After the Baghdad bubble: Mercenaries looking to enter aid agency niche

One of the consequences of the war in Iraq has been a major boom for the private security industry known as the ‘Baghdad bubble’.

That boom is now ending and the Royal United Services Institute has published a very interesting paper on the future of the sector.

After the Bubble: British Private Security Companies After Iraq is sponsored by Aegis and written by one of the company’s analysts, Dominick Donald. He makes some remarkably candid suggestions about future growth areas for the industry, most notably in the area of humanitarian and development assistance.

"During the 1990s the British Government became accustomed to relying on NGOs as implementing partners in its stabilization, reconstruction and development efforts overseas," Donaldson argues.

"These actors might consist of UK-based charities such as Oxfam or Save
the Children UK, foreign NGOs such as Irish-based GOAL, or UN agencies such as
the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the World Food Programme (WFP)"

According to Donald, the limits of this policy were exposed by the occupation of Iraq, because aid agencies either stayed out of the country or refused to co-operate with the coalition, particularly after the bombing of the UN HQ and the murder of Care’s Margaret Hassan.

"It would appear that this experience has crystallized a growing distrust in key British Government departments (MOD, FCO, the Cabinet Office) with NGOs as implementing partners (though this distrust does not appear to have arisen in DFID [Department for International Development])."

As a result, the British Government set up its own Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit (PCRU). Donald questions whether NGOs will be prepared to co-operate  with the PCRU:

"This resistance to being co-ordinated is key to why I believe there is an opening for PSCs [private security companies] in this area. The establishment of the PCRU is a sign that humanitarian and development assistance will increasingly be more closely tied to government policy. This is a natural political extension of the fact that GWOT [Global War On Terror] will increasingly involve the UK’s targeted use of soft power, of which humanitarian and development assistance is a perfect example. It will not be a simple process. Even DFID is reluctant to co-ordinate with other Government departments: its avowed purpose is poverty eradication and it has refused to provide resources in line with overall Government efforts in the Balkans or Helmand Province in  Afghanistan, because they are not in relative terms poor enough. Yet the strategic reality of commitment to the GWOT means that this process will almost certainly happen."

Donald believes that this will eventually lead to a falling out between aid agencies and the governments which provide much of their funding:

"The sector’s insistence on retaining the perception off political neutrality and humanitarian impartiality means that it is extremely reluctant to be in any way associated with government activity. Many would therefore see participation in a planning process as jeopardising their independent status.

"Yet none of this holds true for PSCs. Might there then be an opportunity for the private sector, which would be far readier to work to government’s directions?"

It’s pretty clear what’s being proposed here. The selling point of PSCs is precisely that their avowed purpose is not poverty eradication, and that they need not deliver assistance impartially on the basis of need.

If this is becomes government policy, real humanitarian needs will go unmet, while tax-payers money that currently goes to aid agencies that address those needs will be diverted to supporting the ‘War on Terror’ and incidentally of course, to Aegis shareholders.

One illustration of the potential conflict between humanitarian and political priorities comes from the Lebanon crisis. British aid agencies have called for a televised appeal, a request which has shamefully been turned down by broadcasters.






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