Ruthless Humanitarianism

Why ignoring the private security option in Darfur is a mistake.

Saving hundreds of thousands of lives in Darfur doesn't require protests or divestment or U.S. troops. It requires only that we recognize that there is a commercial value to humanitarian security, and then pay to deploy private forces to the region. But the activist campaigns to "save Darfur" don't seem to be ready to take this immediate step that will stop the slaughter. The obstinate party is not the Sudanese government or rebels in Darfur-rather, it is these ruthless humanitarians, who refuse to consider using private security to stop the violence.Some estimates claim that half a million civilians have died in the Darfur region since early 2003; the U.S. government has labeled it genocide. Since 2005, the African Union has deployed a small force of peacekeepers, and last year the U.N. passed a resolution to deploy its own more robust mission, which, however, is not expected to begin before 2008. A number of NGOs and advocacy groups have been admirably vocal in their calls for a larger military presence, but they limit their calls to international governmental action, refusing to consider the vast capability that resides in private security companies-companies that would deploy armed security.Stopping the killing in Darfur is not technically difficult. Numerous private companies stand ready to provide the security that humanitarian groups have been demanding for years. The for-profit sector has the ability and experience and, more important, the will and incentive to deploy professional security forces to defend at-risk populations in the region. Although the companies are private, they would be contracted by governments to support existing A.U. operations and future U.N. deployments. The costs of such an action would be a fraction of what is spent on current international deployments.
Stopping the killing in Darfur is not technically difficult.
Two important caveats should be kept in mind. First, security companies must operate under a legal structure and have oversight and accountability measures built into their contracts. These companies would have to work in cooperation with regional organizations and governments and ensure transparent operations. Second, we must remember that simply stopping the killing does not solve the conflict. Long-term peace requires political agreements that the private sector cannot provide. Developing a lasting peace agreement in Darfur will require a firm commitment from all parties, including the international community. But in the meantime, there is no reason that we cannot make the simple effort to end the killing of civilians.Peacekeeping operations with private support are not at all unprecedented. As an academic in 2000, I saw how reliant the U.N. operation in Sierra Leone was on private firms. Everything that was being fixed, moved, or improved was being done by contractors. Few in the West realize how essential private-sector capabilities are to peace operations in Africa. Every peace operation from Liberia to the Congo has relied on private-sector services. Virtually every A.U. base in Darfur has been built, maintained, and supplied by private companies. Military deployments, tactical helicopters, and vehicles are largely privately provided and operated. Why is private security acceptable for U.N. offices, personnel, and equipment, but not for civilians in Darfur?The West has largely abandoned peace operations in places that we do not care about. Well-trained and -equipped military units from the United States and Europe are rarely seen in the world's most difficult regions. We leave those dangerous ventures to militaries from the poorest countries in the world, forces lacking the resources of Western militaries. While less-developed countries have shown an impressive willingness to risk their own military forces to support these humanitarian operations, success is too often the exception, not the rule.For-profit firms engaged in humanitarian operations must follow the rules, or they lose their contract. They can limit their use of force to three specific situations-self-defense, protection of the community they are contracted to protect, and defense of civilians. Financial penalties for employee misbehavior or poor execution of their contract could ensure a level of professionalism seldom found in regular peace operations.Humanitarian security in Darfur would not be simple or without risk. But it will take months before the U.N. finally begins its mission to replace the underfunded and under-supported A.U. forces in the region. In the meantime, tens of thousands more civilians will needlessly die. Enlisting the private sector to engage in this limited protective role has enormous humanitarian value. Demanding that we wait for the international community to act decisively to protect the innocent civilians in Darfur is truly ruthless humanitarianism at its worst.