This article in The New Republic by the dean of “Just War Theory” and co-editor of Dissent, Michael Walzer, actually touches on a question a question my friend had after we saw Gillian Sorensen, of the United Nations foundation, speak yesterday at Stewart Bio. The whole article is very critical of Blackwater and the whole idea of mercenaries, so please read it all before you pass judgment. The last section, however, is the provocative one:
If we want to maintain accountability in war, then, we had best take a statist view of military activity. I don’t want to argue that private armies run by commercial companies, political parties, religious organizations, or governmentson-the-sly are everywhere and always a bad idea; but they are mostly a bad idea. The state is the only reliable agent of public responsibility that we have. Of course, it often isn’t reliable, and it often doesn’t represent a democratic public. One might plausibly argue that the army of a tyrannical state is a private army. Still, there isn’t any agency other than the state in the contemporary world that can authorize and then control the use of force–and whose officials are (sometimes) accountable to the rest of us.
Weber’s definition suggests that the state is constituted by its monopoly on the use of force. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, justified by its monopoly. This is what states are for; this is what they have to do before they do anything else–shut down the private wars, disarm the private armies, lock up the warlords. It is a very dangerous business to loosen the state’s grip on the use of violence, to allow war to become anything other than a public responsibility.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Speaking at a conference of arms merchants and war contractors in Amman, Jordan, in March 2006, Blackwater vice chairman J. Cofer Black offered to stop the killing in Darfur. “We’ve war-gamed this with professionals,” he said. “We can do this.” Back in the United States, another Blackwater official, Chris Taylor, reiterated the offer.
Since neither the United Nations nor NATO has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries? Scahill quotes Max Boot, the leading neoconservative writer on military affairs, arguing forcefully that there is nothing else to do. Allowing private contractors to secure Darfur “is deemed unacceptable by the moral giants who run the United Nations,” Boot writes. “They claim that it is objectionable to employ–sniff–mercenaries. More objectionable, it seems, than passing empty resolutions, sending ineffectual peace-keeping forces and letting genocide continue.”
Some of us might prefer something like the International Brigade that fought in Spain over a force of Blackwater mercenaries. But the International Brigade was also a private militia, organized by the Comintern and never under the control of the Spanish republic. Does it matter that most of its members fought for ideological rather than commercial reasons? Scahill tells us that Blackwater is run by far-right Christian nationalists–for me, as for him, that doesn’t make things better.
Whatever Blackwater’s motives, I won’t join the “moral giants” who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur. If the Comintern could field an army and stop the killing, that would be all right with me, too. But we should acknowledge that making this exception would also be a radical indictment of the states that could do what has to be done and, instead, do nothing at all. There should always be public accountability for military action — and sometimes for military inaction as well.
I remember an article a while back about a student who raised a lot of money for Darfur, not for food aid, but for 10 or so military jeeps for the rebels. I thought at the time … “That’s kind of risky. What if those particular rebels who use the jeeps are up to no good, or what if they shoot someone innocent from the jeep?” I hope the student had done stellar research on the people he was getting the jeeps to. On the other hand, that student was facing the same dilemma that any country does when picking a side to stop a slaughter. There are things we can’t predict, and probably innocents who will be wounded or killed. What if the group he gave the jeeps to, used them to ride into military situations without proper weapons or training. Then, the student’s money has merely assisted their deaths.
But as far as achieving peace through dialogue and compromise, Khartoum renegs on every treaty it agrees to. Hasn’t Darfur gotten bad enough that we can study whom to aid with armed force as best we can and then help to save lives? We picked the right side when NATO went against Serbia even though Kosovo had groups like the KLA. If people are really serious about the size of the bloodshed in Darfur and about helping Darfurians, wouldn’t they even give money to the likes of Blackwater? They may be dangerous adventurists, they may be less preferable for almost any task that a state military can do with a modicum more of accountability (although senators are trying to change the law to try hired security guards in military courts), but they are not death squads. The Janjaweed are.