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Friday, April 28, 2006

Guns for hire - with logistical back-up

Miss Eagle is upset - in case you haven't noticed, dear reader - about selling off the assets of Australian taxpayers. Miss Eagle is against the sale of Medibank Private. But there is a worse case of privatisation abroad in the world - and there would be few countries unaffected by it. That is the privatisation of the military.

More than 5 million soldiers were discharged across the world between 1987-1994, according to Henry Sanchez of Rutgers University. Professional soldiers, suddenly unemployed in a hostile civilian environment, chose to earn their livings in the way they best knew. They took up employment as "soldiers of fortune" (mercenaries) or went to work for "security" companies and corporations.

For some companies, security is just that: but probably at a more sophisticated and professional level. For others, it is a euphemism for military activity: at the very least, security activity formerly undertaken by professional soldiers; at the utmost, full-blown military activity.

Private armies for hire have proliferated. Executive Outcomes acted in Sierra Leone, Congo, and Angola, Sandline International in Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea (Australians will remember how they were chased out of PNG), DynCorp in Colombia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Bosnia and currently in Oceania and MPRI in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Aviation Development Corporation flies surveillance planes for the CIA. Its involvement was revealed when, in Peru, it misidentified a civilian light plane, carrying Christian missionaries, as carrying narcotics. It was shot down by the Peruvian air force. Blackwater USA is active in Iraq.

"Private Military Companies" or PMCs are known by a variety of phrases and euphemisms. They are "Military Firms", "Military Service Providers" (MSPs), "Privatized Military Firms" (PMFs), "Transnational Security Corporations" (TSCs), "security contractors", or simply "new mercenaries". Yet all these are woven from the same cloth.

In the United Kingdom and Australia the concept of national defence has undergone change. Britain's public-private partnership dubbed the "Private Finance Initiative" revolves around "paying privately for the defence we cannot afford publicly". Thus, transport planes, ships, trucks, training, and accommodation - may all be on long term leases from private firms. In Australia, civilians are carrying out a significant proportion of what were formerly military duties.

Then there are the major corporations that provide logistical support to military operations. The most famous of these is Halliburton (US Vice President Dick Cheney formerly its CEO and, as USVP, maintains a highly significant foreign relations staff) and its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown Root.

Halliburton and KBR are active in Australia. Some of their work is quite public, the Alice Springs to Darwin Railway, for instance. Some is not so public. However, a visit to their website and a check of their office locations when matched with military bases across Australia is an interesting exercise. As someone once said to me, you can get off a little plane in the middle of the night in some far flung corner of the globe and, if it is a place with oil, gold or diamonds, the first person to meet you when you alight is a man in a Stetson with a gun on his hip. That's the man from KBR.

Miss Eagle is not only concerned about the privatisation of war when national standing armies seem unable to recruit at the levels they would like. Miss Eagle has two other concerns. First concern is that limited military resources might once have driven governments to think of alternatives to war. Availability of "guns for hire" has implications for the instability of peace. Second concern is that, as politicians deal with the constantly enriched and enriching PMCs, there is increased opportunity for political and corporate corruption.

Miss Eagle doesn't think that "The Manchurian Candidate", the story of vested interest governing or owing a vice-presidential candidate, was remade simply for entertainment. The denouement of the recent remake was a venture into the fantastic. Miss Eagle thinks this was because a less incredible ending would have clearly made the story too close to its American home - and a high ranking individual may have been able to interfere with its release.

And if you want to think of links between military and political hawks and politicians, I give you the case of Kim Beazley, Australia's Leader of the Opposition. Now Kim is Opposition Leader second time around. The Australian Labor Party is not travelling too well. When Labor was in Government, Beazley was Minister for Defence. He kicked along Australia's participation in the international arms trade and was known for his collection of war toys displayed in his office. Not for nothing is he known as 'Bomber Beazley'.

Now move forward to Beazley becoming Leader second time around. The Americans were frenzied. They were terrified that Mark Latham might become Prime Minister - but they didn't want him as leader of a major political party either. The ALP thrashed around for a leader - and turned to Beazley. Beazley visited the USA and renewed some acquaintances in the political-military establishment there. So it was, with a sigh of relief from Washington DC, that Beazley became leader. And then a strange thing unfolded.

During the first period as Leader, Howard, Costello, and Abbott used to have a field day referring to Beazley's ticker. But, do you notice, during this second leadership, there is little or no reference to Beazley's ticker even from attack dog Abbott? Miss Eagle has a view on this. It is now beyond doubt that Howard's opponent is a good friend of Howard's good friend. So we mustn't be impolite and insult the friend of our friend, must we. And, have no doubt about it, Beazley is there by permission - U.S. permission.