International law is collapsing in the Mideast-Central Asian region, and its replacement by conflict between states, client statelets, and private militias poisoned by the rising use of mercenaries threatens to cripple the ability of states to manage foreign affairs. As bad as the record of states has been, the behavior of private armies, free from any society’s control, promises to be far more dangerous.
International law, so painfully designed in recent centuries to offer human civilization some measure of protection by both giving states control over military force and regulating how those states use that monopoly, is collapsing before our eyes in the Mideast-Central Asian region because of the short-sighted misuse of power by all sides, but in particular by those very global powers most responsible for designing and benefiting from the current system of international law. In essence, international law offers states a monopoly of force plus total control over their own populations in return for constraints limiting their legal rights to start wars. People are thus sacrificed in cases where repressive regimes exist in hopes at least that this very imperfect system will inhibit war. The greater the education of the masses and the better the exchange of information among increasingly connected societies, the more repressed populations will protest and organize to combat repression. Since the weaknesses and injustice inherent in current international law are not being addressed as fast as people worldwide are becoming aware of their rising potential to take matters into their own hands, the system is cracking and–in the Mideast-Central Asian region–is collapsing.
This process of collapse begins with local dictatorships being protected by global powers, which leads to local protests that are repressed with violence, thus promoting radicalization leading to wars of national liberation, civil wars, a steady rise in the use of violence both by local dictatorships and the repressed populations. The violence radicalizes both sides while also offering all manner of opportunity for war profiteers, criminal gangs, extremist groups, and arrogant politicians willing to sacrifice their people for personal gain. This cycle of violence is now provoking the rise of secretly sponsored militias and private militias in a cycle of institutional decentralization that may well be even more dangerous than the cycle of violence provoking it.
The cycle of institutional decentralization is leading to a loss of control over military force, a nightmare scenario in which private armies are gaining sufficient power to challenge states. Both Syrian and Iraqi society have already reached the point where it is virtually impossible to distinguish “good” militias from “bad,” or even to tell what side a particular militia is on…or what its political goals are. At best, militias protect only a favored ethnic group, thus provoking beggar-thy-neighbor civil wars; at worst, they are no more than self-financed criminal gangs. Locally, people are desperate for any organized force that offers them a modicum of security; internationally, aggressive global powers are seeking ways to maintain the benefits of empire without paying the price of actually doing the fighting, a contradiction seemingly resolved first by remote-controlled drones and second by hiring mercenaries. The latter is a pact with the devil in which states relinquish power to private armies that have no purpose but to foment the endless violence that justifies their paychecks. The rich states doing the hiring either do not care about civil liberties and the rule of law in the first place or blindly make exceptions for their mercenaries, who end up with blank checks to act with impunity outside of the legal system of the hiring state. When their power reaches a sufficient level, they essentially transform themselves into independent pirate enterprises that have no societies over which to rule and simply run amok. While the Islamic State and Boko Haram may be the obvious examples, Shi’i militias in Iraq; the FARC in Colombia; a variety of militias in Syria patronized by the Gulf States, the U.S., and Turkey; the Taliban in Pakistan; Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hamas in Gaza; and militias in Nigeria and Somalia are equally pertinent examples. Another important but murky layer is the pseudo-official militia, of which many examples exist, including illegal settler military groups in Palestine protected by the Israeli regime, Colombian armed groups formed by cattle barons protected by the Colombian regime. As these three layers interact, even official state governmental structures may decline into something more properly considered to be what might be called “semi-official client militias:” no longer real states, controlling perhaps little more than the former state capital, supported only by a minority of the population, and manipulated by a foreign patron. Baghdad under U.S. occupation, Bahrain after the Saudi military intervention (supported by Pakistani mercenaries), the restored Yemeni regime re-installed by Saudi Arabia, Baghdad today as an Iranian client entity, and Damascus under Russian protection exemplify this layer.
The New World Order
The result is a nearly complete continuum of official to private military regimes, all calculating the degree to which, on any given day, they should fight with or trade with any of their many active adversaries. It appears, for example, that one day historians will tell us that virtually every state opposing the Islamic State both attacked the IS and simultaneously purchased from IS the oil that keeps it afloat. Perhaps the only people to whom this insane situation makes sense is the war profiteers.
The one element missing from this continuum going from official states to private armies is the corporate army, though the story of Blackwater illustrates how rapidly we are approaching a world in which a private corporation will be able to launch a war against a state.
…Erik Prince, who is a top target on Al-Qaeda’s ‘hit list’, has moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where the crown prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan is paying him $529 million to create an 800 person battalion. Trained by Prince and US Navy SEALs, the small army will serve as sort of Praetorian Guard for the crown prince’s own purposes, a useful tool during times of turmoil in the Middle East. It would not be the first time that a foreign player has patiently watched the US experiment – and struggle – with a concept before adopting it and all best practices as their own. [http://yris.yira.org/essays/707.]
Already Blackwater is, independently of the U.S., organizing military forces for other countries, very possibly for uses that will harm U.S. national interests. A U.S. corporation enriched by the U.S. government as a security arm of the U.S. government has now morphed into an independent international player completely outside of the bounds of international law, as much a lone wolf as a terror gang and with potentially far more power. Whatever loyalties or moral self-constraint Blackwater may have, its evolution shows where current trends are pulling naïve and short-sighted governments: toward a world in which private interests increasingly control global politics, even to the extent of fielding private armies. Corporate armies already play key roles in wars among states, enabling tiny rich states to become overnight military powers; how far behind, if no action is taken, will be the decision of a private corporation to invade a state?
- Saudi Arabia and/or the UAE have hired hundreds of ex-Colombian army soldiers to help it subdue Yemen. With the half century-long Colombian civil war now winding down, Colombia has many veterans with broad experience repressing the poor, supporting rich cattle barons, and punishing democracy advocates: just what the petroshiekhs and their Salafi allies need to colonize Yemen. [Middle East Eye 11/2/15.]
- According to mercenary analyst Tim Shyrock, “Without much notice or debate, the Obama administration has greatly expanded the outsourcing of key parts of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency wars in the Middle East and Africa…” [The Daily Beast, 12/10/15.]
- Houthi forces have reportedly killed Blackwater mercenaries in Yemen. [El-Akhbar.com.]