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The development of large private military corporations that operated around the world is beginning to be told, but many people are unaware of them.

They are also now merging. In 2016, Constellis Holdings, a private security company serving corporations, government and non-profit clients, merged with Apollo, a private equity firm. Academi (formerly Blackwater) was also part of this merger.

While this is not a new concept, the magnitude of this is becoming a concern. The British hired mercenary troops to fight for them during the American Revolution and during World War II, about 10 percent of American forces were contractors of various kinds. There were a few hundred private military corporations in 1989, but that number has grown to more than 6,500 and their assets have increased to more than $4 trillion to $6 trillion.

Here is a portion of what is known. Owners of these private military corporations are essentially private citizens, who purchase all the stock, making the companies private. Their main purpose is to increase revenues and provide high returns for their investors, out of public view.

Their functions include intelligence gathering, security and military actions. This also involves raising foreign armies. Keep in mind, these corporations are not engaging in a patriotic endeavor. They exist to make as much money as possible. Since peace is not good for business, there is a financial incentive to accept prolonged conflicts and global insecurity. Most are multinational corporations and most of the troops aren’t even American.

Many larger private military corporations also hire subcontractors often invisible to U.S. government officials and reporters. A Senate investigation found evidence these subcontractors were linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery and anti-coalition activities.

Unlike federal agencies, these private contractors do not report to Congress, avoiding accountability. Often, Congress cannot eve find out what they do.

The Pentagon reportedly lacks the ability to even document the work each contractor is performing. Moreover, information made public is often inaccurate and impossible to determine, if spending is leading to effective results.

In 2011, a congressional commission found at least $31 billion and as much as $60 billion had been lost as a result of contract waste and fraud.

There are also no international laws existing to regulate this industry and they are signatories to the 1989 U.N. Mercenary Convention that bans the use of mercenary troops. They are also not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Congress does not consider the mercenaries of the private contractors as government troops. Consequently, the government can put more troops on the ground than reported to the American people. In 2016, 75 percent of U.S. forces in Afghanistan were contracted, according to Sean McFate’s article in The Atlantic on Aug. 16, 2016.

The secret nature of these private firms enables policymakers to wage war outside the public eye and they operate in at least 50 counties. In 2015, major mercenary activities were occurring in such places as Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine and Syria. In addition, other nations are also using military contractors.

Much of the preceding provides a look at our world’s military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower cautioned us about at the end of his presidential term: Wars can be financially profitable for industry and a large benefit to the domestic economy. Thus, our economy and foreign policies will be increasingly shaped, not by our principles, but by the military industrial complex.

However, Sean McFate’s article extends this view with another foreboding prospect: “If anyone with enough money can wage war for any reason they want to, then new superpowers will emerge. The ultra-rich and multinational corporations, oil companies and oligarchs should not have armies.”

Another sensible reason to exercise democracy to stop the excused and apologetic trend toward accessible armed violence.

Lloyd Holmberg resides in Onalaska.


(2) comments


Remarkable. Thank you for this. I recall reading during the Obama years about our mercenaries in Afghanistan paying what amounted to be protection money to keep the Taliban and al-Qaeda from attacking them. So we were paying support money to the very elements we were trying to defeat. This was an eye-opening column.


this goes a long way to explaining why there is so much conflict in the world and endless wars. Its all about money, greed, power, politics, corruption... all the worst qualities in human nature. Is this part of the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about? I know we, the U.S., used a lot of these mercenary outfits in the Iraq war and they got paid far greater than our own military personnel. War is expensive, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from starting one.

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