J. J. Messner

Editor-in-Chief, Journal of International Peace Operations; Director, IPOA

Nov 012010

Remember when these carried nothing but bad news?

This month I will be stepping down as the Director of the International Stability Operations Association (formerly IPOA) after a tenure of nearly five years. In many organizations and in many fields of work, five years might seem a relatively short period of time. But in such a rapidly evolving industry  such as that of stability operations, it is remarkable to reflect on just how much has changed in the last half-decade.

When the Journal was created nearly five years ago, it was an attempt to give the stability operations industry a serious public forum in which to discuss relevant and important issues. At that time, much of the media was hostile towards the industry (though admittedly, some of it still is). The industry was for the most part a lightning rod, and was roughly as well-regarded in the media, in politics and by the public at-large as Wall Street bankers are today. But times have definitely changed.

The evolution of the stability operations industry, and how it is viewed by stakeholders and the public at-large has, from the point of view of this Journal and the International Stability Operations Association (nee IPOA), been quite rapid. Take the word “mercenary” for example. Despite the legal inaccuracies in applying the term to private contractors — and the fact that it is just plain derogatory — it was nevertheless the favorite descriptor among many industry commentators. Even contractors providing housing for those rendered homeless by natural disaster were termed mercenaries or profiteers (as if letting those affected by disaster be left to the elements was somehow morally preferable). Fast-forward five years and pretty much no serious journalist uses the term. Indeed, it has become a term used nearly exclusively by the sensationalist fringe.

Jul 012010

Journal of International Peace Operations
Volume 6, Number 1 – July/August 2010

In search of assistance.

IT must have been a slow news day. Recently, IPOA and a collection of member companies (guilty by association apparently) along with the U.S. and British governments, were lambasted in the media for “blocking” a proposed U.N. Convention on the Regulation, Surveillance and Monitoring of Private Military and Security Companies.[1] Of course, the central headline of the article was baseless, and a correction was later issued – to change “blocking” to “voicing concerns” – but not before the article was seized on by bloggers to prove the evils of the industry. It also highlighted an interesting issue that has begun to creep into the debate regarding the stability operations industry from the perspective of the media, government, international organizations and other critics alike.

A decade ago, industry critics rightly pointed out that there was a dearth of effective – and international – regulation, and especially enforcement, for private firms supporting international peacekeeping, stability, reconstruction and disaster relief operations. Of course, a significant hurdle in the process of actually finding some kind of resolution was that there were those who conflated private sector operations with mercenarism, and tried to fit the square peg of private firms into the round hole of mercenary conventions. Now that even the most virulent in the “mercenary regulation” camp (such as the U.N. Working Group on Mercenaries) have become more realistic in their views, there seems to be some progress on the horizon.

Mar 012010

Journal of International Peace Operations
Volume 5, Number 5, March-April, 2010

Invading Haiti, one rescue at a time.

Invading Haiti, one rescue at a time.

IT has been nearly two months since an earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince and left over 200,000 dead and thousands homeless. The scale of the disaster was massive. The international relief response – from governments, international agencies, NGOs and the general public alike – has also been massive. Worryingly, however, the criticism of this relief effort has been probably more active and vigorous than the effort itself.

The U.S. government learned early on that the road to intense international criticism is paved with good intentions. Only a week after the earthquake, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez characterized the U.S. aid effort, which included bringing food, water and medical support, as well as taking operational control of the Port-au-Prince Airport, as an invasion, arguing that the United States used the earthquake as a pretext for covertly occupying Haiti. Of course, had the United States done nothing in response to the earthquake, Chavez would surely have decried the unconscionability of the world’s superpower doing nothing to help its poor neighbors. In fairness, few reasonably-minded observers take Chavez seriously and his rants are generally seen as just that: rants. But the criticism was also coming from the French, with Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet describing the U.S. relief effort as an “occupation.”

Jan 012010

Journal of International Peace Operations
Volume 5, Number 4, January – February 2010

Sen. Franken

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)

RECENTLY, there has been significant opposition to an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 3326), a bill that would negatively affect the manner in which private contractors are able to engage in dispute-related employment arbitration.  This opposition has been controversial in itself, spawning bits featured prominently on the satirical newscast, The Daily Show, and a web site that viciously attacks senators who opposed the amendment, branding the 30 Republicans who stood against the bill as “pro-rape.”

The amendment can be traced back to 2005, when Jamie Leigh Jones, a Halliburton/KBR contractor working in Iraq, alleged she was drugged, gang raped and then locked up in a shipping container with neither food nor drink for 24 hours.

It goes without saying that rape is a horrendous act of violence. It is a reprehensible instrument of conflict to which, unfortunately, international stability operations industry is no stranger. Combatants employ rape as a tool of violence, power and — as in cases like Darfur and Eastern Congo — genocide. There are no two ways about it: We all agree that rape is a deplorable act.

Thus, how could 30 Republican senators consciously vote against an amendment that could have prevented the rape of a young 20-year-old girl in the Iraqi desert?

Well, they didn’t.

Sep 012009

Journal of International Peace Operations
Volume 5, Number 2 – September-October, 2009

UN Peacekeeper

Are we more concerned about his effectiveness or the color of his hat?

RECENTLY I was invited to take part in a BBC World Service call-in program on whether the African Union should employ private security forces for peacekeeping operations. The discussion was particularly enlightening in demonstrating the pragmatism of those threatened by conflict and their openness to any credible alternative that may alleviate suffering.

It is clear that many Africans are frustrated by the ineffectiveness of international actors in stemming conflict across the continent. The conflicts in Darfur and D.R. Congo, for example, continue to grind along with little, if any, progress. Meanwhile, killings of civilians and the flow of refugees and internally displaced persons continues. Words such as “failure” are now frequently attached to missions of international organizations. Lacking results, there is a clear need for an alternative.

Already, private contractors provide significant support to stability operations in Africa, and have done so for decades. Private companies are active in the reconstruction of Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and in the international peacekeeping missions in Darfur, D.R. Congo and Somalia. Currently, the work undertaken by private companies in these operations includes logistical, training and development support; the security aspect is relatively small and low-level in nature. Could private security support for international stability operations be ramped up?

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