Dems weigh private military contractors at symposium

Program News | Posted Dec 3, 2007

Dems weigh private military contractors at symposium

By: Gillian Javetski

The Tufts Daily - Issue date: 12/3/07 Section: News

The Tufts Democrats joined together on Saturday with the Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES) to discuss the military.

The Dems' third annual Issues of the Future Symposium consisted of four panels in Cabot 204. They all highlighted the "Challenges and Dilemmas of U.S. Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century."

The first panel served as an introduction, and the other three took on private military contractors (PMCs), veterans and civil-military relationships in higher education.

The PMC panel underscored tensions between the military and contractors, and touched on the reasons why soldiers often pursue jobs in the private market. Speakers also teased out the roles of PMCs, differentiating them from the military.

"When talking about the role of private contractors in post-conflict areas, the important thing to recognize is that PMCs go far beyond the typical military service debate," the International Peace Operations Association's (IPOA) Director of Development Derek Wright said.

There are currently around 120,000-160,000 PMCs in Iraq. There are so many because as military recruitment dwindles, the U.S. government outsources many of its security, development and defense jobs.

This practice has come under increased scrutiny as a grand jury investigates the involvement of Blackwater Worldwide in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians.

While Wright acknowledged that the current system is flawed, he said that PMCs are often useful.

"They are in charge of site security, combat security, laundry and food services - things that you don't need to train a soldier to do," he said. "It is not necessary to have a military that is so large that you have people who do the laundry."

Kateri Carmola, an assistant political science professor at Middlebury College, was also on the panel. Carmola is in the process of writing a book entitled "Global Warriors: Private Security Contractors and the Ambiguities of National Strategy."

She said that the rise in PMCs stems from soldiers' desire to work for more flexible employers and the government's plan to take a step back, among other factors.

"Most of what I see in the rise of PMCs is [the government] distancing itself from liability and accountability," Carmola said.

She said that many PMCs face inherent identity crises.

"There is the world of the citizen and the world of the military, and they are very different. But with PMCs, we see a combination of both of these," she said. She added that the combination can sometimes lead to disastrous effects.

The third and final panelist to speak was Rye Barcott, a dual degree candidate at Harvard's Business School and Kennedy School of Government. He founded Carolina for Kibera, a nongovernmental organization that provides a number of services in Kenya, and also served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years. He spent part of that time in Iraq.

He said that financial incentives encourage many people to become PMCs rather than soldiers.

"I was making $50,000 as a captain in the Marine Corps," he said. "How much do you think my first offer was to become a PMC? $250,000. While I turned it down to go to business school, a lot of my friends didn't."

Barcott also spoke about his service in Iraq. While there, he learned of a friendly fire incident between PMCs and military members. While escorting military leaders, PMCs typically fire ahead at intersections to clear the way for their escort. The incident occurred when PMC fire accidentally hit a marine outpost, causing the marines to fire back.

"Even though no one was hurt, the military rounded [the PMCs] up and brought them back to Camp Fallujah," Barcott said. "Clearly, they were in violation [of military code], so they were all given a Quran and thrown into jail with Iraqis," he said. "This is a rather extreme example of the tensions between contractors and brethren in uniform."

The panel was followed by a question and answer session.

One audience member asked whether there is a lack of communication and collaboration between the military and PMCs. "From our perspective, there is some learning on the job that is going on," Wright said. "There is a recognition on both sides that there needs to be enhanced coordination and cooperation."

Another question dealt with the possibility of hiring PMCs to help with humanitarian issues, including the genocide in Darfur.

"If and when this industry becomes legitimate, it may be possible that a major, well-funded NGO can hire them to go in and help a refugee camp," Wright responded. "But I don't see that happening anytime soon."

Though initially skeptical about the symposium's subject, freshman Sarah Hacking left with a positive reaction.

"It was a lot more interesting than I expected it to be. I think it raised a lot of pertinent questions that the majority of Tufts students don't consider," she said.

Senior Adam Levy agreed.

"I thought that the panel [was] well-run and informative. It was great having Mr. Barcott there because he was in the field and gave [the audience] a personal side [to the PMC issue]," he said. "He also shows a smart side to a soldier, which is not always portrayed by the media."

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