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IA-Forum Interview: Doug Brooks
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Shaun Randol caught up with Doug Brooks, founder and president of the International Peace Operations Association, at the Marcus Evans 4th Annual Reconstruction and Stabilization Conference in Arlington, VA on Feb. 19. International Affairs Forum: What is the objective of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA)? Doug Brooks: From the beginning it’s been to make peacekeeping stability operations successful. IA-Forum: So who are the members? And who can and cannot be a member? Mr Brooks: Basically, they are service companies that work in the field. That’s kind of the focus. Now, it’s expanded a little beyond that to include companies that support service companies, so we have insurance and law firms for example, but they are essentially supporting these companies that provide services in the field, in peacekeeping and stability operations. IA-Forum: Could you briefly discuss how IPOA’s Code of Conduct came about and what it entails? Mr Brooks: [In 2000] Sierra Leoneans were essentially terrified because they did not trust the UN in any military sense of the word. Sierra Leoneans are the most realistic people about security, and it was clear that the UN could not do security… They wanted [private military firm] Executive Outcomes to come back… and provide security because the British weren’t going to be there. They liked how the private companies were operating. PAE was there, ICI was there, DynCorp was there; if it moved or fixed or was done, it was done by these companies. So they wanted private security to come in and protect the country. We got together all these NGOs… and we basically had a convention. And we said, “Alright, if we’re going to hire private security, what sort of rules and regulations should we make sure are there? What sort of codes?” And we hammered some out, some points. They can’t do this, they can’t do that, we don’t want them to do this. I took this, it was about a two-page document then, to some of the security companies. And the idea was they would give their feedback, and we’d come up with some sort of compromise document. But every company I talked to said, “don’t change a word—it’s fine. Everything these NGOs, human rights organizations, human rights lawyers want—that’s all fine.” That was 2000, we adopted it in 2001. …We update it every couple of years, roughly. …We always get a lot of input from the NGO community. We had essentially a convention on the Code of Conduct about six months ago where we went over and hammered through all the points. Ultimately the companies decide what goes into the Code of Conduct, but we made sure we had a lot of input from the NGO community and I think they appreciated that. They may still have some issues with the Code of Conduct and that’s fair, but we like to get their feedback on it and we accommodate it as much as we can. …Any company that joins has to agree to abide by the Code of Conduct. The complaints process is online, anybody can make a complaint—anybody can make a complaint. IA-Forum: The Code of Conduct refers to international documents like the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a few others. One that I noticed isn’t there is the fairly recent, 2001 UN Mercenary Convention. Mr Brooks: It doesn’t apply to our member companies actually. The UN’s Working Group on Mercenaries—that’s a whole other topic I could talk about ad nauseam. It’s the definition that they use from the Geneva Conventions. And if you read the definition it really doesn’t apply to our companies. …Six different items all have to apply. I asked [then] Chairman, Mr. [Jose Luis Gomez] del Prado, “Does the UN hire mercenaries?” …His boss was right behind him from the human rights section of the UN in Geneva, and his boss cut in and he said, “No, let’s be perfectly clear on this: the UN does not and has not hired mercenaries.” Okay. Most of our companies work for the UN. It’s very clear they don’t consider them mercenaries. IA-Forum: I ask this question because the M-word is the big word that floats around the media— Mr Brooks: It’s a derogatory term… The real definition of a “mercenary” is a foreigner or a business person that we don’t like. That is a real definition of “mercenary,” and that’s how, when you look how it’s used in the press, that’s where it comes from. I have a slide that shows statues of these guys, these foreigners who worked for the U.S. in the Revolutionary War. There are statues in Lafayette Park across from the White House. I think by many people’s—certainly the British—definition those guys were mercenaries. They were from Poland, France, Russia, whatever—not by the American definition. We liked those guys. So yea, it’s a derogatory term. It really has no relevance and any journalist who uses it is really showing they’re more about the form than reality. It’s an emotional appeal. …And actually for academics it’s the same thing. You see a lot of papers and proposals, things like that—they always use the mercenary word. It’s a quick way to get some attention. If you end up saying this is not a valid word then you just made a really boring dissertation. IA-Forum: One of the stipulations in the UN definition of a mercenary is a third country national hired to work in a country where it’s home state has no interest— Mr Brooks: Right, if they’re brought specifically to fight in a war. If they’re just doing security, they’re not fighting in the war. In fact, one of the really interesting things about Iraq where obviously these companies do get shot at quite a bit, they’re not allowed to fight in combat, [but] they can defend themselves. IA-Forum: So mercenarism is more of an offensive thing? Mr Brooks: That’s the way we see it. In the Geneva Conventions there is no difference between offensive and defensive combat, which is pretty interesting. The way it’s sort of come down and been sorted out by the international community is it really does make that differentiation. IA-Forum: I see, because in Iraq and where most of these private companies are providing security they do not have a mandate to “shoot first.” Mr Brooks: Well, not necessarily, and that’s an interesting point. They have something called the Rules for the Use of Force which boils down to three things: It allows for self-defense, which is normal. It allows for defense for whatever is in your contract that you’re hired to protect, which could be person, place or thing—the noun that you’re hired to protect. And interestingly in Iraq it allows for the defense of Iraqi civilians under mortal threat; that’s the three times you’re allowed to use lethal force. Now, what does that mean in Iraq? Well, it’s changing. Things are a lot better in Iraq than they used to be, but one of the big issues was of VBIEDs—vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, and SVBIEDs—suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices. One of the complaints in Congress was that the security companies were opening fire first, in I don’t’ know what percentage of the incidences. The reason for that is because these suicide bombers would drive up into a convoy and detonate. And so you are allowed to fire first if you perceive this as a threat. …There may be warning shots fired, depending on the organization. Sometimes they were allowed, sometimes they were not allowed, because when you have warning shots you have bullets flying around that could cause casualties, and there’s a lot of debate on that. There were warning signs. There were hand signals, there’s a whole escalation of force which was built into the [Rules for the Use of Force] which could involve flares, strobe lights, hand waving, whatever. There are all sorts of things that you signal somebody that they’re becoming a threat or being perceived as a threat. IA-Forum: Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill started the Commission on Wartime Contracting whose initial report is due in March. One of the things they are trying to determine is which items and tasks are “inherently governmental.” Do you have thoughts on this phrase? Mr Brooks: It really doesn’t make that much of a difference to the industry. I think ultimately it will come down to making decisions. Our industry does not make decisions, they respond to requirements from the government; the government makes a decision to do an operation and it is companies that are brought in to make that happen, and bring in those skill sets and capabilities and given task orders to do these things. IA-Forum: One of the things I think of when I hear “inherently governmental” when it comes to wartime operations is that if it’s absolutely “mission critical” then it’s “inherently governmental.” Mr Brooks: Contractors have been doing “mission critical” stuff [for] years. If you remember WWII there was the USS Yorktown which was damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea, comes back to Pearl Harbor, was getting fixed but they needed it for the Midway campaign. So it sails out of the harbor, its’ still got a thousand workers, civilians, working on the deck. It’s hard to say those guys weren’t “mission critical” trying to get the aircraft carrier working again. IA-Forum: One example that comes to my mind immediately is the supply line that’s going from Karachi to Afghanistan—it’s run entirely by private contractors. Mr Brooks: [The U.S. military has] always had some sort of aspect of private support. I think the U.S. military can do a lot of things on its own that it isn’t doing right now, because it finds it’s a lot easier, cheaper, faster and better to use contractors, to be cooks for example. I mean, the military has its own cooks, and if you’re a forwardly deployed Marine, you probably had either MREs [meals ready to eat] or military cooks. [Soldiers] loved going to the main bases, I’ve talked to them about this, because they get the [private contractor] KBR food and that was fantastic. But most of the time at least the combat units are up on the line and they’re not getting that kind of support. I think what’s interesting, Peter Singer in his book [Corporate Warriors], it’s kind of funny, he always starts his contractor thing mentioning the first Gulf War where you had 5,000 contractors, and then he points to now where you have 200,000 contractors. And so you have this incredibly steep arc, but the first Gulf War was fifteen minutes long, and the military tried to do all the stuff itself. You had guys who were on the front line in the middle of the desert in the build-up to the war, getting MREs for six months and the last month they’re getting only one kind of MRE—lasagna, that’s it… It was Army logistics. It worked. They were being fed, no complaints there. Were they being well fed? Could they have done a lot better if they had civilians? Probably, but they didn’t want to do it at that point for whatever reason. I think there were some other possible concerns, so the military can do that if it needs to. IA-Forum: One of the concerns that I think about, for example, in running the supply line, is if the going gets too tough, what’s to stop the company from just quitting? Mr Brooks: [You are referring to the book] Betraying Our Troops? It’s about KBR and [it] talks about four or five incidents where KBR convoys refused to go because the risk was too high. …That’s over four years; it doesn’t happen that often. It does happen; I think it’s important that combatant commanders keep that in mind, that contractors can essentially quit or not do things that are too risky, that’s true. The flip side to that is that happens in the military as well. In the military, convoys on at least two occasions [in the current Iraq war] refused orders—which means you can be shot—refused orders because the risk was too high. …If in five years you have three or four times where individual convoys haven’t been made—that’s’ really nothing. IA-Forum: You spoke at the conference of the need for better and clearer regulation, oversight, and accountability. Is the Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the right step? Mr Brooks: No, SOFA is different. Almost all our companies work in other countries besides conflict and post-conflict environments. They always operate under local law, which is normal. When you have a contingency operation, when you’re operating in a weak or a failed state, the legal system may not be up to international standards. Are you going to bring in people from around the world to provide skill sets that are necessary to do the reconstruction knowing that there is a severely flawed (in some cases) legal system? Would you go into eastern Congo and say, “Okay, all these Americans that we want to hire, be they engineers or whatever, are going to be under Congolese law where there is no law?” You can’t do that. You have to have some alternative. You have to have an effective legal system that you can apply to these third country nationals and Americans and so on that are going to do this line of work so that they don’t get railroaded, or so that there isn’t a politically motivated trial, or something related more to the politics of the situation than the actual reconstruction. …It’s interesting that SOFA specifically gives protection to military and State Department civilians, but not to the Americans working as contractors. …Is there a double-standard here? I think that was problematic. …The other point I guess I should make is that a number of IPOA companies are actually working directly for the Iraqi government and have been, and are thus under Iraqi law already, but they’re ex-pats and they’re Americans and so on, and they’ve not had any problems. I don’t think it’ll be that much of an issue, we just don’t know now. The other thing I guess I would point out is that most contractors are locals. Of 200,000 contractors, probably 60% are local nationals in Iraq, and they’ve always been under Iraqi law, for better or worse, and you can’t change that. IA-Forum: Is the Montreux Document (1) a precursor to an international convention? Mr Brooks: I don’t think so [but] it’s really important. DCAF [Democratic Control of Armed Forces] in Geneva, an NGO, has two projects going: One is to follow up and get more states agreeing to [the Montreux Document], and the other is to follow up with the companies, with the industry, and make sure that the good practices that came out of the document are put to good use. If you look at version twelve of [IPOA’s] Code of Conduct, we’ve already adopted most of the good practices and incorporated them. And we have our own “Rules on the Use of Force” which is going to be coming out shortly [and] will be a sample Rules for the Use of Force, similar to the one I told you about for Iraq. It will be a model that you can take to other countries, and any client can simply say, “We will use this model.” Tweak it a little to the local situation, but basically it instructs the clients on what sort of rules of force you should have. It instructs companies if you’re going to be doing this. If your client’s not giving you an RUF, here’s one that we believe that fits in with the Montreux Document and international law. That’ll be real important. That’ll set a real standard that everybody will be able to tap into. IA-Forum: What if a couple of big NGOs, say the Red Cross and a Christian relief organization, got together and pooled their money and hired a private company to set up protection services in Sudan for example? Mr Brooks: A number of the genocide NGOs have talked about this. IA-Forum: But nobody’s pulled that trigger, so to speak. Mr Brooks: Yea, and the money’s not that expensive. It would obviously raise some eyebrows and for some of the NGOs their donor base would probably react negatively to pushing this kind of concept, but it has been considered and there have been some ideas pushed around about how this could be done. And we’re not talking about going after the bad guys in the case of Darfur; we’re talking about protecting civilians. We do have companies doing security for IDP [internally displaced persons] camps in other countries. Not quite as risky, perhaps, as Darfur, but it can be done. Politically it’s a hell of a lot easier than sending troops in as we have seen over the past five years in Darfur. There are enormous ideological issues related to using private security, that’s just the blunt reality. You know that there are some people in the press that are immediately going to label these guys mercenaries—you know nothing good could come out of it, no matter what they do. We’ve been big proponents of humanitarian security. Again, it’s not the Executive Outcomes or Sandline model that we’re talking about—it’s a protective thing. A number of security companies we’ve talked to would love to do humanitarian security. And it’s very strange that the UN uses private security for their warehouses or personnel or their own headquarters, but they don’t use private security to protect people. IA-Forum: Kofi Annan floated the idea for Rwanda, but it landed like a lead balloon. Mr Brooks: The UN contacted [Executive Outcomes] and said, “Could you end the genocide in Rwanda?” This was probably about two weeks into the genocide when nobody else in the world was willing to go in there, to deploy their military. And so EO is sort of between assignments… They said, “Yea, we could do that.” …They got the tickets and were about to head to New York and got another phone call saying the deal’s off. Shortly afterwards Kofi Annan would famously say, “Maybe the world’s not ready to privatize human security.” (1) The result of a joint initiative between the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, The Montreux Document on Pertinent International Legal Obligations and Good Practices for States Related to Operations of Private Military and Security Companies During Armed Conflict, outlines 27 obligations for states, private companies and their employees operating in armed conflict. It was signed in September 2008 by 17 states: Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iraq, Poland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Ukraine, and the U.S. Doug Brooks is the founder and president of the International Peace Operations Association. He is a specialist in African security issues and has written extensively on the regulation and constructive utilization of the private sector for international stabilization, peacekeeping, and humanitarian missions. http://www.ipoaonline.org/.

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