More on Mercenaries


In light of our discussion a couple of posts ago about the practice of hiring private “security” companies to do jobs the military used to, this is an interesting tidbit.

Basically, the upshot is that Sec. of Defense Gates is concerned about the fact that these companies are paying people more than the military pays to do the same jobs those people used to do for the military.  One can understand why that would concern him.  He’s so concerned about it, in fact, that he’s looking into making members of the military sign non-competition agreements when they enlist.  (And let’s just think for a moment about what it means for the American military to have competition.  Not enemies, as in a foreign military.  But competition, as in other domestic organizations trying to do the same job they’re doing, only for profit.)

The linked post also discusses the fiscal impact of using private contractors, although very little and in very broad terms.

 Here is a longer AP story on Gates’ concerns.


12 Responses to “More on Mercenaries”

  1. mrspeacock Says:

    Well, I have to admit that I was distracted by the Daily Show advertisement alongside the article: “At UN Showdown, Iran’s passive-aggressive attacks were countered by President Bush’s Jewish mother routine. Sue him for loving!”

  2. urbino Says:

    As Homer Simpson once said of donuts, “The Daily Show: is there anything it can’t do?”

  3. urbino Says:

    And where’s that mountain-climbing post?

  4. dejon05 Says:

    I apologize in advance for a tangential topic on Iraq, but I’m curious.

    Would this not change the fundamental case for this war?

  5. urbino Says:

    Well, let’s just say it doesn’t help Bush’s case. It also isn’t likely to make his view of history a reality. He seems to see history — the history that will be written about him — as some sort of Savior who’s going to swoop down at some point in the future and redeem him.

    For those who haven’t been following the story: a Spanish newspaper has obtained and is publishing transcripts of conversations between President Aznar, of Spain, and President Bush, before the start of the Iraq War. Among other things, it shows Aznar begging Bush for more time and UN effort before launching the invasion, and expressing concern that Bush is overly optimistic; Bush telling him America will be in Iraq by the end of March (2003), come hell or high water, at the same time the WH was telling the American people their president had not already decided on war; and the two of them discussing a proposal from Saddam Hussein in which Saddam would voluntarily exit from office and Iraq.

    I don’t put too much stock in the genuineness of Saddam’s proposal, but pretty much everything else in the transcripts is decidedly unflattering to Pres. Bush.

    I particularly like the part where Bush tells Aznar, “I’m optimistic because I believe I’m right.” It makes me giggle uncontrollably. I can just hear Delmar O’Donnell saying it. “Well I’ll only be 82!”

  6. urbino Says:

    Since you’re here, DeJon, I’d be interested in hearing what all goes into an editorial decision to print material like this.

  7. michaellasley Says:

    Are mercenaries a recent addition to U.S. military operations? The one report said they became more common under the first President Bush. But have they always been there in some capacity? Just curious about the history of them.

    For whom do these mercenaries provide security? Is it our diplomats? Or other government people?

    I think I knew that there were more than 100,000 private soldiers (or whatever they’re called) in Iraq, but that number is still hard to process. The whole concept, actually, is hard for me to process.

  8. mrspeacock Says:

    JU – Ah, well, I was clobbered by a migraine that evening. I blame my mother. But I still plan to post about the mountain.

    My second favorite line: “She loved ‘im up and turned ‘im into a horny toad!”

    Obviously, I know nothing about mercenaries.

  9. Capt. Midknight Says:

    Michael said:
    “Are mercenaries a recent addition to U.S. military operations? The one report said they became more common under the first President Bush. But have they always been there in some capacity? Just curious about the history of them.”
    “For whom do these mercenaries provide security? Is it our diplomats? Or other government people?”

    Just a few comments before I trust myself to the tender mercies of Delta Airline:

    Not to try to give a history lesson or restate the obvious, but mercenaries have been around for thousands of years. The term generally refers to someone who fights for money as opposed to patriotism or just as a conscript in some national army. The use of mercenaries by governments to augment and/or train their own national forces is a time honored tradition going back to Old Testament times, and becoming a mercenary has always been a common career path for some young soldiers who found themselves out of work when their current war ended. Some Greek military units worked, during slack times (ie peacetime) for whomever paid the best, and even worked as performers in the Roman games. Just to give one example, from American history, the troops that George Washington defeated in the crucial battle of Trenton were actually Hessian (German) mercenaries hired by King George III to augment his British units. Hiring out their soldiers was a significant source of income to some of the Kings and Princes of the time.

    Americans have actually bucked the tide in regard to mercenaries for most of its history, preferring, for one reason or another, to use its own military instead of outsourcing the work. I believe that Vietnam was the first time you saw a large scale use of civilian contractors actually taking over functions in a war zone previously preformed by military personnel – Lyndon Johnson’s Texas buddies at Brown and Root did a ton of construction work at facilities in Viet Nam that, in WWII would have been done by the SEABEES. The Iraqi situation – both the first and second time – is just a continuation of the same policy writ larger. The rational, as I understand it, is that private contractors can do certain things cheaper, quicker, and more efficiently. Whether that proves to be true in practice is another matter.

    Mercenaries and their use isn’t something invented by evil politicians – liberal or conservative, but it may indeed be a cause for concern that some in the mercenary community have begun to band together and operate within a corporate structure and exert undue influence in the political arena. It would, in fact, be naive to expect folks in that line of work not to “push the envelope” with regard to furthering their own interests. That said, I have no problem with these folks being watched very closely. I’ve known a few, and some of them are “about a half a bubble off plumb.”

    As to Gates’ concern that private security companies (modern mercenaries) are outbidding the military and luring away young soldiers with better pay and benefits – sorry. Welcome to the 21st century. For maybe the first time, mercenaries can go to work in a suit and tie, get group medical and dental, and probably a 401k, while earning twice what they would in the Army. For a lot of first term military guys, it’s a no brainer. For years, the Air Force has complained that they give guys a million dollars worth of flight training and then, after their initial commitment, the pilots get out and go to work for United Airlines (or, in my case, FedEx). Too bad. That’s the way the world works.

    Michael, at your question:
    “For whom do these mercenaries provide security? Is it our diplomats? Or other government people?”

    The answer is “all the above.” In fact, the answer really is “the highest bidder.”

  10. urbino Says:

    Great historical perspective, Cap’n. Glad you were still at the computer.

    One key historical difference, as I understand it, between the long historical practice of using mercenaries — such as the British use of the Hessians — and the modern American practice is that, historically, the mercenaries reported to the regular military — the normal chain of command. That’s not the case anymore. Companies like Blackwater operate independently of the US military. It’s not at all clear who they report to, if anyone. Their contract is with the State Department, so, for business purposes at least, that’s the control point on them. (Part of the current controversy over Blackwater is that the State Dept. seems not very interested in exercising the control it has.)

    To me, the larger problem with this trend toward privatizing military functions is the effect it will have on our national politics and policy.

    One of the fundamental laws of free-market economics, quotable by any Econ 101 student, is: supply creates its own demand.

    As companies like Blackwater report impressive earnings in what can only be called the warmaking business, other companies are going to enter that market segment. (And I can’t believe I’m even using the words “market segment” in reference to waging war.) The market supply of warmaking capability will go up, probably dramatically. Supply creates its own demand. The more [for-profit] warmaking capability we have, the more war we’ll have.

    This is doubly true in a democracy, because: a) those warmaking companies can and will lobby the federal government for . . . well, more business, make large campaign contributions, etc.; b) as the warmaking market becomes a larger segment of the national economy, politicians will feel increased national economic pressure to keep such companies healthy; c) as the warmaking industry becomes larger, politicians from states or districts where those companies are based will feel more economic pressure from their own district/state to keep those companies financially healthy; d) as the warmaking industry grows and employs larger numbers of people, politicians will feel more pressure to keep those companies healthy as a matter of keeping unemployment low, either nationally or in their own state/district or both.

    As soon as warmaking becomes a private, for-profit business, all of these pressures come to bear on our national policymakers. Personally, I can’t see any sense in which this is a good thing. There just is no good thing that comes from taking our nation’s warmaking capability out of the traditional military and putting it in the hands of for-profit companies, where market forces will enforce their own inexorable logic.

    Even if it were cheaper, which isn’t at all clear, to have things done privately and for profit, other factors still make it an overwhelmingly bad idea.

  11. michaellasley Says:

    Glad you could find a computer, Capt. I [Heart] History. And I think JU’s concerns are the ones I share. This is a business. It’s not hiring someone to help out to achieve a specific goal. It’s a business that is going to continue to look for work, drum up more business, no? I realize they aren’t fighting our battles, necessarily, but I think relying on them as much as we are needs some serious rethinking.

    It’s Friday. I make less since on Fridays than on any other day of the week. So I’ll hush.

  12. Capt MidKnight Says:

    JU said:
    “Supply creates its own demand.” Sounds a little like the old saying:
    “When you have a hammer in your hand, everything starts to look like a nail.”

    These companies are not usually war fighting companies. They don’t need to be. I don’t think their existance creates the situations (the demand) in which they prosper. Over the centuries, conventional governmants have created more than enough instability to keep plenty of “Mercs” occupied. They simply take advantage of the demand for security created by the dangerous world we live in.
    As I said before, they usually work for the highest bidder, although I doubt that even companies like Blackwater would openly work for an entity who was currently directly beligerent to the US, if only for self preservation reasons. I feel sure that such action would be against current law. They work mainly for people or groups who need protection and can’t get – or don’t trust – more conventional sources. In short, they go where the money is, whether that money is government or private. Currently, there is a lot of government money. If that changes, they will go elswhere.

    Again, as I said before, none of that is saying that they souldn’t be closely watched. In their line, more than most, it’s the “nature of the beast” to push as far as they can.

    BTW sorry in advance for any typos. No Spellchecker here in Limerick.

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