International Relations Government Security

The Even Darker Face of PMCs

Kitbash Private Military Contractors, courtesy of Shaun Wong/flickr

We have all heard about Blackwater and American, English and South-African modern-day “mercenaries” serving in Iraq, protecting targets in the Green Zone and in the Red Zone.
But few of us have heard of the thousands of private military contractors (PMCs) that come from developing countries, such as Uganda or Honduras.

According to some estimates, there are up to 10’000 Ugandans serving in Iraq as security guards.  Poorly paid (about $600 a month), they represent a cheap alternative to the $15’000 a month American guard. According to the former Ugandan state minister for labor, the Iraq war and the associated security business brings Uganda $90 million a year, more than their main export product- coffee. The business is beneficial for both, the sending state and the receiving country.

So Ugandans, among others, are serving as cheap security guards in Iraq – what’s the problem?

Government Environment

A Storm in the Works

Oil, growth and security in Latin America, photo courtesy of Hubert Guyon/flickr

“Peru provides a dramatic example of a growing trend across Latin America where indigenous groups are challenging governments’ economic development programs by raising their voices against extractive industries,” Patricia Vasquez argues in USIP Peace Brief 19.

Across Latin America, economic growth is happening at a steady clip.  Similar to many countries in Africa, sustained growth is spurred by a demand for commodities – think oil, iron, ore, copper, gas, etc. –  needed to feed burgeoning economies, especially those in Asia. Indeed, such growth is counter to the trends happening in other parts of the globe where countries, in particular the United States and members of the EU, continue to grapple with economic contraction that has brought about hard policy decisions in the form of bailouts, stimulus packages, and cuts to social programs. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times noted how this trend has not only surprised analysts but also “surpassed the expectations of many [Latin American] governments themselves.”

Narrowing the focus to Peru, the country I am currently traveling through, the growth is palatable. Though great economic disparities exist and poverty is pronounced one can’t help but feel a buzz in the air – one aided and sustained by the development of Peru’s hydrocarbon areas and plans for expansion in the oil and natural gas sector (ONG). In 2009, as Peru’s GDP experienced over five percent growth, multinational oil and gas companies poured $800 million into the economy – making up for 50 percent of the nations tax revenues. A viable future in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production ensures that another $1 billion will be invested in the next few years.


A Little Advice: Four Tips for BP

Doh! Photo: striatic/flickr

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln or the local neighborhood drunk. Take your pick.

The saying above has saved me from making an dang-blasted idiot of myself numerous times. I strongly recommend that the higher-ups at BP adopt it.

In the latest from the BP School of Disastrous (word intended) Management, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg pulled his tea and crumpets away from this mouth just long enough to shove in his foot and emit this howler: “He [I guess he means CEO Tony “I-Want-My-Life-Back” Hayward] is frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care – but that’s not the case with BP. We care about the small people.”

The small people?

This gaffe came yesterday as Svanberg attempted to issue an apology for the largest offshore spill in US history as he was leaving a White House meeting with US President Barack Obama. He said “the small people” not once, not twice, but three times.

See for yourself here.

Already, Svanberg’s comments are making the rounds.

Any head of any organization who knows anything about US culture should know that using “small people” or “little people” won’t win her or him any gold stars.

Svanberg’s gaffe is taking the heat off of Obama, whose Tuesday speech about the Gulf disaster has been pegged as, well, disastrous.

I have no idea who is advising BP in crisis control, but I’m willing to offer a couple of common sense tips for free.


The Gulf Oil Spill: What We’re Reading

If It Was My Home
Screenshot of oil spill overlay of Zurich area,

If you’re keeping track of the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf of Mexico oil spill, check out these links:

  • David McCandless over at Information is Beautiful has another visual. This one gives visual context to the Deepwater spill, Exxon Valdez and Amoco Candiz spills along with world oil consumption and remaining proven oil reserves.
  • US broadcaster ABC delves into BP’s safety record, while The Boston Globe’s blog The Big Picture brings the catastrophe into focus (some of the images such as the bird mired in oil are sure to become iconic).

How they came up with that, only God knows. Literally.

Government Audio/Video Technology

iWar: Apple’s Military Market

US Marines recharge their army-issue iPods / Photo: Randy,flickr

This week, the biggest names in the mobile phone industry declared war on Apple Inc by forming an alliance to combat the iPhone’s dominance over the apps market. And on Tuesday Microsoft launched a counterattack on the handset with its new Windows Phone 7. The battle waged by rival companies against Apple’s growing monopoly in the world of consumer electronics has become a commonplace media fixture, with the metaphor of war a recurring theme in press coverage.

But outside of the public consumer sphere, Apple’s market has extended to the world of actual warfare. The iPod touch is now being issued to US military personnel due to its multitude of battlefield applications and cost-effectiveness. This single device can be programmed to process the multitude of data of modern warfare, including linking soldiers and drones via wireless internet networks, and as a navigation and translation tool. Apps have been created that allow soldiers to receive intelligence on their local area, translate Arabic, Kurdish and several Afghan languages, and make ballistics calculations.