Thursday, January 30, 2014

I Can Envision Quite a Bit, Actually

A military contractor which once worked for America is now working for China on non-military missions in Africa. I'm not happy about this. But I'm not surprised.

Blackwater once provided armed security services in a war zone. After being scapegoated for a body count in a successful diplomatic protection mission, Erik Prince's company was sunk.

So now he provides services in Africa:

Mr. Prince aims to provide "end-to-end" services to companies in the "big extractive, big infrastructure and big energy" industries. Initially focused on building a Pan-African fleet of aircraft, his firm will expand into barging, trucking and shipping, along with "remote-area construction" as needed for reliable transport. A company—Chinese, Russian, American or otherwise—may have "an extremely rich hydrocarbon or mining asset," he explains, "but it's worth nothing unless you can get it to where someone will pay you for it." His investor prospectus notes that with today's transportation infrastructure, "it costs more to ship a ton of wheat from Mombasa, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda than from Chicago to Mombasa."

Such high costs also reflect the dangers of piracy and civil conflict, but Mr. Prince plays down his firm's plans in the security realm. "We are not there to provide military training. We are not there to provide security per se. Most of that security"—say, if an oil pipeline or mining camp needs protection—"would be done by whatever local services are there," including police and private firms. "We don't envision setting up a whole bunch of local guard services around the continent."

I have sympathy for the man over the demise of his company after he did so much work for our government.

But my sympathy stops when he starts working for China.

Sure, he says he isn't providing security. But logistics work is key for any such operation. And how long before he starts doing what he doesn't envision because that's where the money is?

Privatized military power is a new feature of our age (well, it's a new feature again). What happens when American companies start using private military power (including cyber-warfare) in ways contrary to our policies? Or even parallel to our policies? Would that be okay?

This is an issue to contemplate. And to read about for only 99 cents, for that matter.