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Are Mercenaries Suitable For Democracy?

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The largest foreign military force in Iraq is that of the United States Government. One might think that the second largest foreign force there is that of the United Kingdom, but that thought would be incorrect. The second largest foreign force is private mercenaries. In an article in the Guardian in the UK it is estimated that there are about 48,000 of these guns for hire in the country.

A mercenary force in the news recently is Blackwater USA which has among other things a contract for providing security for the US State Department in Iraq. In an incident last month the Iraqi government charges that one of its units shot 11 Iraqis in cold blood. It also charged that there had been six similar incidents committed by the company since 2003. Iraq wants the company expelled from the country, but thanks to the restrictions imposed on its puppet government by the US, it has no authority over foreign contractors.

A report released by a US congressional committee says that Blackwater has been involved in 195 shootings in Iraq since 2005, and charges that the company has covered up shootings, including at least one by a drunken employee. There is no legal remedy for mercenaries in Iraq committing crimes as they fall neither under the jurisdiction of Iraq nor the US. Blackwater has fired employees involved in unjustified killings. The congressional report says that Blackwater has terminated 122 employees, 28 for weapons-related incidents, including two for improperly shooting at Iraqis, 16 for inappropriate conduct, 25 for drug and alcohol abuse, and 10 for aggressive and violent behaviour.

Besides Blackwater's transgressions, another mercenary organization, Triple Canopy, has been accused of firing on vehicles for sport, and an employee of the UK security company Aegis allegedly posted a video on the Internet showing the shooting of of private vehicles on an Iraqi highway.

The use of mercenary soldiers in war and crime is common in history but we must ask ourselves if such should be a feature of a democratic society. In a healthy democracy the use of violence should be reserved solely as a prerogative of the state to be used only when necessary to protect society. Mercenary killers as are now employed by various governments in conflicts around the world are drifting away from state control to exist in a legal free fire zone. Unlike regular members of a national armed force or security organization, the only legal remedy for the misdeeds and brutality of these people is to stop paying them.

We should also ask ourselves why has this become such a prominent feature of our current society. The answer is two fold. One is to remove the citizenry farther away from the equation that decides on war or peace. Unlike regular military, and particularly unlike conscripts, mercenaries are in it solely for the money and or the thrill of using force. They can quit if they like. State militaries on the other hand have many people who, though they may be there for the money, only see using force as an instrument of last resort. This is particularly true of conscripts. In wars like we see at present, wars of choice rather than of necessity, the motivation is not there to mobilize a society to fight. If it were forced to mobilized there would be the imminent threat of revolt. So, a mercenary force of hired thugs becomes a more reliable agent for governments and economic organizations which opt to use force to achieve their goals.

The other reason is that in the modern economic model that is developing, war, along with many other things that used to be conducted as a public entity, is becoming a private profit center. There are big bucks to be made in capitalizing on the renting out of killers and others to governments. Things that they used to be provided through government service. Just like our utilities, transportation and health care, war and security are becoming privatized.

This may suit Canada's New Government fine, as it fits in their ideological frame. But, does it suit Canadians? Canada has been a leader in the movement against land mines and in establishing an International Criminal Court. Maybe our next contribution to a better world can be achieving an international ban on mercenaries and the privatization of force?

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Jerry West grew up on a farm in California and is currently Editor and Publisher of THE RECORD newspaper in Gold River, BC. Graduate with Honors and graduate school, UC Berkeley. Member, Phi Beta Kappa. Vietnam veteran and Former Sgt. USMC

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 There is no role for mercenaries in a repres... by B York on Wednesday, Oct 3, 2007 at 2:58:34 PM