The ultimate privatisation
"I was a high-class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism"
That's how decorated US Marine Corps General Smedley Butler once defined his military role in his 1935 book War Is A Racket.
State armies have been used to further multinationals' goals in the past - whether the United Fruit Company-sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954 or the various oil companies reaping the rewards of US invasion in Iraq today.
But now even this role is being privatised with PMCs (Private Military Companies) carrying out a dubious legal role in Iraq.
Last month's shootings of 11 Iraqi civilians by employees of Blackwater USA has cast a rare official spotlight on the activities of PMCs in Iraq.
The proliferation of PMCs since the Cold War is part of a new trend, in which private military contractors provide an attractive alternative to international corporations for a range of quasi-military services, from bodyguard and facilities protection, to the provision of military training and weapons to foreign armies.
Such services have often been required by multinationals such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and De Beers in conflict zones that overlap with the extraction of oil, gas, diamonds and other raw materials.
In Colombia, British Petroleum hired the British private contractor Defence Systems Limited (DSL) to protect its oil rigs from left-wing guerrillas - a task that DSL fulfilled with the help of Colombian military officers linked to right-wing death squads.
In Equatorial Guinea, the US company MPRI has helped the thuggish dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema establish a coastguard to protect the oil exploration undertaken by ExxonMobil off its coast. MPRI has also provided military training to the Nigerian army, whose forces have been engaged in suppressing local tribal protests against the exploitation of their resources by international oil companies.
Not surprisingly, the need for PMCs has increased as a result of the 'war on terror', whose frontlines invariably intersect with areas containing raw materials and the routes of oil and gas pipelines.
From Georgia, Chechnya and Iraq and Azerbaijan to Afghanistan, PMCs from various countries are engaged in an array of activities that impact directly on the emerging 'great game' in the Middle East and Central Asia, whether it is protecting oil pipelines, training the Saudi national guard or providing security protection to the Afghan president.
Some PMCs, like Blackwater and MPRI, have amassed formidable military forces in their own right, whose members include top-ranking former military officers.
At the same time PMCs have themselves become like corporations. Where mercenaries and their recruiters were once regarded with contempt, PMCs have attempted to reverse the 'dogs of war' image with slick corporate packaging.
PMC execs such as the millionaire owner of Blackwater Erik Prince and Aegis director Tim Spicer like to use the rhetoric of the war on terror and talk about bringing stability and democracy to a troubled world.
But this agenda has also brought record profits to their own companies, not to mention other corporations that could not have gained access to Iraq without the support of private military companies.
In an age when the Western public is generally reluctant to fight wars of choice, PMCs constitute a new international force patrolling the frontiers of the 'war on terror' for whoever pays. Just as the East India Company once did, corporations will pay for their own armies to fight their own wars and bypass national governments altogether.
Adapted from The First Posthttp://