Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Post-Heroism And The Possibilities For Private Warriors In Syria

       The international community is faced with a difficult dilemma when it comes to the civil war in Syria. For the first time since the Rwandan Genocide there are no nations willing to completely engage in a terrible conflict which is killing thousands. The use of targeted strikes or no-fly-zones may help (or may make things worse!) but without putting boots on the ground there is no may to bring the conflict to an end. In a perfect world this job would fall to the UN but it is currently being stymied by Russia's alliance with the Syrian government and China's continued obstruction to intervention.

      Post-Heroic Theory comes into it's own when looking at the motivations of the nations embroiled in the intervention negotiations. It argues that nations who have suffered great military defeats or psychologically damaging events change there national psyche to reflect them. For example, the USA's traumatic defeat in the early stages of the Battle of Mogadishu (the infamous Black Hawk Down incident) made the American government and public afraid to lead any intervention into the Rwandan Genocide.

     The disastrous invasion of Iraq and the soul-sucking war in Afghanistan have had similar effects on the USA, UK and France, the nations normally at the forefront of international intervention. They balked at conducting ground operation against the Libyan government and contented themselves with air strikes and arms dealing and the outlook for a Syrian campaign look even worse. The UK has refused to take part along with other NATO nations such as Germany. France and the US have taken the decision to their respective legislatures, a completely different approach to all military activity since the start of the century. The old belligerents have entered a new phase of Post-Heroic soul searching and, without there help, local forces from the Arab nations could do little against Assad.

     However, if competent Western forces refrain from offering ground support then there is another option for intervening forces attempting to establish safe zones or conduct other ground interventions. The deployment of Private Military Companies (financed by the states unwilling to provide troops) could be a viable alternative. They are capable soldiers, often employed from special forces of Western states  who also have access to advanced weaponry, intelligence capabilities, vehicles and air power. Working along side under-trained and under-funded local forces they could provide backbone and other assets which, without Western involvement would be impossible to obtain.

    There are several examples of interventions in which PMCs have played an active role and, indeed, succeeded in bringing warring parties to the negotiating table. In Sierra Leone a South African company, Executive Outcomes, turned the brutal Revolutionary Untied Front (RUF) rebels from the doorstep of the capital, recaptured the vital diamond fields and forced them to negotiate an armistice with the government. This success was not only achieved at a fraction of the cost of the later UN mission but with greater professionalism and speed.

    While it is unlikely that the US will not take part in the Syrian conflict they will most likely not take part in combat operations if regional forces mount ground operations. It is arguable that utilising PMCs offer another option for Western states, a third way between pointless hand wringing and facing their fears over losing even more troops in another foreign war.

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