Think Again

Think Again: Neocons

A cabal of neoconservatives has hijacked the Bush administration's foreign policy and transformed the world's sole superpower into a unilateral monster. Say what? In truth, stories about the "neocon" ascendancy -- and the group's insidious intent to wage preemptive wars across the globe -- have been much exaggerated. And by telling such tall tales, critics have twisted the neocons' identities and thinking on U.S. foreign policy into an unrecognizable caricature.

"The Bush Administration Is Pursuing a Neoconservative Foreign Policy"

If only it were true! The influence of the neoconservative movement (with which I am often associated) supposedly comes from its agents embedded within the U.S. government. The usual suspects are Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense; Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council staffer for Near East, Southwest Asian, and North African Affairs; and Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board. Each of these policymakers has been an outspoken advocate for aggressive and, if necessary, unilateral action by the United States to promote democracy, human rights, and free markets and to maintain U.S. primacy around the world.

While this list seems impressive, it also reveals that the neocons have no representatives in the administration’s top tier. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: Not a neocon among them. Powell might be best described as a liberal internationalist; the others are traditional national-interest conservatives who, during Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, derided the Clinton administration for its focus on nation building and human rights. Most of them were highly skeptical of the interventions in the Balkans that neocons championed.

The contention that the neocon faction gained the upper hand in the White House has a superficial plausibility because the Bush administration toppled Saddam Hussein and embraced democracy promotion in the Middle East -- both policies long urged by neocons (though not only by neocons) and opposed by self-styled “realists”, who believe in fostering stability above all. But the administration has adopted these policies not because of the impact of the neocons but because of the impact of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, 2001. Following the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, Bush realized the United States no longer could afford a “humble” foreign policy. The ambitious National Security Strategy that the administration issued in September 2002 -- with its call for U.S. primacy, the promotion of democracy, and vigorous action, preemptive if necessary, to stop terrorism and weapons proliferation -- was a quintessentially neoconservative document.

Yet the triumph of neoconservatism was hardly permanent or complete. The administration so far has not adopted neocon arguments to push for regime change in North Korea and Iran. Bush has cooled on the “axis of evil” talk and has launched negotiations with the regime in North Korea. The president has also established friendlier relations with Communist China than many neocons would like, and he launched a high-profile effort to promote a “road map” for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that most neocons (correctly) predicted would lead nowhere.

"Neocons Are Liberals Who Have Been Mugged by Reality"

No longer true. Original neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol, who memorably defined neocons as liberals who’d been “mugged by reality,” were (and still are) in favor of welfare benefits, racial equality, and many other liberal tenets. But they were driven rightward by the excesses of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when crime was increasing in the United States, the Soviet Union was gaining ground in the Cold War, and the dominant wing of the Democratic Party was unwilling to get tough on either problem.

A few neocons, like philosopher Sidney Hook or Kristol himself, had once been Marxists or Trotskyites. Most, like former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, simply had been hawkish Democrats who became disenchanted with their party as it drifted further left in the 1970s. Many neocons, such as Richard Perle, originally rallied around Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a Democratic senator who led the opposition to the Nixon-Ford policy of détente with the Soviet Union. Following the 1980 election, U.S. President Ronald Reagan became the new standard bearer of the neoconservative cause.

A few neocons, like Perle, still identify themselves as Democrats, and a number of “neoliberals” in the Democratic Party (such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke) hold fairly neoconservative views on foreign policy. But most neocons have switched to the Republican Party. On many issues, they are virtually indistinguishable from other conservatives; their main differences are with libertarians, who demonize “big government” and preach an anything-goes morality.

Most younger members of the neoconservative movement, including some descendants of the first generation, such as William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have never gone through a leftist phase, which makes the “neo” prefix no longer technically accurate. Like “liberal,” “conservative,” and other ideological labels, “neocon” has morphed away from its original definition. It has now become an all-purpose term of abuse for anyone deemed to be hawkish, which is why many of those so described shun the label. Wolfowitz prefers to call himself a “Scoop Jackson Republican.”

"Neocons Are Jews Who Serve the Interests of Israel"

A malicious myth. With varying degrees of delicacy, everyone from fringe U.S. presidential candidates Lyndon LaRouche and Patrick Buchanan to European news outlets such as the BBC and Le Monde have used neocon as a synonym for Jew, focusing on Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Eliot Cohen, and others with obvious Jewish names. Trying to resurrect the old dual-loyalties canard, they cite links between some neocons and the Likud Party to argue that neocons wanted to invade Iraq because they were doing Israel’s bidding.

Yes, neocons have links to the Likud Party, but they also have links to the British Tories and other conservative parties around the world, just as some in the Democratic Party have ties to the left-leaning Labour Party in Great Britain and the Labor Party in Israel. These connections reflect ideological, not ethnic, affinity. And while many neocons are Jewish, many are not. Former drug czar Bill Bennett, ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, social scientist James Q. Wilson, theologian Michael Novak, and Jeane Kirkpatrick aren’t exactly synagogue-goers. Yet they are as committed to Israel’s defense as Jewish neocons are -- a commitment based not on shared religion or ethnicity but on shared liberal democratic values. Israel has won the support of most Americans, of all faiths, because it is the only democracy in the Middle East, and because its enemies (Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria) also proclaim themselves to be the enemies of the United States.

The charge that neocons are concerned above all with the welfare of Israel is patently false. In the 1980s, they were the leading proponents of democratization in places as disparate as Nicaragua, Poland, and South Korea. In the 1990s, they were the most ardent champions of interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo -- missions designed to rescue Muslims, not Jews. Today neocons agitate for democracy in China (even as Israel has sold arms to Beijing!) and against the abuse of Christians in Sudan. Their advocacy of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is entirely consistent with this long track record. If neocons were agents of Likud, they would have advocated an invasion not of Iraq or Afghanistan but of Iran, which Israel considers to be the biggest threat to its own security.

"Neocons Are a Well-Funded, Well-Organized Cabal"

Hardly. Writers suspicious of neocons have drawn elaborate flow charts to map neoconservative influence, showing the links between journalists (such as Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol), think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century), and foundations (Bradley, John M. Olin, and Smith Richardson). True, neocons have some support in the media and nonprofit worlds. But let’s be serious: The Project for the New American Century, the leading neocon foreign policy think tank, has a staff of five. Its resources pale next to those of the Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation, and Cato Institute, three of the biggest Washington think tanks, none of them sympathetic to the neoconservative vision of foreign policy. The Bradley, John M. Olin, and Smith Richardson foundations have given some money to neocons (including me), but their combined grants ($68 million per year) are less than a tenth of those doled out by just three liberal foundations -- Ford, Rockefeller, and MacArthur ($833 million per year). And funding for neoconservative causes is about to shrink because Olin is going out of business. The leading neoconservative magazines, the Weekly Standard, the Public Interest, and Commentary, have lower circulations than the National Review, the Nation, or the New Republic, to say nothing of The New Yorker or Time.

Sorry, conspiracy aficionados. Neocons have been relatively influential because of the strength of their arguments, not their connections.

"Neocons Are Wilsonian Idealists"

True, with an important qualification. The “Wilsonian” label has been haphazardly affixed to anyone who believes that U.S. foreign policy should be guided by the promotion of American ideals, not just the protection of narrowly defined strategic and economic interests, as realpolitikers believe.

But Wilsonians are not all alike. Liberal “soft Wilsonians,” such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and, previously, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson himself, share a faith that multilateral organizations such as the League of Nations or the United Nations should be the main venues through which the United States promotes its ideals, and that international law should be the United States’ main policy tool. They are willing to use force, but preferably only when (as in Haiti or Kosovo) the intervention is untainted by any hint of national interest.

The neocons have scant regard for Wilson himself, whom they regard as hopelessly naive. Instead, they are “hard Wilsonians,” who place their faith not in pieces of paper but in power, specifically U.S. power. Their heroes are Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan -- all U.S. presidents who successfully wielded power in the service of a higher purpose. Neocons believe the United States should use force when necessary to champion its ideals as well as its interests, not only out of sheer humanitarianism but also because the spread of liberal democracy improves U.S. security, while crimes against humanity inevitably make the world a more dangerous place.

"Neocons Are Targeting North Korea and Iran Next"

True. The greatest danger to the United States today is the possibility that some rogue state will develop nuclear weapons and then share them with terrorist groups. Iran and North Korea are the two likeliest culprits. Neither would be willing to negotiate away its nuclear arsenal; no treaty would be any trustworthier than the 1994 Agreed Framework that North Korea violated. Neocons think the only way to ensure U.S. security is to topple the tyrannical regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran.

This objective does not mean, however, that neocons are agitating for preemptive war. They do not rule out force if necessary. But their preferred solution is to use political, diplomatic, economic, and military pressure, short of actual war, to bring down these dictators -- the same strategy the United States followed with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Iranian and North Korean peoples want to be free; the United States should help them by every means possible, while doing nothing to provide support for their oppressors. Regime change may seem like a radical policy, but it is actually the best way to prevent a nuclear crisis that could lead to war. Endless negotiating with these governments -- the preferred strategy of self-described pragmatists and moderates -- is likely to bring about the very crisis it is meant to avert.

"Neocons Oppose Multilateralism"

False. Neocons don’t have a problem with alliances. They are wary of granting multilateral institutions (such as the United Nations) a veto over U.S. action, or joining deeply flawed international agreements (such as the land mine convention) simply for the sake of multilateral harmony. But that’s a long way from unilateralism, which, if it means anything, implies a preference for going it alone.

To be sure, a faction within the Republican Party might properly be described as unilateralist. These traditional conservatives believe that the guiding principles of U.S. foreign policy should be, in columnist George Will’s formulation, to: “Preserve U.S. sovereignty and freedom of action by marginalizing the United Nations. Reserve military interventions for reasons of U.S. national security, not altruism. Avoid peacekeeping operations that compromise the military’s war-fighting proficiencies. Beware of the political hubris inherent in the intensely unconservative project of ‘nation-building.’”

Neocons, by contrast, are committed above all to U.S. global leadership, and they know that the costs of such leadership (including peacekeeping and nation building) are so high that the United States needs allies to share the burden. For this reason, neocons have been vocal advocates of expanding NATO and sending its forces into Afghanistan and Iraq. Like most conservatives, neocons are deeply suspicious of the United Nations, which they fear is animated by anti-Americanism. But, unlike some on the right, they are happy to make common cause with the United Nations when doing so will serve U.S. interests. Some neocons (myself included) are even willing to cede the United Nations some authority in Iraq in order to bring more countries into the coalition.

"Neocons Are Political Fundamentalists"

Give me a break. According to some of their more heated critics, neocons view the world in Manichean terms. Guided by the spirits of philosopher Leo Strauss and Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, the neocons allegedly have contempt for the democratic masses and believe in spreading “noble lies” to mislead the public. The “exaggerated” threat posed by Saddam Hussein is cited as their latest deception.

This portrayal is a crude caricature of a group that believes American values are worth defending at home and abroad. That conviction was, in fact, the view of Strauss himself. A largely apolitical professor of classics at the University of Chicago who died in 1973, Strauss was a refugee from Nazi Germany who saw the evils of totalitarianism first hand. He did not propose -- as neocon-bashers charge -- that a privileged few should run society while deceiving everyone else about their intentions. He was a firm believer in U.S. democracy, which, he thought, needed to be defended by a well-educated elite, lest it go the way of the Weimar Republic. Strauss’s views inspired some early neocons; few read him today, contrary to all the articles asserting that (as the French weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur put it) Strauss is the neocons’ “mentor.”

Even more absurd is the charge that the neocons are secret adherents to Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. The former Red Army commander may have opened a few leftists’ eyes to the evils of Stalinism in the 1930s, but he was no proto-neocon. He was a communist, who, even after his expulsion from Russia, remained committed to establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The only kind of revolution he favored was one that would bring him and his comrades to power. As neocon author Joshua Muravchik has pointed out, Trotsky would not have supported a democratic war of liberation in Iraq; his sympathies would have been with Saddam.

"Failure in Iraq Has Discredited the Neocons"

Too early to say. The emerging media consensus that the U.S. occupation has fizzled is ludicrously premature. Sure, there have been a lot of well-publicized problems, such as terrorism, crime, and electricity shortages. But a lot of less-publicized progress is also evident -- the creation of a Governing Council, the election of city councils and mayors, the emergence of the freest political parties and media in the Arab world, the reconstruction of looted schools and government buildings, and the establishment of a legal framework for a free-enterprise system. The continuing U.S. casualties are lamentable, but the losses so far are low by the standards of guerrilla wars -- far fewer than the 500 soldiers the British lost in putting down a previous Iraq insurgency in 1920. There is no reason, other than 1960s nostalgia, to expect a Vietnam redux. But if the occupation does turn into a fiasco, as numerous critics expect, the neocons will be a convenient scapegoat.

To a large extent, this blame is unfair. Many of the early problems of the occupation were due to the administration’s failure to commit sufficient resources to Iraq. This oversight was largely the fault of policymakers, such as Rumsfeld, who remain skeptical of nation building. Neocons have been pushing for a more vigorous nation-building effort in both Afghanistan and Iraq and for a concomitant expansion of the active-duty military to provide the necessary troops. Unfortunately, this advice was largely unheeded by the administration. And when the White House finally realized it needed to spend more on rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, Republican isolationists and fiscal conservatives in Congress raised obstacles. If neocons had been in control, they would have done far more, far earlier, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, possibly averting some of the postwar problems. But fairly or not, neocons will doubtless be held responsible for the outcome in both countries; their numerous enemies, on both the left and the right, will see to that.

Think Again

Think Again: Mercenaries

"How is it in our nation's interest," asked U.S. Sen. Carl Levin recently, "to have civilian contractors, rather than military personnel, performing vital national security functions... in a war zone?" The answer lies in humanity's long history of contracting force and the changing role of today's private security firms. Even as governments debate how to hold them accountable, these hired guns are rapidly becoming indispensable to national militaries, private corporations, and non-governmental groups across the globe.

"Private Security Companies Are Mercenaries"

No. The term "mercenary" describes a wide variety of military activities, many of which bear little resemblance to those of today's private security companies. The mercenary activity associated with entities such as the British East India Company came about when nation-states chartered companies to establish colonies and engage in long-distance trade. Mercenary units that fought in the American Revolution were effectively leased to the British Army by the Hessians. The soldiers of fortune that ran riot over the African continent in the 1960s were individuals or small ex-military groups that operated in the shadows.

Modern contractors most resemble the military enterprisers of the late Middle Ages. Before the rise of the nation-state, nearly all force was contracted. From the 12th century through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, military contractors often employed soldiers trained within feudal structures, sending them to whomever could pay, from Italian city-states to the Vatican. Fighting wars, maintaining order, and collecting taxes were among the various political tasks filled by these military enterprises. Some historians link the rise of contracted forces in the late Middle Ages to the inability of the feudal system to address the increasingly complex needs of a modernizing society, such as the protection of trade routes for merchants. Similar reasons exist today: The market pressures, technology, and social change of a globalized world create multiple demands that national militaries have difficulty meeting.

Today's private security companies are corporate endeavors that perform logistics support, training, security, intelligence work, risk analysis, and much more. They operate in an open market, work for many employers at once, and boast of their professionalism. These companies staff their projects not with permanent employees, but with individuals drawn from vast databases of ex-military and former law enforcement personnel. These databases list individuals by experience and specialty, so contractors can custom-fit each job with qualified employees. Individuals may appear in several databases, move easily from one contract (and company) to the next, and freelance when not under contract. Although many of these individuals are quite honorable, the industry's structure allows ample opportunity for some who bear disturbing similarities to the 1960s-style soldiers of fortune to enter the corporate mix.

"The Bush Administration Has Dramatically Expanded Use of Military Contractors"

Wrong. The United States ramped up military outsourcing during the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War brought reductions in force size, and numerous ethnic and regional conflicts emerged requiring intervention. During the first Gulf War in 1991, the United States deployed about one contractor for every 50 active-duty personnel. Ethnic conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s and Kosovo in 1999 saw that ratio increase to about 1 to 10, roughly equal to that of the recent war in Iraq.

Since U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq in May 2003, however, security contractors have flooded the country. The unstable environment has stretched coalition forces thin, and the absence of a U.N. mandate has made tools such as U.N. peacekeepers and international civilian police unavailable, drawing private security companies closer to combat as the Iraqi insurgency continues. Media attention on contractors in Iraq, such as the Americans who allegedly abused Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, has also raised public awareness of security contractors to a higher degree than in previous conflicts.

"Contractors Don't Engage in Combat or Other Essential Military Tasks"

False. Although U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Pentagon would outsource all but core military tasks, these tasks are changing, and military contractors perform many of them. Contractors have the technical expertise to support increasingly complex weapons systems, such as the United States' B-2 bomber and Apache helicopter. Contractors often provide key services in peacekeeping and governance-building missions, from staffing civilian police to training fledgling military and police forces. The war on terrorism also increases the importance of intelligence services, which contractors provide readily -- even including, as we now know, prison interrogation. As the Iraq conflict demonstrates, many military duties that may not technically be considered core tasks nonetheless become so in the midst of war. Truck driving may not sound like an integral military responsibility, but if a driver delivering fuel to troops passes through combat zones, the truck driver may have a more intense military experience than anticipated. Similarly, language interpretation may sound mundane, but two of the four contractors implicated in the Taguba report on the Abu Ghraib abuses were hired as interpreters or translators.

"Military Contractors Are Cheaper than Regular Soldiers"

Prove it. Numerous studies on privatization and outsourcing suggest that two conditions must be present for the private sector to deliver services more efficiently than the government: a competitive market and contractor flexibility in fulfilling their obligations.

But governments frequently curtail competition to preserve reliability and continuity. For instance, military contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton) won a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields in 2003 because the Pentagon determined it was the only company with the size and security clearances to do the job. Moreover, governments often impose conditions that reduce contractors' flexibility. For example, when the U.S. Army outsourced ROTC training in 1997, a long list of requirements for trainers resulted in a higher estimated cost than that of the previous program. A 2000 report on logistics support in the Balkans by the U.S. government's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office (GAO), faulted the military for poor budgetary oversight.

Perhaps most telling, cost-effectiveness is not one of the three reasons for outsourcing listed in a 2003 GAO report on military contracting. (The reasons: to gain specialized technical skills, bypass limits on military personnel that can be deployed to certain regions, and ensure that scarce resources are available for other assignments.)

News reports on the war in Iraq have noted the relatively high salaries of contractors -- some $20,000 per month, triple or more what active-duty soldiers earn -- but such figures fail to explain whether contractors are indeed cost-effective. Some analysts argue that contractors are ultimately cheaper because they allow the military to avoid the expense of recruiting, training, and deploying personnel. However, most contractors are recruited and trained by governments at some point in their careers. In addition, U.S. military leaders have voiced concern that the lure of corporate contractors undermines Army personnel retention -- a worry shared by military leaders from Britain to Chile.

"Contractors Are Accountable to No One"

An exaggeration. Many governments regulate security contractors to greater or lesser degrees. In the United States, for example, the Federal Acquisition Regulations and additional Department of Defense rules govern contracts with private security firms. The fact that contractors can be fired makes them at least minimally accountable for their actions. For instance, former Sierra Leone dictator Valentine Strasser fired U.K.-based Gurkha Security Guards (GSG) for refusing to provide security for army training facilities in 1995.

That said, market accountability differs from accountability in well-run military organizations. Military forces are beholden only to their governments, which can use several methods, from withholding funds to personnel discipline, to hold an organization or individual to account. Contractors are accountable to a range of employers and respond most effectively to market incentives. When deciding how to respond to a request, for example, contractors consider how that request might affect their other customers, broader market reputation, and, ultimately, their earnings. GSG managers reportedly worried that training Sierra Leone's troops would give the company a mercenary reputation that might endanger future contracts. Given its work with employers such as the British government, this concern made good business sense.

The use of contractors to avoid governmental accountability is more worrisome. In the United States, for instance, the executive branch hires contractors. Although the U.S. Congress approves the military budget, its access to information about contracts is often limited. The president can use this advantage to evade restrictions on U.S. actions, effectively limiting congressional checks on foreign policy.

Furthermore, contractors can facilitate foreign policy by proxy, allowing the government (or parts of it) to change events on the ground, but at a distance that allows for plausible deniability. In 1994, the United States licensed U.S. company Military Professional Resources International (MPRI) to provide advice and training to the Croatian government. The country's president, Franjo Tudjman, received the advantages of U.S. military assistance, but through a private entity. The British government has encouraged similar contracts with states in which British firms have commercial interests. For example, in 1986 the British government loaned money to Mozambique's government to hire British security firm Defense Systems Limited, which in turn trained soldiers to protect a British company's tea and sugar estates from rebels.

"Contractors Value Profits More than Peace"

Not always. Although many critics argue that military contractors have an economic interest in prolonging conflict rather than reducing it, employees of private military companies rarely have been accused of aggravating conflict intentionally to keep profits flowing. Indeed, many human rights advocates regard such organizations as a way to hasten interventions that Western powers might otherwise avoid, such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Yet contractors sometimes worsen the conditions for long-term stability. In 1995, when British security firm Executive Outcomes (EO) helped Sierra Leone's army defend its capital from rebels, the contractors found the army undependable in retaking the country's diamond mines. The mines were key to EO's payment, and the mining companies employed EO subsidiaries. Because EO's stake in the mines was so high, the firm turned instead to local militias, inadvertently strengthening a parallel force. Tensions between the local army and the militias contributed to a coup, and the militias spoiled several iterations of peace negotiations that followed. Although EO helped with short-term security, its activities did not enhance the conditions for long-term peace. This example also demonstrates how countries with natural resources or wealthy nonstate actors are privileged in the security market.

"Contractors Operate Outside the Law"

Frequently. The legal status of contractors varies considerably. Sometimes they are subject to the laws of the territory in which they operate and other times to those of their home territory, but too often the distinction is unclear. Last March, Zimbabwe arrested some 70 employees associated with British private security firm Logo Logistics, who were accused of plotting to depose President Téodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea. Their legal status remains a matter of dispute.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S.-led entity charged with governing Iraq through June 2004, stipulated that contractors are subject to the laws of their parent country, not Iraqi law. Even U.S. legislation created to address this issue (the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000) lacks specifics and entrusts the U.S. secretary of defense with initiating prosecutions. Countries that opposed the war may have a particularly hard time prosecuting contractors for crimes committed in Iraq. That is especially true of countries such as South Africa that claim contractors from their country are exporting services without the government's permission.

The status of contractors is even more contentious under international law. Most security company activity falls outside the purview of the 1989 U.N. Convention on Mercenaries, which governs only such egregious soldier-of-fortune activities as overthrowing a government. Human rights law generally binds only states, reducing the formal legal responsibilities of contractors. For example, when personnel from the U.S. outsourcing firm DynCorp (hired by the United States to train police officers in the Balkans) were implicated in sex-trade schemes, neither the contractors nor the U.S. government was subject to international legal action. These legal muddles can also restrict the rights of private security personnel. Long concerned about the status of contractors on the battlefield, the U.S. military worries that even as contractors become more involved in the use of lethal force, they are also less likely to receive prisoner-of-war (POW) status if captured by enemy forces. Yet, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group took three U.S. military contractors hostage in 2003 and granted them POW status, the U.S. government still officially designated the contractors as kidnapees.

"Only Governments Hire Private Security Companies"

Wrong. Security contractors work for governments, transnational corporations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Oil, diamond, and other extractive industries hire contractors to guard (or to train locals to guard) their facilities, and the United Nations and NGOs employ convoy guards. In Iraq, nearly every foreign entity -- from the CPA to Bechtel to ABC News -- requires private security. Therefore, contractor presence is not dependent on the U.S. military or the CPA.

The private financing of security (whether via contractors, militias, or rebels) diffuses control over the use of force, creating many problematic side effects. Mistakes and confusion can increase when contractors work for states as well as commercial parties in the same territory, potentially under different rules of engagement. Security contractors' reliance on local employees to cut costs and gain local knowledge is also problematic.

Dozens of private security firms working in Iraq have actively recruited Iraqis -- one of the largest operations in Iraq, the Steele Foundation, reports that two thirds of its employees are Iraqi -- sometimes joining with fledgling Iraqi security companies that reportedly hire ex-Republican Guards. The CPA never had clear control of these forces; how a new Iraqi government will regulate and oversee them is unknown.

"The United Nations Should Outsource Peacekeeping to Private Contractors"

No. Those who advocate that the United Nations hire private contractors are not looking to replace U.N. peacekeeping forces. Rather, they hope to make them more flexible and easier to use. For instance, a 2003 proposal by U.S.-based advocacy group International Peace Operations Association to provide private forces for Democratic Republic of the Congo suggested teaming military contractors with local forces. That is a bad idea: Without firm government control, the local forces trained by military contractors could destabilize the environment after the contractors leave.

Outsourced peacekeeping is also unlikely. The U.N. Security Council and General Assembly have been reluctant to consider it because of weak governments' concern that private security forces could be used against them. Additionally, national militaries that participate in peacekeeping missions (which greatly influence their respective government's policies) see contractors as competition. Peacekeeping operations give these militaries money and prestige and sometimes keep them afloat.

That said, the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations -- or "Brahimi Report" -- released in August 2000 lists several ways in which U.N. forces could work together more effectively. Military contractors could train them for greater flexibility and capacity. However, the report lists major stumbling blocks to effective peacekeeping operations (such as insufficient member state support and lack of clear mandates) that are unlikely to be solved through privatization.

"Private Military Contractors Undermine State Power"

Not always. Military contractors can enhance the power of individual states, as when failed states like Sierra Leone essentially buy an army. Contractors are also quite useful to powerful nations such as the United States, which is managing the chaos in Iraq with fewer troops than many believed necessary by increasing its personnel pool. States that embrace private security have a flexible new foreign-policy tool partly because private forces ease the political restraints typical among democracies. Those states that do not tap into the market lose relative power.

Ultimately, however, contractors undermine states' collective monopoly on violence. The fact that the United States, Britain, Australia, and the United Nations hire private security makes it hard for nations that oppose military contracting to restrict security firms based in their country. Africa's civil wars have led extractive companies and NGOs to hire security. This practice can reduce state control over national territories, further complicating conflict resolution. Indeed, private security creates overlapping claims to authority, potentially feeding the problems that prompted demand for private security in the first place.