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Archive for the ‘mercenary’ Category

Early Announcement: Xenophon’s Anabasis Roundtable

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

After his skilled moderation of The Clausewitz Roundtable, my friend Lexington Green has announced a new roundtable at Chicago Boyz for Fall of 2009 that will be dedicated to Xenophon’s  The Anabasis of Cyrus.

For those interested in participating in this roundtable, leave a note here in the comments for Lex or over at Chicago Boyz.

Eeben Barlow’s Military & Security Blog

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

The founder of the famous but now defunct PMC Executive OutcomesEeben Barlow has a blog and it will be interesting to most readers here ( major hat tip to Lexington Green but more to Adam Elkus). The link and some samples from Barlow’s posts:

Eeben Barlow’s Military and Security Blog

Putting an End to Piracy – The Only Way

…Surely, someone somewhere must have realised by now that using political correctness as a method of countering piracy has failed – and can never succeed. Water cannons and bean bags have never been a real deterrent – except maybe to ill-prepared rioters. Sending naval task forces into the pirate-infested areas is likewise a hollow threat. Yet, the taxpayers have to fund these navies in order to protect the shipping companies who don’t repay the costs of the naval task forces. In short, it is a great business deal for the shipping companies.Whereas many PMCs and individuals – myself included – have written concepts, plans, proposals and more on how to counter this menace, no one has yet had the courage to implement these plans for fear of international condemnation. International law is in this instance also a prohibiting factor as there is great uncertainty as regards the legalities of having weapons on-board a ship, something that is in reality very simple. But, it seems, no one likes a simple plan. The more complicated it is, the more people like it.

…Even more astonishing is that everyone is keen to give an excuse why the pirates are operating – from the failed-state theory to great poverty. That is, in a sense, much like condoning a bank robber and then making excuses for his criminal behaviour. As long as no one gets seriously hurt, it must be okay…

International Law activists attempting to enforce international law (more of a slippery concept than the MSM presents) are much like the drunkard looking for his car keys under the lamp post. It’s not terrorists, pirates, warlords, genocidaires or dictators or other dangerous and lawless men with guns who consume the attention, time and energy of these generally left-wing intellectuals but instead Western armies, intelligence agents and police who might try to fight stateless brigands. The light is better there, you see.

Fighting Organized Crime

….In South Africa, those that are supposed to police crime are very seldom keen to do their duty. Many of them are, indeed, part of the problem and not part of the solution. Whereas there are police officers trying to make an impact on crime, they are few and far between. Sadly though, success is not something that is evident in these counter-crime actions. Public regard for crime scene investigators and detectives is reaching an all-time low. Their lack of interest in attending to crime scenes is well documented with excuses as feeble as “we don’t have a vehicle…” Visible policing is seen by many to simply be a reconnaissance operation by men in police uniforms before they strike

A worthy add to your RSS feeder or blogroll.

Reflections on China’s Warlord Era

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

One of my distinguished co-bloggers at Chicago Boyz, John Jay, penned a truly outstanding post on China, incorporating history, culture, economics and linguistics, using the famous  Manchurian warlord and opium addict, ” the Young Marshal ” Chang Hsüeh-liang, as a springboard:

Household Armies

“….China has historically allowed certain social forces to compete with loyalty to the state. Linguistic (and in the cases of the Hui and Uyghur, religious) groups have always retained a large amount of autonomy through the provincial governments, and in some cases provinces such as Guandong can almost be thought of as a separate country within China due to their linguistic (non-Mandarin) identity and economic self sufficiency. But Guandong gets little voice in Beijing relative to the economic might of the Pearl  River Delta. Cantonese don’t care, as long as the kleptocracy in Beijing leaves them alone (after they make their formal obeisance) most of the time, and does not attempt to steal too much wealth. That may change as peasants out West mobilize and force the central government to send more goodies their way. China never hit upon the Anglosphere’s solution of a Republican governmental federation of competing interests akin to either Great Britain or the competing American states – the Imperial authorities always wished to pretend that they were in complete control, while ceding a lot of practical authority to the provinces.  

Conflicts between the linguistic periphery and the Mandarin-speaking center have contributed to the ebb and flow of centralized power in China since even before the Ten kingdoms of the South broke away from the Five Dynasties that succeeded the Tang. The Chinese have historically seen history as cyclical, rather than linear. I think that this at least in part stems from the fact that since the fall of the Tang Dynasty, China has never bitten the bullet to reform itself by completely rethinking its social system. Systems have arisen as kludges to deal with a particular problem, but have never dealt with the fundamental flaws in society, only with their surface manifestations. As James Sheridan wrote in “Chinese Warlord: The Career of Feng Yu-hsiang” :  

Read in full here.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007


Former CIA clandestine operative Robert Baer, author of See No Evil and a loose model for the George Clooney character in “Syriana” has an article up in Vanity Fair profiling Tim Spicer, the CEO of a British PMC called Aegis Defence Services. A sample.

Iraq’s Mercenary King

“No one planned for a private army of this size. Like most things in the Iraq war, it just happened. After the Iraq National Museum was looted, in April of 2003, and even four months later, after the U.N. headquarters was destroyed by a car bomb, the Pentagon assumed it was dealing with garden-variety crime and terrorism—nothing a good whiff of grapeshot couldn’t quell. With U.S. forces stretched thin, why not let private military contractors deal with routine security? They could protect the coalition offices, the supply shipments, the embassies, and also the reconstruction teams, the journalists, the U.N. workers, and the aid organizations. After all, guns for hire in Afghanistan had been keeping Hamid Karzai alive.

As the security situation deteriorated and the insurgency became more sophisticated, the contractors were forced to adapt, operating as small military units, carrying automatic weapons and rocket launchers, and traveling in convoys of heavily armored S.U.V.’s. Their tactics included driving at 90 miles an hour or more and shooting at any vehicle that appeared to be a threat. In some cases, military contractors fought pitched battles. Today, when they get in trouble, contractors can call on help in the form of military air support or a quick-reaction force.

Who are these contractors? Watch the passengers in Dubai waiting for flights to Kabul and Baghdad and you’ll get an idea. Half of them are fortysomething, a little paunchy, their hair thinning. They haven’t done a pull-up or run an obstacle course in 20 years. You have to suspect that many are divorced and paying alimony, child support, and mortgages on houses they don’t live in. The other half, in their late 20s and early 30s, have been enticed into leaving the military early, quadrupling their salaries by entering the private sector. They bulge out of their T-shirts, bang knuckles, shoulder-bump. They can’t wait to get into the action.

The mercenaries crowd the duty-free counters buying boxes of Cuban Cohiba cigars and bottles of Jack Daniel’s—nights on mortar watch can be very long. There’s no doubt they can afford it. Men with service in an elite military unit have been known to make up to $1,500 a day. More typically a Western military contractor will earn $180,000 a year. Depending on the contract, benefits can include a hundred days of leave, kidnapping insurance, health insurance, and life insurance.”

Hmmm. I know a couple of people who’ve done that kind of work, I wonder if they’ll chime in on that assessment. It is worth noting that Baer himself has had an exceptionally colorful career with the CIA; so much so that you could easily imagine him sitting in a bar with Robert Young Pelton or Robert Kaplan, comparing scars like Captain Quint and Sheriff Brody aboard the Orca.


Corporate Warriors




Global Guerillas

Thomas P.M. Barnett

The Small Wars Council

Neither Shall The Sword

Intel Dump

Foreign Policy In Focus

Coming Anarchy

The Nation ( hat tip to Patrick Squire via Tom)

Thursday, February 1st, 2007


For those who are unaware, William Arkin is a defense intellectual and critic of the Bush administration who blogs at the Washington Post under the rubric Arkin’s Early Warning. He is also the author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World – a book that is invaluable as a reference on contemporary operations to military historians, though by virtue of ” outing” quasi-secret and secret military and intel nomenclature. I mention this because I wish to be clear that Arkin is not a Georgetown cocktail party ” expert” playing pundit but someone who really knows his stuff.

Yesterday, Arkin, responding to televised complaints of U.S. troops in Iraq about the anti-war movement back in the United States, wrote:

“These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President’s handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

Sure it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail, but even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We just don’t see very man “baby killer” epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don’t get it, that they don’t understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover’s and Nixon’s will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren’t the United States, I’d say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.

But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary – oops sorry, volunteer – force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.”

Well, now.

Technically, from the perspective of military history, Arkin is correct that professional soldiery are a ” mercenary” force. John Keegan has written the same thing in another context. Militaries come in only a few basic forms, conscripts, mercenaries and caste – and professionals from the Swiss Guards to Renaissance captains to the U.S. military have war as their vocation.

That being said, Arkin was not using ” mercenary” in that context but in the casual perjorative meaning, as a slur. And he knows it. Why did he do it ? Because he was mad that troops in Iraq, guys to whom the label of ” chickenhawk” won’t stick nor with whom could stronger insults be applied without incurring the wrath of WaPo editors, criticized the anti-war movement. Accurately criticized, more to the point. The troops you, see, are supposed to shut up and ol’ Bill was incensed.

I’m a believer in free speech so I do not support calls for Arkin to fired, censored, physically menaced, burned at the stake or whatever. The man has just made a fool out of himself on a national platform and plenty of people are letting him know it. The justifiable verbal abuse being heaped in his direction comes as a direct cost of saying stupid things.

Particularly, when everyone knows that you know better. You want to blog Bill ? Learn to take your lumps like a man.


Arkin retracts the use of “mercenary”. Good. That was the right thing to do.


Castle Argghhh! has a round-up

OPFOR recommended by Matt at MountainRunner

Blackfivewields the F-Bomb

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