The privatization of war

(To Gino Lanzara)

The dissolution of the Cold War and the Mogadishu syndrome1 they have exalted the asymmetric nature of conflicts accompanied by a weakening of the monopoly on the use of force by States, at the same time as the rise in profits of the security industry. The game is based on the usual assumptions: money and the exercise of violence.

Net of outdated ethical-moral considerations, the externalities change, not the substance; from the mercenary company of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere to the PMSC2 the practice of profession of arms remains the same, now based on competition between the state and private lenders. Proposing itself as a mercantile alternative to the institutional exercise of violence has attributed legitimacy to organizations that are inevitable in a projected panorama towards a future past to comply with a new domain human, too human, to be added to the 5 traditional domains3.

War is now played simultaneously on multiple chessboards and at very high digital speeds. Private industry enriches the panoply of war instruments4, operates in areas gray with perpetual and multi-domain wars, where geopolitics requires transversal and projective analyses; if every conflict has its own strategy, a hybrid war is contaminated by multiple types of warfare between domains. It is a complex phenomenon, where companies save on expenses and time necessary for training; the return of the mercenary is linked to the intrinsic complexity of contemporary war. It is the military and political evaluations that direct, with centralized supervision, operations towards clandestine methods, evaluating either the combination of regular and irregular units, or an ensemble of different types of conflict.

As Stefano Ruzza holistically hypothesizes, it is the intervention of Private Security Firm, that is, companies that can be inserted into competitive structural and strategic contexts, immune to recession, where the figure of mercenary alongside that of the most modern contractor, which also deals with support, training and recruitment, both united by the factor "profit".

Outsourcing of security functions, technological transformation of warfare, privatization of power5 have broadened the context of customers who resort to company safety also by sea6.

It is an invisible army intended for low-intensity asymmetric conflicts; they are companies that drive a global and billion-dollar industry: as Pietro Chiocca teaches, as long as there is war there is hope, especially for administrations, including that of Nobel Prize winner Obama7, where the deployment of PMSCs does not require formal parliamentary acts.

The era of the mercenary freelance it's over, now it's the companies that guarantee professional services. After 19898, since 2006 also the UN "bans 'private companies offering international military consultancy and security services' from intervening in conflicts or being used against governments", an ethical perfectionism that is however late and conceptually banal, easily evaded. It is a context that is difficult to interpret, also given the distorted perception of the mercenary in the collective imagination9; rarely are useful ideas for a distinction between PMSC fighters and legitimate fighters seen, given that for the former the perception of the use of force in terms of individual self-defense is so altered as to appear Hollywood-style legitimate10 to the Expendables. It is clear that, being the PMSC11 driving part of an industry that is always profitable, it would be imprudent to underestimate the value and substantiality of the ties with a political-economic establishment recalled by an Eisenhower leaving the White House and which is still benefiting from the effect revolving door between the military level and the civil dimension of the lobbies.

On the shields, a self-regulation implemented by neoliberal agendas in favor of privatizations and capable of fomenting subversive phenomena as happened in the 90s in the Maldives; in short, realities that would convince Luttwak to review his own Coup d'état technique, complex crimes in which criminal responsibility falls on multiple subjects, perpetrators and principals. Maybe.

The mercenary is an ambiguous figure; for Niccolò Machiavelli, Doctor Sottile of Renaissance political science, already long before the Westphalian system of 1648, the soldier of fortune is a double-edged sword that makes the border between military and civilian indistinguishable, a subject more conformable than ever to the protagonists oflifting of Prigožin, head of an organization created by the GRU with the imprinting of deep state.

The militarization revealed in many countries, facilitated by the hegemonic policies of actors eager for new world orders, in the complacency of authoritarian policies mixed with others of populist roots, has constituted a breeding ground for the generation of today's PMSCs; more than Xenophon and his 10.000 comrades intent on the desperate return to Greek sea (Thalassa! Thalassa!) First Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22 takes up space here12, the ante litteram businessman of the US Army Air Corps base in Pianosa. Self YoYo Yossarian wants to return home, Minderbinder perfectly frames the privatization of the war with his M&M Enterprises which marks the official farewell to the pursuit of the national interest for private profit.

Here then the war corporators, where privatization becomes the norm, and conflicts test the military role in internal affairs, politicizing the armed forces, raising their vertical loyalty and reducing their autonomy; the army does not become more progressive, society turns out to be more rigid and conservative.

Even in China? Sure why not13? After the legalization of 2009, PMSCs also developed in the shadow of the Dragon, employed both in internal surveillance and abroad in areas relating to the security of the BIS.

If it is true that the Chinese approach to PSCs14 it is much more limited than the Russian use of PMCs15, however, it is equally true that Beijing does not seem to see advantages in the use of professionals aimed at protecting its investments everywhere16 and a wherever, of course, which applies to everyone, as any reductions in prison sentences apply to everyone, but also acute post-traumatic and depressive suffering, as demonstrated by the violent crimes committed by former Wagner mercenaries once they return.

È a return to the future past. As recently as 3 centuries ago, London institutionalized the rule, certainly not the exception, of employing ships of the East India Company to protect its trade in the Indian Ocean; in recent years the emergence of maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, in South East Asia and in the Gulf of Guinea, has grown in parallel with the affirmation of maritime security companies, a sort of 21st century racing war aimed at outsourcing the maritime monopoly of legitimate violence.

As always, pure and simple realism: l'argent fait la guerre, just as it is realistic to consider the fact that the massive use of mercenary forces, whatever you want to call it, indicates vulnerabilities that reveal both the inability to project beyond the border and the inefficiency of conscriptions. Where hegemony is sought we can witness episodes involving mercenaries; after the Americans and Russians, it should not be surprising that Turkey has also sent Syrians to fight in the Caucasus region to stabilize the border and break Kurdish independence aspirations.

Already in 1992 Richard Cheney wanted to calculate how much the Pentagon would have saved by delegating part of its institutional activities to private companies; Brown & Root, controlled by Halliburton Corporation of which surprisingly Cheney became CEO from 1995 to 2000, he responded immediately. Cheney's initiatives helped privatize the ultimate public service: war.

The consequences are various: exodus of qualified personnel migrating towards private companies, enticed by far higher salaries17 to the institutional ones, objective difficulties in imposing stringent discipline; doubts: in the event of a high intensity conflict, which mercenary would be willing to take the field?

The use of contractors, therefore, is also justified by the shortage of motivated volunteer personnel, an understandable controversy in the USA, given that in the last quarter of a century Americans have taken up arms at least 11 times. The risk is that militarized corporations generate exogenous power, where the technologically specialized mercenary can make the difference both in highly hybridized war contexts and in developing countries; it is no coincidence that the Kurdish Irbil is a crossroads of mercenary services without a flag that recall the Tatooine of Star Wars, realities that make jihadist mercenary understandable18 and one in favor of the UN is conceivable.

If war were to become commercialized, the superpowers could only be expressions of political subjects richer than others, with the erosion of state sovereignty. Mercenary work grows because it satisfies demand; if market conditions do not vary, there are no paying strategies for the containment of a phenomenon that is not subject to the same constraints as regular forces. Putting modern venture companies out of the shadows will result in the rewriting of global rules, implementing a situation of chaos.

1 In 1993, after the tragic events in Mogadishu, the need for involvement for humanitarian reasons was questioned; the Syndrome refers to the government's lack of propensity to intervene for reasons not connected to national security, also given the extreme awareness of losses.

2 Private Military and Security Companies

3 earth, water, air, extraterrestrial space, infosphere

4 Operational Support, Training and Advice, Logistics, Site/Personal Security, Crime Prevention/ Intelligence. PMSCs offer diplomatic and reconstruction support, commercial operations, recovery of military and security activities.

5 See privatization of space by SpaceX

6 See law 130/2011

7 The report of the Congressional Research Service showed how President Obama has increased the number of contractors in the field, despite previous problems. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office estimated that 55 percent of employees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense were employed by private companies. 

8 4.12.1989, International Convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries; came into force in 2001

9 The criminal nature of mercenary activities is misrepresented and the propaganda that glorifies mercenaries is often fueled by Western hype of the lowest quality.

10 The 2007 Blackwater (now Academi) incident in Nisour Square, Baghdad, reveals how blurry the distinction is between civilians and combatants in PMSCs. In 2007, Blackwater contractors in Baghdad opened fire, killing seventeen civilians and wounding many others. While Blackwater spokesmen declared that the attack was an act of self-defense, both Iraqi and US investigations confirmed that the contractors fired without provocation, thus becoming active subjects of war crimes. In 2015, the perpetrators of the attack were sentenced to 30 years in prison by an American court; one of the attackers was sentenced to life in prison.

11 PMSCs are not immune to the trend of multi-stakeholderism, as demonstrated by the International Code of Conduct for Security Service Providers (ICoC) in 2010 and its oversight body, the ICoC Association in 2013. This allows for the participation of all the categories of the various stakeholders thanks to concerted actions.

12 Joseph Heller, Catch-22 paradox: Airmen wishing to be exempt from operational missions must demonstrate that they are insane, but the request itself demonstrates the perfect sanity of the applicants

13 Footage by Russian blogger Pavel Kukushkin shows two men communicating in Russian and Chinese via an electronic voice translator, confirming that Chinese volunteers have been drafted into the International Pyatnashka Brigade. 

14 Private security contractor firms

15 Private contractor firms for military aspects

16 The situation in Afghanistan has stabilized and Chinese security companies have contemplated monthly incomes of up to 100.000 yuan – 2021

17 See drone pilots

18 See Uzbekistan-based Malhama Tactical; activities in Syria for al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra and the Turkistan Islamic Party, the Syrian branch of a China-based Uyghur group

Images: OpenAI / still "As long as there is war there is hope" (1974) / web