Commentary

Theory Is Fine, Action Is Better

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant on March 4 for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other things, he is suspected of “intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property.”

As a result, Bashir halted the work of relief organizations operating primarily in Darfur, leaving more than 1 million people without food, medical care or drinking water.

For many Sudanese, the relief agencies are their only source of protection and provisions; millions are now in an extremely vulnerable state. Without the supplies the relief organizations bring in, the camps are about to start failing. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote March 8:

“The camps will quickly run out of clean water because generator-operated pumps bring the water to the surface from wells and boreholes. Fuel supplies to operate the pumps may last a couple of weeks, and then the water disappears.

“Health clinics have already closed, and diarrhea is spreading in Zam Zam camp and meningitis in Kalma camp. These are huge camps — Kalma has perhaps 90,000 people — and diseases can spread rapidly. Children will be the first to die.”

If any place calls out for peace and stability, it is Darfur. Now consider that for years private military and security contractors have been saying they could bring exactly that, if only they were allowed to. Back in 2006, J. Cofer Black, then vice chairman of Blackwater USA, said that Blackwater could provide forces for Sudan’s Darfur province. He said the company could bolster existing peacekeeping forces from the African Union.

In the past few years, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute have been working on something called the Mass Atrocity Response Operations project. The idea is to equip the United States, other states and regional and international actors with the credible military planning tools to prevent or halt genocide or mass atrocity. It would do so by harnessing the professional expertise of retired and active U.S. military planners, who have extensive experience in planning responses to a broad range of complex contingencies. The response would, by design, include numerous private contractors. Indeed, one of the contributors to the project is Chris Taylor, a former vice president of Blackwater who is now with Mission Essential Personnel.

On MARO’s Web site, one can download the Annotated Planning Framework, a step-by-step guide intended primarily for use by military planners to quickly develop response options for developing genocide or mass-atrocity situations. Its first sample scenario is for “Mass Atrocity in Country X: A Land-Locked Country in Sub-Saharan Africa.” The first and only mention of contractors, “Protect contractor and NGO stabilization personnel and resources,” is at the end of Stage I, which presumes direct military intervention to stop ongoing genocide. So much for contractors operating instead of military forces. Talk is cheap.

Notwithstanding excellent work that PAE Group and DynCorp, under Defense Department contract, have been doing for years in Sudan supporting the African Union force, the fact is that just like regular military forces, they cannot be used unless political authorities give them permission.

So, what next? That brings us to Brent M. Jorgensen. He is an Army major who wrote a paper, “Outsourcing Small Wars: Expanding the Role of Private Military Companies in U.S. Military Operations,” published in 2005. In it, he outlines a Special Forces-led PMC model that could be used in Darfur.

Keep in mind that despite all the hand-wringing about the disaster, there are no nations — other than those of the AU — that are going to deploy troops there. And you can forget about the United States. If it did not do it when Colin L. Powell, as the U.S. secretary of state, called the conflict genocide, it is not going to do it now, at a time when the United States is sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Jorgensen postulates that the current situation in Darfur gets to the point where the United Nations labels it genocide. With memories of Rwanda, the Security Council authorizes an intervention to protect the non-Arab Sudanese. The United States does not want to commit any troops but does want to help the people of Darfur for various reasons.

The situation becomes a “small war,” which would “involve a wide range of military operations in conflicts involving states or nontraditional actors,” according to the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual.

The United States “supplies a very small contingent of U.S. soldiers backed by several PMCs to not only support the operation but also to provide security for the people of Darfur,” Jorgensen wrote. “This mission would consist of providing security for medical assistance, food relief, water purification and all other manners of aid. Also within this plan would be a security training effort by the United States’ contribution for the victimized Darfur residents. The Special Forces-led (private military force) could operate in this situation.”

In Jorgensen’s model, a Special Forces Operational Detachment essentially acts as contracting officer representatives over a group of PMCs to conduct an operation. Special Forces are chosen because their core mission includes managing surrogate forces in a small war — or unconventional warfare, to use the official jargon. The total number of U.S. troops would be 15; each one, with the exception of a judge advocate general, would act as COR for one to three PMCs. A SFOD is designed to manage a battalion size element of indigenous force — usually around 600 personnel. That means the total force would be around 615.

This is not a perfect solution, if for no other reason than contractors are not used to working directly under military command. But it is better than the alternative of doing nothing. And if private security and military contractors are not willing to consider this, then they should at least be honest enough to stop calling themselves the peace and stability industry.

U.S. Navy veteran David Isenberg is a military affairs analyst. He is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and the author of the book, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.