onsdag 28. november 2012

The privatization of war making

We have seen how the use of drones (un-manned airborne systems) has expanded the last decade, primarily in Afghanistan and adjacent Pakistani territory, not only for surveillance and reconnaissance but for carrying weapon systems and delivering these by remote control and firing against terrorists in general and their leaders in particular. The US forces are in the lead in this area, but the British are following suit. In the Middle East the Israelis have deployed very advanced drones for surveying vast areas on a regular basis in order to discover preparations for launching missiles from Gaza or the West Bank into Israel; and the Israelis seem to be ahead of both the Americans and the British when it comes to developing nano-drones, some the size of insects, for indoor surveillance and “spying”.

As of today one could say that the development and use of drones are under control in the sense that states and governments are the players behind this leapfrog in the evolution of military tactics by deploying drones in battlefields. We have seen the first drones deployed by non-state organizations, though. Hamas has operated drones out of Gaza. Even if their drones are not of the advanced kind, this very fact points to a future - not too distant - where we will see drones used by not so accountable organizations. I will not be surprised if drones are available as an off-the-shelf commodity in less than five years from now; probably not of the most sophisticated kind, but still efficient enough in the hands of scrupulous people. Primitive drones may cause a lot of damage. It takes a lot of costly infrastructure to operate drones remotely, of course, but terrorists will not necessarily depend on remote control; they would probably do as Hamas does, operate them by visual control.

Observing this development of drones across traditional governmental control and limitations, and at the same time observing the development of private armies that are for hire for governments and any other player who is able and willing to pay what it takes, the picture is about to take shape of very different war scenarios. One may envisage both “private armies” operating within ordinary armies, like the 20 000 armed guards employed by the US government in Afghanistan, and soldiers for hire by international companies operating in unstable and hostile areas. Examples are many of the increasing use of private armies for specific tasks, like when the African Union recently used South African private soldiers to help kick out the terrorist group Shabab from Kismayo in Somalia.

The United Nation has recently calculated this fast growing “global trade” to be worth as much as USD 100 billion. Quite an astonishing “turnover”. And this is possibly only the beginning. There are some tempting advantages to be gained both by drones and private soldiers, seen from a political perspective. Political leaders and governments of democracies are normally reluctant to engage in military operations due to one main reason, and that is the potential cost of lives, both their own young soldiers and civilians in the area where they operate. For the loss of lives of private soldiers they are not accountable in the same way.

By the same token; losing drones is hardly a problem. It is the loss of pilots that has a potential political impact.

I think we are witnessing what we may call a privatization of war making, with consequences we do not fully grasp. Head of governments should be worried. Responsible political leaders should come together and discuss these challenges, and come up with ideas and proposals that could be processed thoroughly in relevant international forums and eventually in the UN, with the aim to introduce regulatory measures and to take concrete steps that could limit the free float of private initiatives and offers within the vast area of military capabilities.

Knut Nylænde is a Norwegian businessman investing in small and medium sized companies with the ambition to achieve strong growth. He studied Accounting & Economics at the Norwegian School of Economics (State Authorized Public Accountant, Norges Handelshøyskole) and at BI Norwegian Business School. In his leisure time, Knut enjoys reading and studying subjects in a diverse array of interests including politics, history, religion and science.