Private security is a moral hazard when there is no rule of law
Apr 11, 2011

Private security is a moral hazard when there is no rule of law

The rise of private security personal and war contractors - embodied by the since rebranded Blackwater - is a moral hazard that has, predictably, led to significant consequences. The profit motivation provides incentive distinct from minimizing human suffering and this discrepancy reflects the moral hazard.  As private mercenary forces command significant presence in Iraq, Somalia and many other countries we take pause to consider the ramifications.

The appropriateness of private security is inversely proportional to the standards of the rule of law. In a modern society like ours, private security is perfectly acceptable to guard, say, a building after hours. This is because our rule of law is sufficiently strong that corruption and abuses are likely to be discovered and the perpetrators prosecuted. A guard can't indiscriminately shoot a civilian, he will be locked up in all likelihood. However, in failed, war torn states the rule of law may be nearly non existent. There is no method for redress, no deterrent to prevent abuses, no system to protect or prosecute people under. In such a state, the moral hazard is able to come out where it is much harder to manifest itself in our first world societies.

When a country like Canada or the US engages in war it exports with it a strong rule of law that applies to its own people. This system of the top down authority of established lawful principles is in effect a rule of law for our soldiers fighting in countries possibly without their own rule of law. A soldier who commits abuses can be discovered and punished by the rule of law brought with us. Of course, this system is far from perfect, and the extent by which the military breaks its own rule of law and is insufficient is a much larger and important discussion. But it is nonetheless a rule of law that exists, despite its failings.

The private mercenaries don't experience the a robust rule of law in failed states nor do they experience the exported rule of law that comes with the military. It is this absence of direct accountability that allows the moral hazard to flourish. Of course, it isn't that they companies have zero susceptibility to rule of law - they do face some if their actions are particularly egregious and discovered - but it is far less than it should be and leads to significant problems. 

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2 comments:

The Mound of Sound said...

"When a country like Canada or the US engages in war it exports with it a strong rule of law that applies to its own people." Have you ever heard of the Haditha massacre and the slaughter of 24 Iraqi men, women and children? And how many of the marines responsible for that cold-blooded and calculated butchery have been convicted of murder?

bazie said...

I should rephrase with the inclusion of the word "relatively". Clearly horrific tragedies do occur (and far too frequently) on behalf of modern militaries. Sometimes this is in violation of the rule of law of those countries and sometimes the rule of law is either too weak or feckless to deal with such crimes.

My point was simply that there IS a rule of law that does get exported by western countries along with its militaries. It is limited and imperfect, sure, but it is not nonexistent. For private security, these limited and imperfect systems don't exist at all

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