How do I become a merchant

Dream job war: What mercenaries risk, what they earn - and why there are always more

In the city of Moyock in the US state of North Carolina, by an artificially created pond with a gently curved bank, there is a monument: the cast in bronze figure of a little boy with his arms clutching a folded American flag.

It is a war memorial dedicated to the “memory of our fallen brothers and heroes”. The dead, mourned here, are not soldiers of the US armed forces, but employees of the security company Blackwater. You could also call them “mercenaries”. They are ennobled by their employer with a quote from the 6th book of Isaiah. “And I heard the Lord's voice saying, Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? ”It says. "But I said: Here I am, send me!"

It is not God who sends his own into battle. Not even a state. But profit-oriented commercial enterprises.

The state monopoly on the use of force is crumbling on all continents. Security and order, previously the responsibility of governments, have become one of the most lucrative branches of business in the globalized economy. The once sharp dividing line between property rights and sovereign rights no longer applies. The public and the private flow into one another. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, states have even withdrawn from warfare - a development the consequences of which can hardly be foreseen.

Not far from the Blackwater consecration site is a 25 square kilometer military training area, including several shooting ranges and a recreated town for realistically practicing house-to-house combat scenarios. This week, starting November 27th, the course "Protective Specialist Level II" for personal and property protection is scheduled. What to bring: two handguns, 4000 rounds of ammunition, ten plastic handcuffs. Cost: $ 1,250.

Big in business. Those who have completed the course will soon be able to put their know-how into practice. Most likely in Iraq, where Blackwater is big in business. The company is one of the world's largest security companies - and thus to an industry that has only been paid attention in this country since the 25-year-old Upper Austrian Bert Nussbaumer was kidnapped on November 16 in southern Iraq.

PSCs (Private Security Companies) and PMCs (Private Military Companies) are recording almost astronomical growth rates. International estimates assume that the industry wins orders with a volume of between 100 and 200 billion dollars per year - and the trend is rising. "As far as private security companies and armies are concerned, we are probably only at the beginning of a far-reaching development," suspects Brigadier Walter Feichtinger, head of the Institute for Peacekeeping and Conflict Management (IFK) in the Ministry of Defense.

In the first Iraq war in 1991, only around 50 private soldiers and security advisors were under contract from the anti-Saddam coalition. Today, three and a half years after the US invasion, there are around 20,000 working for around 160 companies. After the US contingent of 150,000 US soldiers, the private security companies represent the second largest armed foreign group in Iraq.

After the end of the Cold War, the world map rearranged itself. Many states fell apart. Both in the west and in the east, the state armies shrank. In his book "Corporate Warriors", the military expert PW Singer explains that there are around seven million fewer soldiers worldwide today than in 1989. The US army now has a third fewer than when the West and the Eastern Bloc were armed against each other . At the beginning of the 21st century, the threat picture changed. The danger of interstate wars has diminished. Ethnic conflicts and terrorist threats have increased.

Bloody craft. Modern societies are overwhelmed when regular soldiers die, analyzes US political scientist Edward Lutwak. Because the fewer children a family has on average, the more valuable each one becomes. Thus an oversupply of military personnel meets the need to spare society the bloody craft of war. The result: Since the beginning of the 1990s, there has hardly been an armed conflict in the world from Albania to Zimbabwe that does not give companies a profit.

According to a study by the World Bank, civil wars usually break out where there is poverty. From 1991, Sierra Leone was terrorized by rebels who tortured, raped and indiscriminately massacred civilians. After four years the government was on the brink, and the soldiers ran over to the rebels in droves. But in 1995 the tide turned. Completely surprisingly, an unknown force attacked the rebels from the air and on the ground; within a few weeks they were evicted.

It soon became clear that the government had been helped by employees of the private mercenary broker Executive Outcomes - a company founded in South Africa in the early 1990s by the British Simon Mann. Two years ago, Mann hit the headlines again - he was arrested while preparing for a coup in Equatorial Guinea.

The civil war zones of West Africa became an Eldorado for profit-oriented warlords. In the armed conflict in Angola, Singer counted more than 80 private companies. The African country also hired executive outcomes experts in 1993. Not only did they train the state army, but they also flew attacks against insurgents. In the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Russian pilots hired on both sides were deployed in fighter jets - and some of them met in the air.

But the privatization of the war is not limited to the black continent. Wherever states no longer provide sufficient security, sales markets open up. During the Balkan Wars, Croatia was advised by the US company Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI). In the Kosovo conflict, the American troops were assisted by Brown & Root Services from Texas.

Mercenaries are in the service of their employers. They hardly know any political or ideological reservations. Its customers include states as well as rebels, aid organizations, NGOs and UN troops.

London is an important hub for all types of military and security services. The British Navy outsourced the training courses for their nuclear-powered submarines to private individuals. In 2001, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would completely outsource parts of the military: including the maintenance of the Royal Air Force or the unit responsible for refueling fighter jets in the air. Both areas played a crucial role in Kosovo in 1998 and in the Afghanistan conflict in 2001. The US government, in turn, hired Dyncorp and East Inc. for the anti-drug fight in Colombia. The irony of the story: the bosses of the cartels also use private mercenaries to arm themselves.

Fighter, protector. Science has long since taken on the phenomenon - and tries to differentiate. Because the term “mercenary” does not adequately describe the members of the industry.

On the one hand, there are the PSCs, the private security companies. They are primarily concerned with defensive tasks: the protection of people and objects (politicians, freight transport and oil facilities, for example). There are also the PMCs - the private military companies. They also take on combat missions.

In practice, the two divisions are difficult to separate from each other. What do guards who protect a building of the Iraqi government in the Sunni rebel area, who are attacked every day and try to repel the attackers? Where is the line between defensive and offensive?

Not least because of this, professional security companies do everything they can to free themselves from the smell of mercenary. The British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC), an association of 14 security companies, recently held a congress in London. The reputable providers - according to their own definition - wanted to miss out on a code of conduct. The US counterpart of the BAPSC, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), of which Blackwater is a member, did this a long time ago.

Only those who appear absolutely serious can hope for lucrative orders from governments. At the same time, especially in Iraq, the military is completely dependent on private individuals. “The armed forces cannot go to war without their support,” says political scientist Deborah Avant of George Washington University. Security companies take care of the maintenance of tanks, fighter jets and helicopters; they build troop shelters and runways; or they train and educate local soldiers and police officers - both in legal matters and in weapon systems. In the correct conduct of interrogations, but also in interrogation tactics. Or torture, depending on how you see it.

According to an investigation report by the US Army, employees of the American mercenary companies Caci International and Titan Corp were involved in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. A Caci employee reportedly harassed dogs on prisoners, withheld pain medication from an injured prisoner and forced another to wear women's clothes for humiliation. It was only last May, three years after the start of the war, that the US Department of Defense issued a decree obliging contractors of the Pentagon to abide by the Geneva Convention.

Private companies operate in a gray area. The critical voices are increasing. After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, ex-general Jay Garner took office as the official head of the occupying power in the spring of 2003. He was guarded by a unit of the British security company Global Risk Strategies. "That was the Genesis," Garner recalled to the "New York Times". The uprising soon hit the Americans and British, and the transitional government hired private security companies to secure their bases.

No debate. Garner was replaced by Paul Bremer, the private bodyguards remained. The number of attacks on Western facilities increased rapidly. The Pentagon was outsourcing more and more of the tasks that US troops usually do to private individuals. This development was withheld from the public. There was no debate, no official government decision. The Ministry of Defense only let it be known that the security companies “did not take on any military functions in the strict sense”.

But reality looks different.

In April 2004, security personnel from the US company Triple Canopy were involved in acts of war with the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi army, which attacked the US base in the eastern Iraqi city of Kut. According to eyewitness reports, the skirmish with hundreds of insurgents met all the criteria of a "military function in the narrower sense". It ended with the escape of the Triple Canopy mercenaries, supported by US attack helicopters.

It had been worse for four Blackwater wage earners weeks earlier. They had accompanied a supply truck to a US military base and had been shot by insurgents. The mob dragged their bodies through the streets, tied to cars, and hung them on a bridge in Fallujah.

A few days later, Blackwater helicopters intervened when Shiite militiamen in Najaf, southern Iraq, attacked the provincial government headquarters, which were guarded by US marines. The helicopters brought ammunition supplies for the defenders and flew an injured GI.

Twelve US senators wrote a letter to the now resigned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "Security in a contested area is a classic military mission," they warned. Rumsfeld had ideological reasons for outsourcing. His ideal was a lean, flexible army that had all logistical tasks done by suppliers. There was also a problem: The strategist of the Iraq war did not want to admit that the troop contingents sent were no longer sufficient in view of the anarchy in the country. With more and more US soldiers being killed in Iraq, an increase in troops would have been difficult to enforce. Mercenaries came in handy.

Occupational risk. To be kidnapped or killed is an occupational risk for them. They're paid well for it: salaries range from $ 500 to $ 1,500 a day. He gets 800 dollars on his hand, said the Styrian Mario M. profil in 2004 at a chance encounter in the Baghdad foreigners hotel Rimal. The 33-year-old's job was to protect a US expert on local politics while traveling to the province. "You don't think about the danger," said the former army soldier: "You concentrate on the job, and that's it."

The US armed forces have so far recorded over 3,100 deaths. Statistically speaking, security company employees in Iraq are almost as likely to die as regular soldiers.

Nobody knows the exact number of mercenaries, the companies operate in Iraq without a license. Companies commissioned by the Pentagon conclude contracts with subcontractors; no government agency exercises effective control. Due to an Iraqi law that dates back to the time of the American transitional government, foreign mercenaries are not subject to Iraqi criminal law, so they can only be prosecuted under international or US criminal law. But how should Iraqis - often complained about - report attacks? According to press reports, there have been hundreds of cases in which security personnel have shot civilians.

The more dangerous the situation in Iraq becomes, the more the need for risk-takers increases. Security companies will hardly have to worry about orders in the future either. In Iraq, the chaos will not end in the foreseeable future - and the World Bank has rated 60 countries internationally as “Licus” (Low Income Countries Under Stress), i.e. potential sources of conflict. And thus as markets of hope for mercenaries.

By Edith Meinhart, Martin Staudinger and Robert TreichlerCollaboration: Gregor Mayer