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January 18, 2008

Ending Genocide - Send in the Contractors
Posted by Michael Cohen

Below, my blogmate Lorelei Kelly praises anti-genocide activists for raising awareness about the terrible situation in Darfur. Certainly, they deserve acknowledgment for the work they've done, but if recent reports out of the region are any indication, all their efforts are unfortunately not bringing real change on the ground. The UN mission to Darfur there remains woefully undermanned (instead of 27,000 blue hats, there are a mere 9,000) and lacks the necessary equipment (helicopters, in particular) to do its job. Then of course there is the typical UN reluctance to put itself in possibly deadly military situations. This from Jean-Marie Guehenno, UN peacekeeping chief:

A Sudanese attack this week on UN-led troops reinforces concerns that the force might be unable to protect itself or civilians in Darfur. The violence, along with foot-dragging by the Sudanese government and the lack of necessary helicopters and equipment, might doom the peacekeeping effort.

Guehenno told the Security Council last month that it might be better not to deploy a UN force at all than to deploy one that was too vulnerable, recalling tragedies involving overwhelmed peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

So in short, the peacekeeping mission to Darfur might not bring any kind of peace at all. There is actually a reasonable solution to this problem, but its one that unfortunately many in the activist community refuse to consider - the use of private military contractors to serve as peacekeepers. Now I know for many people the very reference to contractors conjures up images of Blackwater killing innocent Iraqis in Baghdad. Certainly, that is one side of the story.

But at the same time there are plenty of other military contractors (Armor, DynCorp etc) who have acted responsibly in Iraq. The vast majority of contractors and elsewhere don't break the law, they don't shoot civilians and they generally do a pretty good job. Moreover, some in the industry have indicated a willingness to play a more active role in humanitarian operations.

Now having said all that I would not advocate for such an approach if I thought governments could tackle this issue. But sadly they have failed to do so and as a result millions have died unnecessarily, particularly when one considers that even a small application of force could have likely stopped the violence years ago.

The advantage of using contractors are significant. A PMC-led force in Darfur would not have to encounter any of the serious challenges that cripple UN peacekeeping operations, from chain of command issues and coordination of national armies to equipment concerns. It's hard to imagine a PMC force being "overwhelmed" in Darfur.  At the very least, contractors would likely be better soldiers then the ill-trained units from the world's poorest countries that are often sent on peacekeeping operations.

Now of course for such an effort to succeed contractors would have to work on behalf of the United Nations and African Union and most of all be held responsible for their actions. Unlike in Iraq, there would have to be rules in place regarding accountability and oversight as well as a legal structure for prosecuting any contractors accused of human rights violations. No one wants to see a repeat of the Wild West show in Iraq and dealing with these issues in advance would go a long way toward nipping that problem in the bud. Having spoken with many in the contracting world I don't believe that such oversight rules would be a hindrance; in fact the opportunity to rehabilitate the image of PMCs would be an opportunity many in the industry would leap at. (Not to mention the money they would make).

Now I understand the concerns that many people have about the outsourcing of peacekeeping to private industry. But, what is the alternative. For years, the international community sat on its hands and did nothing as millions died in Darfur. After finally agreeing to send a peacekeeping operation to the region it is has received little Western support and is undermanned. In short, Western and African governments have failed miserably in stopping the killing. Contractors are not a panacea, but if they can stop the killing in Darfur shouldn't we give it a try?


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Dyncorp? Really? The rapists of Bosnia?

Is Michael Cohen on the payroll of Doug Brooks and the IPOA?

Although there may well be important roles for private military contractors in peace operations in Darfur and elsewhere, it's off-the-mark to attribute the weaknesses of the UN mission in Sudan to UN reticence and lack of capacity with a "reasonable solution" courtesy of the private sector.

The primary reason for UNAMID's ineffectiveness bas been Khartoum's willfull interference with its deployment: vetoing non-African troop contributors etc. Sudan would play the same game with PMCs contracted by the US, UN, or anybody else.

The mere existence of UNAMID is largely due to the efforts of anti-genocide activists in the US and around the world. Belittling their sophisticated advocacy efforts and extolling the work of the Dyncorps of the world doesn't offer useful input into the debate on upholding the responsibility to protect. Better to read Peter Singer or Deborah Avant's work on this topic.

Mercenaries have had a bad reputation in Africa dating back to their use in Angola and other African countries during the seventies and their use could be rejected by the African Union.

David, you raise a fair point about the recalcitrance of the Sudanese government, but I think this is related in some measure to the fecklessness of the United Nations. Frankly, the more the Sudanese push back the less likely some countries are to want to send peacekeepers for fear of becoming engaged in combat. If the UN had a 27,000 man PMC force I wonder if the Sudanese would be pulling the same stuff.

But that notwithstanding, it's hardly off the mark to point a finger at the UN and in particular the apathy of member states. This from a 12/31 FT piece:

UN officials, including Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretarygeneral, have accused Khartoum of "foot-dragging" over the deployment of nonAfrican contingents. But the new force, Unamid, is also being hampered by the failure of UN member states to provide the hardware to make the peacekeeping effort effective.

Mr Ban lamented this month that, despite his appeals to every UN member state capable of providing helicopter support, none had come forward with offers. He has declined to name the reluctant contributors, who might be wary of committing their hardware to a mission that appears doomed not to meet its objectives.

Again, this would not be an issue with a PMC-force.

I deeply respect the advocacy efforts of anti-genocide activists and I dare you to find any place where I have belittled their efforts. But, their efforts will only be successful up to a point; international political will must be forthcoming and on Darfur it has not been. In short, if governments are going to do what they should do - then why not send forces that actually WANT to serve as peacekeepers. I'm just not sure why those in the advocacy community continue to resist a step that might have some hope of stopping the killing in Darfur.

For the record, I know Doug Brooks well, but I am certainly not on IPOA's payroll.

In Iraq money has been no object and yet there have still been problems with PMC's. Human rights abuses, Blackwater, as well as good old fashioned fraud of the US taxpayers, Custer-Battles. In a bargain basement operation in Africa you are not going to get top flight former special OP's at $1200- $1500 day. Not even small town police and former jar-heads. You will get third wold nationals hired by the division at $10 day per head. Mostly from Latin America and Asian countries with poor human rights records. PMC's are in business to make a profit so it can't be any other way. Also they do not do grand strategy, they perform discrete tasks. One of the main problems in Iraq is that they are contracted to protect the noun. If not killing innocent Iraqis or destroying their property is not spelled out in the contract they will not risk cutting into profits, perhaps lose a principle and a contract renewal. The pressures to lower costs in Africa would be much greater and could be expected to lead to worse abuses and lets face it Westerners care less about black Africans then even brown Iraqis. The problems of Darfur are difficult and I am afraid that there really is no "turnkey" solution no matter what you have read in the PMC"s sales brochures.

You are buying into Blackwater's strategy. This is what they are pushing for now. Just what Darfur needs a bunch of uncontrolled mercenaries.

UN/AU peacekeepers are in Sudan semi-consensually, without a clear mandate to protect the population. To actually stop genocide in Darfur, circumstances there suggest that non-consensual military intervention is required. Unless the Sudanese government (complicit in its military support of Janjaweed aggression) capitulates to the pending use of force, PMCs face the prospect of a full-combat engagement. Given NO support for such a zero-tolerance model, I suppose genocide will continue “on our watch”. I agree that PMC augmentation of UN/AU forces could help fill huge operational gaps and support non-combat functions such as transport, logistics and C4ISR; but what is really needed is the capacity to conduct forcible humanitarian interventions that stop mass killings. Nevertheless, assuming public opinion supports your limited-engagement model and given the lack of Western resource commitment thus far, how do you propose funding PMC contracts?

Of course nothing would prevent warlords from paying PMC's to switch sides. Not management of course, just all the entry level employees with guns.

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