regrettable, it worked (“The best way to make a terrorist talk when he refused to say what he knew was to torture him… The majority of people crack and talk.”). So we clearly have an odd situation where the efficacy of torture is evaluated by people with no experience in it.

I definitely do not mean to suggest torture is a good thing. I find it reprehensible when other more conventional interview techniques apparently work just as well without subjecting anybody to harm. But, the debate should be grounded in real facts about the efficacy of torture. However, to get at them, we have to appreciate those who have performed these horrors as real people and not sadistic psychopaths – perhaps that is beyond comprehension. Still, nobody wants to risk legitimising torture. Perhaps the debate is better left closed, with torture completely off limits.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University


Let us know what you think in the box below.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Kill Them: Complex Adaptive Systems Theory and the Rise in Targeted Killing – Crandall

Here, we discuss ‘If You Can’t Beat Them, Kill Them: Complex Adaptive Systems Theory and the Rise in Targeted Killing’ by Carla Crandall, from Seton Hall Law Review: Vol. 43 : Iss. 2 , Article 3.

It is available here.

The main crux of the article is that from a complexity theory perspective, the ruling that illegal detention of terrorist suspects created the massive and sprawling targeted killing programme we see today.


Here are a few thoughts we had during out reading group:

  • Choosing a particular weapon or tactic makes you responsible for the incidental harm it causes as well as the direct harms.
  • Signature strikes that have been carried out are often unlawful because they have been performed poorly. Not because there is anything inherently unlawful about targeting based upon criteria which signify an enemy, or adversarial threat.
  • Terrorists in Western countries are often stopped by the police, removing the need for militarised counter-terrorism. Conceptually, there is no difference between the police use of a robot with a bomb attached and a drone strike.
  • If a drone can target a terrorist with a bomb, why not use bullets and prevent collateral damage? If bullets can be used, why not use tranquilizer darts and subsequently arrest perpetrators?

On to what we thought individually:

The argument of this complex and detailed paper can be summed up as follows: By closing of detention centres such as Guantanamo Bay the US has as a result been encouraged to increase in drone strikes, for if capture and (often unpleasant) interrogation are out of the question, killing becomes the next best option to eliminate potential threat. The author then argues that in making judgements regarding US detention policies, legislators and policy makers have inadvertently created a situation that has led to more deaths and have incentivised killing over capture.

This is a really useful observation. Philosophically speaking, I am interested here in the notion that we have moved away from the notion that quantity of life trumps quality of life, to the reverse where the quality of life now trumps quantity. I.E.: we now place emphasis on the conditions within which detainees are held and place this above the life expectancy of targets. Thus in this new approach it is far ‘better’ to kill (and thus cut the quantity of life of a larger number of victims [some who may be innocent]) as opposed to capturing fewer individuals and submitting them to sub-human conditions. Though the author does not address this in her paper, there is a major implication here in terms of our wider relationship with life, and how we judge its worth.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University


Crandalls article linking the abandoning of internment of terrorist suspects to the adoption of targeted killing as a key counterterrorism tool is fascinating. It really gets to the heart of the fact that foreign policy actions always have unintended consequences. It is, however strange that the US opted to even try long-term internment if terrorist suspects. After all, when the UK tried it with IRA members, it simply became a recruiting tool for the terrorists (which makes it additionally worrisome that some apparently security-conscious far-right political parties would happily see a return to internment.)

But, what are the unintended consequences of favouring targeted killing? We are currently seeing revelations that questionable targeting choices are being made by soldiers involved in the Global War on Terror, particularly those in special forces. They are not only the ‘tip of the spear’, but are also deployed most often. Indeed, many SF soldiers have essentially been at war non-stop since 9/11. Although increased operational tempo, and policy demands may create situations whereby bending (or breaking) of rules is tacitly accepted, it should not be. Are these any worse than the occurrences of torture and unlawful detention by Coalition special forces in the Iraq War detailed in Jeremy Scahills’ Dirty Wars? No. So, I don’t think we can link these questionable activities to the abandoning of internment tactics. It seems as though this could just be the unintended consequence of shadow wars.

But, we do see an increasing derogation of state sovereignty when a state has terrorists operating on its soil. Indeed, unwilling/unable doctrine has essentially given states given an argument to take actions in any country where the territorial state does not agree with their assessment of a non-state actor. Although notably brought to the attention of international lawyers by a former UK Foreign Office Legal Adviser, it has mostly been seen as a US doctrine. The number of states supporting it has grown to include most of those countries in the US-led coalition in Syria. But, it is also being used by adversaries of the West. Most recently Iran. Potentially, the unintended consequence of favouring targeted killing could be the disintegration of state sovereignty, and the death of Hobbes Leviathan.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University


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