Imperialism and Private Armies

The Mercenary-Industrial Complex: Imperialism and Private Armies

Published on Political Affairs, by Rémy Herrera, January 17, 2008.

What are the implications of recent increased use of mercenaries and private armies for the analysis of imperialism, forms of resistances and the alternatives for a transition to socialism under the extremely difficult conditions of the 21st century? The main question is to understand why, if it is a public good even from the point of view of the dominant theory, defense is privatized to the extent that imperialist war turns out to be partly carried out by privatization of defense goods and services.

In dominant neoclassical economic theory, the technical characteristics of defense make it a public good. Therefore, neoclassical theory admits that defense can only be undertaken by the state, and not for political reasons but for economic ones. Then, in such a framework, only the state is able to ensure the optimality of the so-called market equilibrium.

Such are the terms of the mainstream academic consensus existing today on this question. This means obviously that there is some problems in the neoclassical literature dealing with defense, especially concerning the theoretical and empirical effects of military spending on the economy. One of the difficulties of applying neoclassical theory is the monopoly on information and control the state has over military questions. In neoclassical theory, even as imperfect as it is, the market is always preferable to state interventions. Thus a publicly controlled military is at odds with free-market economic theory.


Starting from a radical anti-state position and with a vision of the consumer-taxpayer as the sole decision maker, however, many libertarian economists are recommending the privatization of national defense. According to them (for example, David Freidman, Milton Friedman�s son), defense should be subjected to competition, like any other private good, in a new market where security companies would offer goods and services previously provided by the state. This analysis, which is in the minority in the current theoretical debates in capitalist circles, and which is quite provocative, has ended up winning in practice …

… The United States lacks the resources to finance new wars. The military burden (approximately four percent of the GDP) is not absolutely unbearable � it is lower than during the Vietnam war, and much lower than during World War II. But the public deficits and debts are huge and amplified by the neoliberal management of the capitalist structural crisis. Over-indebted, the US economy is at the edge of a major financial collapse. It depends too much on the exterior, grows at low intensity, and is plundered by its own high finance, which submits it to a logic of perpetual wars � at the detriment of all the peoples of the world as well as the US working classes.

In general, as the state externalizes the logistical support of defense, more and more private military companies fall under the control of high finance. DynCorp was bought out by Veritas Capital, MPRI by L-3, Vinnell by the financial group Carlyle, then by Frank Carlucci, former vice-director of the CIA and Secretary for Defense for Ronald Reagan. And when this control includes pension funds, honest US citizens take part without knowledge.

The economic and military dimensions of the crisis � profit and war � are narrowly dependent. Finance capital repatriates more and more benefits from the whole world that the US military bombards or threatens to bombard. But the world system will not be able to continue to function like this: it will have to change.

For the US, the next target is Iran � one of the rare states in the South to keep a national bourgeois project (by the way, compatible with the capitalist system). We know that the key of the conflict concentrates on the nuclear problem. However, the US government refuses the general prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons. Will the �great democracies� never make use of such weapons? Did not the most perfect among them, the US, already use them? Are not the �most civilized� among these democracies � including Europe and Japan � responsible for genocides (colonization, slavery, Shoah and imperialist wars)? The question of the nature of the r�gime in Iran and of its eventual democratization must be dissociated from the threat of war directed against the Iranian people � which is absolutely unacceptable. Just like the recognition of Saddam Hussein�s crimes (those against our Iraqi communist comrades, among others) will never legitimate the aggressive war that imperialism makes suffer to the martyred, heroic and probably soon victorious Iraqi people.

Following its defeat in Vietnam, US imperialism turned against the Latin American peoples, by imposing neo-fascist dictatorships on almost the whole continent. Thus, it would be useful to anticipate, right now, that its next targets could be � not only China, but also � the revolutionary advances realized by the people in Latin America and the Caribbean, after the defeat of imperialism � which comes, ineluctably, in Iraq. Consequently, without pessimism, let us be lucid, organized and above all united in our struggle against imperialism and for socialism. (full long text).

(R�my Herrera is a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research and teaches at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne. Send your comments by mail.)

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