Blackwater Oath: a pledge to the sovereign or a play to look more American?

A long time ago the prevailing military doctrine dictated a strong officer corps to lead men into battle. With the rise of nationalism, improvements in tactics and technology, and increasing institutionalization (or bureaucratization) of the state, new ways ofpositioning the military within civil society appeared. Instrumental to this was an advanced officer corps reinforcing and promulgating the hierarchy of the civil authority over the military through the enshrinement of professionalism and ethics. Pledges to the state and/or nation and/or tribe were exceptionally important in the field of honorable men (and now women, of course).

Since the Iraq War, there has been a severe increase in the use of private military forces. Variously called "security companies" or "military firms" or "providers", they provide capabilities held almost exclusively by forces of the state for nearly two centuries.

This trend is the result of far deeper issues than fiscal arguments, has recently taken an ominous change. One of the largest private security firms providing 'tip of the spear' combat capabilities to the Iraqi and Afghani theatres, Blackwater, recently announced that

"all officers, employees, and independent contractors of Blackwater USA (including Prince Group affiliates) who are required to have a security clearance will take the same oath to support and defend the Constitution as is required by law for our United States government clients." (Blackwater email 19 September 2005)

The memorandum, archived here on this website (modified only to provide searchable text), intentionally or unintentionally blurs the line between private and public forces. More importantly, it highlights the limits of legal accountability of these troops in the international arena. The noble attempt by Mr. Prince to hold members accountable to oaths does nothing to hold his employees and contractors accountable to the same or similar legal system that the honorable soldiers of our Armed Forces, who are paid far less, are held to.

The hyperbole of this statement, while probably made as an honest and patriotic gesture, undermines our national security by creating the impression of a shadow military capable of effectively carrying out the foreign policy of the United States. It does more to exemplify the failure to properly understand what our foreign policy and how best to conduct relations to secure the peace by appearing to strengthen the validity and legality of outsourced and indirect means to the uncertain end.