IPOA Director: Critics of Private Contractors "Don’t Understand What the Industry Does"




Senior stability operations figure believes that contractors must endeavour to educate the public on the facts.

In recent years, the demand for stability operations has risen sharply, coming from both NATO and many struggling nations. Yet the majority of publicity tends to cast a negative shadow over private contractor involvement in these regions, claiming that governments are faced with a conflict of interests in involving contracting companies in the formation of defence budgets.

Sometime-cynics include David Isenberg of The Huffington Post, who has written extensively on both the pros and cons of the PMC emergence. Yet for vocal opponents like author and activist Naomi Klein, such firms are seen to merely exploit disaster-struck countries for profit. The Facebook group "No Shock Doctrine for Haiti," based on Klein’s condemnation, has well over 37,000 members.

J.J. Messner, Director of the International Peace Operations Assosciation (IPOA), the umbrellaassociation for the stability operations industry, described this view as a "very unfortunate" way of seeing the matter.

Speaking to DefenceIQ, Messner spoke of the support that contractors offer in terms of freeing the army to deal with foreign policy affairs and focusing on the suppression of insurgents, actions fundamental to transitioning a region out of warzone status. Likewise, disaster-hit areas can benefit from the speedy action of these companies in the immediate aftermath of the emergency.

"Ultimately what we can see is that–in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti–there was an immense amount of suffering, there was an immense amount of capacity needed at very short notice, and some private contractors were able to provide airlift support, medical support and logistics at very short notice."

With the resources of the US military already strained across Afghanistan and Iraq, and with this situation coinciding with a period of military downsizing, Messner holds that IPOA’s companies can provide peace-keeping support and expertise that otherwise wouldn’t be there or are not so widely available in non-profit organisations.

He also addressed the misconception that private contractors in conflict zones are dominated by private military companies such as the extremely controversial and former-member Blackwater.

"It becomes abundantly clear with many of the critics of the industry that they really don’t quite understand what the industry does. If you look at the industry as a whole, I think it’s probably fair to say that 90 percent of the industry concerns itself with logistics and non-security services, whereas the average man on the street will often think it’s all about heavily armed security contractors."

"Those kinds of perceptions are very important to tackle because–when it comes to a public perception point of view–if you are sending a number of contractors into a particular country, if the public at large believe that those contractors are going to be heavily armed security contractors…their amount of support is probably going to be different than to if they act knew that the vast majority of them are going to be providing services such as logistics, or medical support, or air lift."

He added that re-balancing the argument for private contractors and making the public aware of the positive aspects of the firms "really is one of the key roles that IPOA has to fill over the years–an educational role."

As for critics who argue that the actions of contractors need to be transparent, Messner couldn’t agree more.

"You tend to see the criticism focused a lot more on, for example, oversight and accountability, and we would completely agree that those are areas that really do need to be addressed and those areas are very important to get right, rather than [debating] the industry’s existence in the first place."

Expanding the role of the private sector in reconstruction operations alongside the future of stabilisation operations in Africa and the necessity of harnessing the support of local populations in post-war reconstruction will be discussed at the CIMIC and Reconstruction Operations conference on 20 - 21 May 2010, to be held in London.

Other confirmed speakers for the event include:

  • Major General (ret’d) Alan Hawley, Director of Disasters and Resilience Centre
  • Guy Sands-Pingot, Assistant Inspector General, Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)
  • Colonel Antonello Vespaziani, (ITA Army), Multinational CIMIC Group

To listen to the full podcast visit: http://www.cimicandreconstruction.com/Event.aspx?id=265082

For more information visit: http://www.cimicandreconstruction.com/