In my first post on the growth of PMCs (private military companies), I outlined their current lack of legal status and the potential for disaster downstream if it isn't addressed. In this post, I look at the reasons and potential implications of the spectacular growth of PMCs in Iraq.
The occupation of Iraq represents a turning point for the use of PMCs. Traditionally, PMCs have been used in the small, dirty conflicts that fall below the radar of the great powers. In Iraq, PMCs are directly involved and play a major part in the world's most important conflict. Here is the current state of affairs in Iraq:
- PMCs currently employ 15,000 security personnel (estimates are as high as 20,000). They represent the second largest military force in Iraq, behind the US. As Peter Singer says, "it is a coalition of the billing."
- PMCs are funded by a combination of the DoD and private contractors. Between 10-25% of expenditures on reconstruction efforts is spent on PMC security forces.
- PMC security is expensive. It costs upwards of $2,000 a day for an experienced security guard in Iraq. This high pay has recruited some of the best soldiers in the world drawn from units such as Delta, the Seals, and the SAS. This has caused a reversal, more SAS trained personnel currently serve in UK PMCs than in the SAS itself (this is also probably true for Delta and the Seals too).
The role of PMCs in Iraq has grown quickly over the last year, much more quickly than anticipated by the DoD planners for the occupation. This is due to a unique combination of drivers, which are:
- There is an insufficient number of uniformed forces in Iraq. A lack of sufficient allied support and an unwillingness (as well as an inability given that 8 out of 10 US ground divisions are currently allocated to rotation in Iraq) of the US to commit more forces to Iraq has created a vacuum of need.
- The perception that casualties among PMCs employees are more politically palatable than those of US soldiers. This has proven true in the past and is proving true in Iraq on the whole. However, as the murder and mutilation of 4 PMC employees in Fallujah demonstrates, this assumption can backfire under the right circumstances.
- PMC forces are easily scaled due to the power of free market economics. The huge sums allocated to the reconstruction of Iraq is funding the demand. In terms of supply, the large pool of available personnel (40 years of cold war training) as well as the number of PMC entrepreneurs assembling forces is proving limitless.
PMC usage in Iraq will not go away, it will continue to grow quickly if the threat scenario continues to remain grim (if the threat situation increases beyond current limits, there will be a retrenchment phase as reconstruction contractors reevaluate their positions). Here's what this means over the long-run:
- An increasingly chaotic occupation effort if left unchanged. The incident involving Blackwater Security personnel in Fallujah is a harbinger of future problems. PMC forces are not, by and large, directly part of the US command structure in Iraq. They operate independently without much coordination between themselves and the US military. The chaos this creates will complicate US policy in Iraq. Current ad hoc efforts at coordination may yield improvement. This process needs to be formalized quickly in order to head off disasters in the future.
- As the chaos in Iraq spreads to adjoining countries, PMC growth will widen to protect the interests of multinational corporations and nation-states in jeopardy. The strong growth of new terrorist cells and guerrilla organizations in Iraq will likely not constrain their operations to Iraq. The chaos seen there will spread to adjoining countries (the gulf monarchies in particular) which will increase the demand for PMC services.
- The current alignment between US policy and the PMC industries objectives will break down. The US policy objective is to see the spread of global peace (which would result in the elimination of the need for PMCs). In contrast, the PMC industry is driven by an increase in instability. Aligning these contrasting desires is going to be one of the greatest policy issues of the 21st century.