Sunday, May 15, 2011

Modern mercenaries

Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater, is once again up to no good. The New York Times reports that he is working to build an 800-man battalion of predominately Colombian troops for the United Arab Emirates.

Having just completed Sarah Sewall's fantastic course on American Warfare and the Humanitarian Ethic, I've come to appreciate how much of the "how" we fight is determined by public opinion and the body politic. Military hierarchy doesn't always accommodate ethical considerations effectively, even when it means to - outside pressure and vigilance help ensure that our troops fight according to our values.

This is already a problematic notion to apply to autocratic countries, where militaries serve a central authority other than their fellow citizens. However, recent events in Egypt demonstrated some more fundamental accountability - when the time came to either fire on protesters or accommodate them, Egyptian soldiers avoided large-scale violence and protected their protesting compatriots.

But if the army is not made up of the neighbors, relatives, and countrymen of protesters, is there any chance of a similar outcome? Not all armies abandon their leaders - see Libya for a prime example - but when revolution does come peacefully, is it a result of common humanity or some closer bond? And what will it mean if Colombians become responsible for the Emirs' authority? Modern mercenaries raise a number of legal and technical questions, but I worry also that the entire logic of when and how to fight becomes distorted when legitimacy and politics no longer play a role and any rentier state with enough cash can raise as many troops as they like, the citizenry be damned.

No comments: