P.W. Singer
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
02:50

P.W. Singer on Holding Private Militaries Accountable

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The author explains the difference between working in a war and serving in a war.

P.W. Singer

Peter Warren Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is the youngest scholar named Senior Fellow in Brookings' 90-year history. In 2005, CNN named him to their "New Guard" List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. Singer has also been recognized by the Financial Times as "Guru of the Week" for the thinker that most influenced the world that week and by Slate Magazine for "Quote of the Day." In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the Obama-08 campaigns' defense policy task force.

His first book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry pioneered the study of the new industry of private companies providing military services for hire, an issue that soon became important with the use and abuse of these companies in Iraq. His next book, Children at War explored the rise of another new force in modern warfare, child soldier groups. Dr. Singer's "fascinating" (New York Post) and "landmark" (Newsweek) work was the first book to comprehensively explore the compelling and tragic rise of child soldier groups and was recognized by the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book of the Year Award.

His third book, Wired for War looks at the implications of robotics and other new technologies for war, politics, ethics, and law in the 21st century. Described as: "An exhaustively researched book, enlivened by examples from popular culture" by the Associated Press and "awesome" by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show,  Wired for War made the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in its first week of release. It has already been featured in the video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot, as well as in presentations to audiences as diverse as the Air Force Institute of Technology to the National Student Leadership Conference.

Prior to his current position, Dr. Singer was the founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings. He has also worked for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, the Balkans Task Force in the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Peace Academy. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Transcript

Question: How are private soldiers different from volunteer soldiers?

Singer:    The challenge of the private military industry is that they work for you, they don’t serve for you.  That is, the structures under which they operate, they’re hired.  They are not part of the government.  They don’t take an oath of service, for example.  And so, you have contractual bounds with them but that’s as far as it goes.  And so, when it comes to accountability, there is a limitation in which you can apply to a company.  Company has its own discretion.  It’s not like a military unit that says, you know what, “Sir, yes, Sir.  We’ll go where we’re deployed.”  A company takes decisions based on its own interest.  Does it mean it always takes bad decisions, in many cases, it’ll take even better decisions than a public entity would.  But it got its own interest in mind.  And it’s the same thing for a private soldier.  They are an employee.  That is, they have discretion on when and where they work.  So, for example, if they want to break the contract, they can.  And they can’t be prosecuted for breaking a contract.  And they can break the contract for any sorts of reasons, maybe because they get a better job offer from somewhere else.  It can be because their wife has a baby, and you know what, they want to go home and see them.  It can be that, you know, Iraq isn’t the vacation paradise I thought it was going to be.  Soldiers, public soldiers don’t have that discretion.  And it’s the same thing when it comes to the rule of law.  There have been a wide variety of laws that we think can apply to these companies but they’ve been very difficult to figure out how they apply to them in the midst of war, because the laws are typically set up for civilians, not for soldiers operating in a war space.  And then, you later, on top of that, we haven’t had a whole lot of political will to deal with it.  That is, we’ve known about incidents but haven’t chosen to prosecute them.  And hopefully, that’s something that’s going to change.  Hopefully, you’ll have this vacuum.  And when I say vacuum, it’s not just my words, it’s actually what military lawyers describe.  It describe that for a long time, contractors were in the same legal void, the same legal netherworld that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were in.  It was as if they don’t exist to the law.  Hopefully, those are starting to close down and you see more and more laws starting to be applied.  But the real question is, do you have enforcement?  Rules aren’t rules unless there’s enforcement on top of it. 

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