Blackwater Worldwide and the Role of Mercenaries in 21st Century Armed Conflicts Part I

Outsourcing is one of the givens of the 21st century global economy. This includes armed security services. No one realizes this more than the George W. Bush. In waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration relies to a large extent on private guards . Or, more to the point, on mercenaries.

According to the New York Times, the United States is dependent on 30,000 or so private guards to plug the holes in its understaffed military forces.

Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for management was quoted as saying:

We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq. If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.

The preeminent firm responsible for supplying today’s global mercenaries is Blackwater Worldwide, based in North Carolina. Gone are the days when soldiers of fortune were considered as pariahs, derisively called the “dogs of war”, a phrase popularized by the eponymous 1974 novel by Frederick Forsyth. Mercs have now gone mainstream.

Founded in 1998 by former Navy Seals, Blackwater Worldwide says it has trained tens of thousands of security personnel to work in hot spots around the world, according to the NYT.

The Blackwater training facility is so modern and well-equipped that Navy Seals stationed at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va., routinely use it, military officials said. So do police units from around the country, who come to Blackwater for specialized training. The lengthy conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have given the company an even greater presence around the world, guarding diplomats and performing other security functions.

The business of so-called defensive killing has gone so corporate that Blackwater boasts of its own vision-mission statement, full of popular corpo-buzzwords and vague, broad objectives, thus:

Innovation Begins with Experience

Blackwater Worldwide efficiently and effectively integrates a wide range of resources and core competencies to provide unique and timely solutions that exceed our customers’ stated needs and expectations.

We are guided by integrity, innovation, and a desire for a safer world. Blackwater Worldwide professionals leverage state-of-the-art training facilities, professional program management teams, and innovative manufacturing and production capabilities to deliver world-class, customer-driven solutions.
Our corporate leadership and dedicated family of exceptional employees adhere to essential core values- chief among these are integrity, innovation, excellence, respect, accountability, and teamwork.

And, oh yes, Blackwater mercenaries are now referred to as “global stabilization professionals.”

Blackwater has created much controversy in its heavy-handed handling of its contracted duties, most recently in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater personnel last September 16, 2007 in Baghdad. An F.B.I. investigation into the incident indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force in the killings. As it turned out, the massacre was triggered by “friendly fire”. The shooting occurred when Blackwater guards fired in response to gunfire by other members of their unit in the mistaken belief that they were under attack. Investigators found no evidence to support assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians. So much for coolness under fire. Notice that professional discipline is not one of Blackwater’s core values.

Despite this, and other deadly fiascos, Blackwater is flourishing. In fact, its contract with the U.S. State Department to provide security services in Iraq has just been renewed. According to the NYT:

But after an intense public and private lobbying campaign, Blackwater appears to be back to business as usual.

The State Department has just renewed its contract to provide security for American diplomats in Iraq for at least another year.

Threats by the Iraqi government to strip Western contractors of their immunity from Iraqi law have gone nowhere. No charges have been brought in the United States against any Blackwater guard in the September shooting, either, and the F.B.I. agents in Baghdad charged with investigating whether Blackwater guards have committed any crimes under United States law are sometimes protected as they travel through Baghdad by Blackwater guards.

The chief reason for the company’s survival? State Department officials said Friday that they did not believe they had any alternative to Blackwater.

Not to mention its alleged connections to the Bush administration. And the company is not likely to face any criminal charges. On October 29, 2007, immunity from prosecution was granted by the U.S. State Department to Blackwater employees, delaying a criminal inquiry into the September 16 shootings.

To be sure, the involvement of mercenaries in traditional armed conflicts, as well as police actions, goes back several millennia, the most notable in recent history being the French Foreign Legion and the Gurkha Brigade in the British Army. The difference is that these foreign elements were assimilated into the regular armed forces of France and England, making them adhere to, and be held accountable for, breaches of conventional military policy and standards of conduct. But Blackwater, and the two other major American security personnel contractors in Iraq, DynCorp and Triple Canopy, are self-governing corporate entities. They are considered as independent contractors and accountable only for the accomplishment of their missions and not for collateral damage. Blackwater, in particular, had developed a reputation as a company that flaunted a quick-draw image. According to Newsweek:

A more telling criticism of the company may come from the State Department officials whom Blackwater protects. Certainly, they are grateful to be guarded by former Navy SEALs and other Special Forces veterans, rather than green, young National Guardsmen. Blackwater likes to boast, accurately, that it has never lost a client. Still, some American diplomats–and not a few professional soldiers in the U.S. military–look askance at the heavy-handed swagger of the Blackwater guards, who often sport goatees and tattoos, wear wraparound shades, brandish their weapons and have been known to run anyone off the road who gets in their way. One State Department official, who spoke anonymously so as not to offend any guardians, “It was one step forward in a meeting with Iraqis and two steps back as cars were getting bumped off the road on the ride home.”

But as admitted, the U.S. can’t make a go of its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq without its hired gunslingers. No wonder Blackwater sees itself as above the law.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a former member of the U.S. Navy Seals, dropped out of Annapolis and was an intern at the White House during the term of President George H.W. Bush. Independently wealthy, Prince is a conservative, practicing Roman Catholic, who desires to go to Mass every day, and has been variously described as an “adventure-seeker”, a “neo-Crusader” advancing “ a Christian-supremacist agenda” and “righteous and well-armed”. In other words, a religious zealot, a Christian warlord for our age. Per Newsweek, he is perceived by many as:

Xxx building a private army that is beyond the control of the American government and answerable only to him.

Prince was, not surprisingly, named as one of Rolling Stone’s Dickheads of 2007. His citation read:

We used to have rent-a-cops. Now we have rent-a-soldiers. As CEO of Blackwater, the most notorious private-security contractor in Iraq, Prince has his own navy, air force and spy agency. This guy is building nothing short of a parallel national-security apparatus. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but he’s a super-Christy Jesus freak who looks on the Crusades the way rednecks pine for the Confederacy.

Read also: Blackwater Worldwide and the Role of Mercenaries in 21st Century Armed Conflicts Part II

3 thoughts on “Blackwater Worldwide and the Role of Mercenaries in 21st Century Armed Conflicts Part I”

  1. Hi there,

    As I imagine you have a number of readers of your blog who also are readers of the International Herald Tribune, and because you use the IHT as a news source, I wonder if you might be interested in running a piece, or providing a link to the blog Think! (

    The IHT readership is naturally very dispersed and the purpose of this blog is a provide a forum for IHT readers to meet one another and praise, critique, and generally keep the IHT on their toes.

    Do drop me a line if you’d like more info.

    Kind regards,

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