Friday, August 22, 2014

James Pattison's "The Morality of Private War"

James Pattison is a Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Morality of Private War: The Challenge of Private Military and Security Companies, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is concerned with a specific issue – whether we should oppose the use of private military and security contractors, such as Blackwater contractors in Iraq, because they cannot be morally required to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is sometimes suggested that, unlike soldiers in the regular armed forces who explicitly consent to sacrifice themselves, private contractors do not take the vow of self-sacrifice. This is problematic, the argument runs, because it can undermine military effectiveness.

The book in general provides a critique of the privatisation of military force. I argue that there are numerous ethical problems with relying on private military and security companies (PMSCs). These problems, I suggest, are not simply ones that can be addressed by improving the currently weak regulation of the private military and security industry. One of the key aims of the book is to argue that there are deeper problems with the use of these firms, such as their undermining of democratic control, the weakening of military effectiveness, and the problematic motives of private contractors. These problems mean that we should oppose generally the use of private military and security companies. If we are to fight wars, it is better that we use the regular military to do so.

However, on page 99 I do not actually agree with the objection to private contractors under question. In the section in which this page is located, I argue that private contractors may sometimes be morally permissibly forced to take on the risks of war. This is because they may consent to do so, like regular soldiers. But I go further than this. Perhaps controversially, I suggest that
even if private contractors do not consent to risky operations, it might still sometimes be permissible to coerce them to act, if this is feasible. Most generally, it can be permissible to force individuals to save the lives of others, even without their consent.
Why can we force people to take on great risks, even without their consent? Could I point a gun to your head and force you to enter into a burning building to save 20 small children who would otherwise die, against your wishes, with a high risk of death for you? In the case of 20 children, I’m not sure. But suppose that now you could save 500 children. Could I force you to save them? I argue that you could. What this means is that, even if private contractors do not consent to being subject to risks, they might still justifiably be forced to fight and to take on great risks, if doing so will save many lives. For instance, if commanders in Iraq were in a situation where they could have forced private security contractors to save the lives of many innocent Iraqi civilians, they should have done so, even if the contractors did not agree to this.

Even though I suggest that there is not a major difference between private contractors and regular soldiers in terms of whether they can be sacrificed, more generally this section argues that there is a related problem in terms of private contractors that means that we should favour regular soldiers. The problem is that it is very hard to ensure that, even if private contractors do consent to take on risk operations, they will in fact do so. They may refuse to take on justifiable military operations to which they sign up, and this can undermine military effectiveness. The state employing the services of the firm has far fewer means to ensure contractors will act than when it relies on the regular military. This, I suggest, is one of several problems with the use of private military and security companies.
Visit James Pattison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue