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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who You Gonna Call?

No, not Ghostbusters. Get your head out of the eighties, pal.

You’re gonna call Blackwater--that is, you will if you have a very specific set of needs that generally don’t include finding the Keymaster or defending the world from the minions of Zuul. If you need a paramilitary outfit with global reach and capabilities to take on some dangerous, tough jobs, though, keep Blackwater on your speed dial. This even goes for left-leaning activists, apparently.

Mia Farrow, the actress and activist, has asked Blackwater, the US private security company active in Iraq, for help in Darfur after becoming frustrated by the stalled deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Ms Farrow said she had approached Erik Prince, founder and owner of Blackwater, to discuss whether a military role was either feasible or desirable.

She acknowledged that many people might have reservations about Blackwater being involved in Darfur – the company’s men were involved in the fatal shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians last September – but said the threat of violence to refugees meant all options had to be explored.

“The people in the camps would say ‘we don’t care whether it’s Blackwater, any-water, as long as they help us’,” she told the Financial Times.

I recognize the concern many people have about subcontracting military functions to a group like Blackwater. In fact, I share those concerns. I find this approach from a charitable, non-government organization intriguing, though. Could Blackwater play a part of peacekeeper in Darfur? If so, would they be acting on a charitable level or a more mercenary level? Would they even be able to provide a good solution to the problem?

Without a willingness and the authority to take action--violent, decisive action--I’m not sure that any peacekeeper presence is going to make a significant difference. And that kind of action could precipitate a much larger confrontation. Does anyone have the will to stick through that kind of a military action right now?

Read the story.

For the record, Farrow represents Dream for Darfur, although I am unsure whether her approach to Blackwater was an official approach or not. When I called Dream for Darfur, I was given the number of their media representative. He didn’t answer his phone and has yet to return my call; if he does get back to me, I’ll update this post if necessary.

Update: I just spoke with Jonathan Freedman, the media contact for Dream for Darfur, who actually confirmed most of the story. Mia Farrow has been in contact with Erik Prince (although she has never personally met with him). She and the organization are reiterating their stance that they are willing to talk to anyone who can help provide security--and although the word “peacekeeping” was used, I have a feeling that they might be speaking more about a security roll, especially after consideration of what Robin wrote in the comments.

Freedman was very clear that there is no partnership with Blackwater at this time, but neither are they really backing away from the story. I was considering writing something a bit bigger on the subject, but, honestly, there’s not much story in this so I think I’ll leave it where it sits. While I don’t always agree with either methodology, tone, or some of the chosen targets of the Darfur activists, I admire their cause. I also admire the streak of pragmatism that allows them to approach a group like Blackwater that has been demonized in the media over the last few years.

And here’s a link for folks in Denver who want to join a Dreams for Darfur protest in hopes of forcing some large corporations into pressuring China to use their leverage to help end the genocide in Darfur.

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Blackwater and similar outfits do a lot of security work for UN and NGO’s.  Defending warehouses of aid, aid convoys, principal protection, etc.  That’s been the major source of their business before the Iraq operation itself.  However, actually peacekeeping rather than security work is not really feasible in the current international law environment.  They would be then engaging in roles that would make them mercenaries and subject to the penalties in int’l agreements regarding same.

on Jun 19 2008 @ 08:36 AM

I guess that would make it an inappropriate suggestion, then.

Just spoke with their media guy and he’s promising to get back to me later with more information. He said, in short, that she was misquoted but that he has yet to speak with her today. I’ll be curious to see what he has to say later in the day.

on Jun 19 2008 @ 08:48 AM

Pathetically off topic....when the boys were little, I would stand in whatever given doorway they were close to and when they’d see me there, I would get that STERN look on my face and they’d say, “I am the Keymaster!” to which I’d reply, “And I am the Gatekeeper!”

And we all had a good chuckle.

That is all.

on Jun 19 2008 @ 02:37 PM

Cute. And still on topic. Mostly.

on Jun 19 2008 @ 02:58 PM

Interestingly, I’ve just been studying this sort of issue on a very superficial level.
Basically, to do peacekeeping, you need to make sure you have legitimacy, which means that you international support and at least a modicum of consent between both (all?) parties in the conflict.  You also need to be very cautious to maintain neutrality, i.e., you can’t be seen to favor one side or the other.  Now, Peace Enforcement allows you to be a little more directive, a little less neutral.

But in all those potential issues, there is a huge question: deadly force.  If a Blackwater employee used deadly force, who would be responsible?  Would the nation of Sudan consider him a murderer and pursue a conviction?  Would any nation shield that employee from legal jeopardy?  Right now, I don’t think any nation would be willing to do so, and that would put Blackwater in an extremely untenable situation.  I can’t see them doing peacekeeping or peace enforcement under current circumstances.  Even providing security is going to have some sticky wickets…

on Jun 20 2008 @ 06:56 AM

Somali looking for mercs to combat pirates.

on Jun 22 2008 @ 08:27 PM
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