Hire-to-kill is an inhumane practice that pits impoverished workers in one country against victims of warmongers in other countries. 

By Linda Hoover  WAMM Newsletter  2016 Year End Edition

A globalized economy based on profit for the few necessitates a military occupation of the world and requires a huge military operation. For the U.S., that occupation is organized by the Department of Defense and the Department of State. By channeling billions of dollars to private contractors, these two departments are instrumental in the rapid privatization of the military. This privatization garners troops and support for a military that no longer has the support of enough Americans to sustain a military draft. It also makes the U.S. policy of endless wars possible for at least the immediate future.

Organizing and funding of the privatized military industry results in real and potential conflicts of interest, as well. While the practice of using a private military is not new, its use raises particular concerns in a globalized economy.

The word “mercenary” comes from the Latin merces (“wages” or “pay”). History is full of examples in the use of a private military, dating back a couple of thousand years B.C.E. However, some people say that the origins of modern private military companies came from the British in the early 1940s. More recently, in February 2016, Richard Norton-Taylor wrote in The Guardian, “Britain is the ‘mercenary kingpin’ of global private military industry, which has been booming ever since the ‘war on terror’ began 15 years ago…”(1)

While the UK may be the largest supplier of private military personnel, this boom has been driven by the U.S., which is, by far, the largest employer. Today’s private military market is often referred to as a “monopsony”, meaning a market with a single buyer. In 2012, the U.S. spent $129 billion on contracts that included pay for 670,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

In a 2014 Oxford University Press book, The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, author Sean McFate argues that there are two main types of private military companies. One type is mercenary companies. They are private armies that can conduct autonomous military campaigns, offensive operations, and force projection. He says that at present there are no large mercenary firms.

The other type of private military company is the private military enterprise. This type of business raises armies that are hired and commanded by others. Most modern private military companies are of the enterprise type. For example, the United States has relied on contractors to develop the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.(2) These companies work under the direction of the U.S. departments of Defense and State. They provide fighters, drone pilots, cooks, grounds and maintenance workers, laundry workers, and other skilled and unskilled laborers.

This diversity of private enterprise (contractor) support roles is seen in today’s U.S. operations in Iraq. According to Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One, as of October 1, 2016 there were 2,992 private employees working under contract to support 4,400 plus troops in Iraq.(3) Contract workers made up 68 percent of the personnel, even without the additional 500 contract workers that are expected to be added to the U.S. military operation as “trainers” and “advisers,” as the U.S. government refers to them.

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Strategic security analyst David Isenberg, writing in October 2012, said that about one-third of the private military personnel working under contract were from countries other than the U.S. or the country in which they were working. “According to the most recent quarterly contractor census report issued by the U.S. Central Command, which includes both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as 18 other countries stretching from Egypt to Kazakhstan, there were approximately 137,000 contractors [personnel] working for the Pentagon in its region. … Of that total, 40,110 were U.S. citizens, 50,560 were local hires, and 46,231 were from neither the U.S. not [sic] the country in which they were working.”(4)

Even the U.S. Air Force is turning to privatizing its work force. The increased use of drones has led to a shortage of drone pilots. Currently, private drone pilots are doing surveillance only work and cannot legally fire weapons. A policy change could quickly alter those orders.

Private military companies are used at sea as well as on land and in the air. Maritime armies, often British, are used to protect oil shipping routes in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. In an article cross posted to the online news services Somalia Report and the Huffington Post, author David Isenberg notes that several African and Middle Eastern countries opposed the use of private armed guards on ships docking at their ports. Such guards have been arrested and jailed in Somalia, Egypt, and Kenya. And in the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party proposed a motion in Parliament that would ban private armed guards on Dutch flagged merchant vessels.

In addition, in accordance with a United Nations (UN) Arms Embargo, armed guards are banned from ships entering some 19 countries. Yet shipping companies find ways around the UN regulations and inspections. For example, it is often cheaper to buy weapons in developing countries and dump them in the ocean prior to docking than it is to be fined.(5) Consistent with the mission of private enterprises, the purpose of the private maritime armies is to make money for their shareholders, even if it means avoiding aspects of international agreements.

The hiring of a private military puts the majority of the world’s population at odds with those benefiting from the global economy. Several questions and objections are raised by critics. They include:

A privatized military creates an armed interest group in the national politic; it is likely to have split loyalties between national and corporate interests. Private military companies are based on the U.S. military model because they work almost exclusively for the U.S. departments of State and Defense. These companies are familiar with how the U.S. military operates because many of their leaders are former military personnel. Possible split loyalties between corporate and national interests make it difficult to know how these private companies might operate in a time of internal national conflict. The number of possible conflicts of interest seems unimaginable.

Private companies are responsible first to their shareholders and then to their hiring nation. They are not held to the same reporting and public accountability standards as is the public military. For example, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Even when regulations do apply, a report issued in July 2016 notes that Army officials responsible for evaluating private contractors do not necessarily provide documentation supporting the performance rating given to a contractor.(6) Also, American soldiers can be court-martialed but armed contractors cannot.

Protecting workers and others is difficult in situations involving multiple jurisdictions. Human rights may be denied. For example, U.S. citizens are granted immunity according to an agreement between the U.S. and Colombia. Therefore, military and other U.S. personnel are not prosecuted in cases of rape or other misconduct in Colombia. Yet private contractors cannot count on collaboration with the U.S. military. In 2014 the U.S. Airforce evacuated military personnel from Balad, a city in Iraq. As ISIS approached the city, U.S.-hired private contractor pilots resigned and the remaining contractors had to await their evacuation by the Iraqi military.

Hire-to-kill is an inhumane practice that pits impoverished workers in one country against victims of warmongers in other countries. Citizens in countries from which the U.S. has looted their wealth are placed in do or die situations. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Kristina Mani says that in 2007 a private security company, Triple Canopy, recruited almost exclusively from Latin American countries (Chili, Peru, El Salvador, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua) even though these countries did not all support U.S. military interventions around the world.(7)

American nationalism has an impact on how U.S. peace and anti-war movements organize and work for change. It has been reported for over a decade that battle deaths and injuries are significantly higher in the private military than in the U.S. military. Americans talk about the poverty draft in the U.S., but there is little awareness that the poverty war machine recruits workers from impoverished countries.

Maybe it is time to call for the U.S. to ban the use of private military companies on land, at sea, and in the air and space.

Linda Hoover is a member of the WAMM Newsletter Committee and is a longtime peace and justice activist.

1. Norton-Taylor, Richard. (2016, February 3). Britain is at centre of global mercenary industry, says charity. theguardian.com
2. McFate, Sean. (2014). The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. Oxford University Press
3. Weisgerber, Marcus. (2016, October 20). New life for old jets; Contractors pour into Iraq; Turkey, Russia, and U.S. arms exports. defenseone.com
4. Isenberg, David. (2009, October 12). Contractors in War Zones: Not Exactly “Contracting.” nation.time.com
5. Isenberg, David. (2012, May 29). The Rise of Private Maritime Security Companies. huffingtonpost.com
6. Clark, Charles. S. (2016, July 25). Army Assessments of Contractors’ Past Performance Fall Short. govexec.com
7. Mani, Kristina. (2007, October 2). Latin America’s Hidden War in Iraq. foreignpolicy.com

2016 Year End Edition Index

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By Published On: November 24th, 20162 Comments


  1. ashiftinconsciousness November 27, 2016 at 8:24 PM

    In the U.S., the move toward privatization of the military seems to have started with Dick Cheney when he was Chief of Staff for President Gerald Ford and continued when he was Defense Secretary under George Bush Sr. In between these appointments he served in Congress and supported the military contractor and fossil fuel industries.

  2. […] Linda Hoover | Privatization of the Military […]

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