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The defense and security market

Tica Font
Director of the International Catalan Institute for Peace
Tica Font

Tica Font

The end of the Cold War marked a change in the nature of armed conflicts. First, conflicts have become largely internal, and second, new fronts for military involvement have opened up, which have led to an increase in military missions abroad and changes in military management and technology. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a test bank for military strategies and technologies. Some analysts describe them as "fourth generation wars" and as wars with a quick victory, but with no defeating of the enemy, and a long post-war with a permanent military presence.

In military terms, the problem of how to maintain military superiority in the theatre of new operations in a context of lower budgets has been under consideration since the 1990s. The solution will be sought on two fronts. The first focuses on technology, and the increased use of high technology, information technology, unmanned systems and greater precision in weapons. The second focuses on military organisation and management, downsizing, lightening structures, privatizing much of its work and including law enforcement duties.

The privatisation that we are witnessing is taking place in context of global change in political and economic thought dating back to the 1980s, when neoliberal philosophy created a desire to privatise all public activities, including defense and security. In this privatising context, governments leave many tasks that were previously undertaken by the military to the market. This trend towards privatisation has a long history. The first major privatisation came after the Second World War, in the field of military equipment and weapons production, when publicly-owned weapons manufacturers were taken into private ownership. The second wave of privatisation involved military R+D and the development of new weapons systems, which also passed into the hands of the private military industry and finally, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks of September 11 led to a restructuring of the military-industrial sector. Investments in new projects fell considerably between 1989 and 2003. The military industry dealt with this crisis by expanding its market, and including in it all the military tasks that were not part of the core or essentially "military." After 9/11, this outsourcing process was extended to the field of homeland security, and led to the creation of a new industrial sector linking the military industry to the new technologies industry.

As mentioned above, there was a reduction in defence budgets in the 1990s, development programmes for new weapons were cancelled, etc. This decline in the turnover of the military market, and the reconsideration of new strategies and military technologies in view of the new emerging conflicts, led to pressure from the military-industrial sector on governments for military activities to be outsourced to the private sector. The private sector of the military industry argues that privatisation of non-essential military work cuts costs, improves quality, provides access to new knowledge, experience and skills, and in short increases efficiency and cuts costs for the state. The governments most heavily influenced by the neoliberal philosophy of privatisation have encouraged the emergence of this new sector and have transferred some military tasks to it.

New companies appeared during the 1990s, many of which were linked to the arms production industry. They offered services including maintenance, supplies, equipment and weapons upgrades, logistical support, military and police training, base construction and maintenance, intelligence and counterintelligence services, special operations, strategic and technical advice for governments and armies, translation services, protection for individuals, buildings and infrastructure, humanitarian aid, rapid response to disasters, peacekeeping operations support, weapons destruction, conflict management, peace negotiations, political transitions, and so on. In short, they are companies that work on "the battlefield".

Some of the tasks performed by these companies can be considered "essential" military tasks: the management of facilities (bases, prisons, barracks, etc..) supply systems, and military training and intelligence. As a result, the first question that warrants consideration is the definition of tasks that are "not essentially" military, as otherwise these companies, due to the scale and intensity of the service they provide, could be considered as a duplication of the armed forces - in short, private armies.

The legal creation of these private armies leads to another important issue, which is democratic control of the legal use of violence. In modern states, only the state is legitimately entitled to the exclusive use of violence. The involvement of these companies in violent work ends the monopoly of the state, increases the distance between decision-making and the implementation of force, and introduces a private actor which may have its own agenda, is only accountable to the party contracting it and which seeks to maximise profits, while ignoring any democratic monitoring of its activities.

In the case of Libya there is a paradox. Gaddafi hires "mercenaries" to crush the popular revolt against his political regime and the rebels contract military service companies to train today's militias and the future soldiers to overthrow Gaddafi's regime. In this debate, the pragmatism of the market should not be ignored. Companies are loyal to and act in the interests of their shareholders. Their loyalty is not to the common good or the public interest.

Finally, as many of these companies are closely linked to the arms-producing companies, it may be that their economic interests encourage or facilitate the perpetuation of some conflicts or generate new needs that require their services.