Academic journal article Social Justice

From Cowboy Detectives to Soldiers of Fortune: Private Security Contracting and Its Contradictions on the New Frontiers of Capitalist Expansion

Academic journal article Social Justice

From Cowboy Detectives to Soldiers of Fortune: Private Security Contracting and Its Contradictions on the New Frontiers of Capitalist Expansion

Article excerpt

Statesmen, diplomats, business leaders, aristocrats, fascinated by their profession, invited the Pinkertons to their dinner tables and in time accepted them as the law in America, a land they viewed as part frontier. Within a decade the Agency had changed from a unique private American firm of bounty hunters to a sophisticated organization of international law-enforcement officers.--Horan (1967: 255)

Still, for every economic hand wringer, there is at least one cowboy capitalist ready to tame the new frontier. "It's like Texas in 1879," said Ihsan Hussein Ali, who was not sure why he chose to cite that year in particular. There are no rules.--Vieth (2003)

THIS SPECIAL ISSUE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE EXAMINES THE CURRENT RECRUDESCENCE, global expansion, and market concentration of the private security industry. (1) Today s private security boom is to a large extent powered by the revival of an old service for new markets: assisting in original accumulation. Private security has once again been called upon to help conquer new frontiers for capitalist exploitation, assisting with primitive accumulation in a transnational neoliberal project that proceeds largely through "accumulation by dispossession" (Harvey, 2003: 67). (2) The neoliberal (3) economic policies of global privatization and economic deregulation currently championed by the U.K. and the U.S.--coupled with the "war on terrorism" (which is substantially an imperialist exercise)--are creating a hothouse for private security entrepreneurs, largely U.S. and British, who offer for sale a panoply of services to governmental, nongovernmental, and transnational corporate clients. Private security is growing at a spectacular rate in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa (Cilliers, 2003, and Gumedze in this volume), India, as well as the Middle East and the Far East, including China (Dutton, 2000, and Trevaskes in this volume). In Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, hundreds of thousands of private security guards--some registered, many not--patrol factories, cattle ranches, oil pipelines, mines, retail businesses, and the homes and gated communities of the rich (Huggins and MacTurk, 2003; Webb-Vidal, 2006; Ungar, this volume). Though North America remains the largest market for private security, the market with the greatest profit potential is found outside the advanced capitalist nations. (4)

With over 13,000 mostly small local and regional companies employing over a million and one-half guards, the U.S. market is highly competitive and primarily price driven. In this labor-intensive business, the only way for the three leading companies (which together command about 40% of the total market) to increase profits is through consolidation, which is stated as a primary objective in their annual reports (Securitas, 2005: 45). Beyond acquiring a larger share of the domestic market, one of the most enticing business prospects for the giants is to police failed or failing states on behalf of the U.S. government and transnational capital. In occupied Iraq, U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer's September 2003 neoliberal "shock therapy" removed tariffs and duties on imports, reduced the tax on corporate property, and--by Order 39 of the Coalition Provisional Authority--opened all sectors of the economy to foreign investors (Whyte, 2007; see Ruggiero, this volume). But the chaos surrounding U.S. occupation requires heavy security for entrepreneurs. Tens of thousands of security contractors and private soldiers supplement regular military forces of the coalition (Scahill, 2007), and private security will undoubtedly play a central role in securing that part of the Imperium after most of the regular military forces withdraw. (5)

Privatizing Iraq is an early phase of the neoliberal (and neoconservative) project to establish control of the resource-rich "arch of instability," which includes an archipelago of countries running from the Andean Region (especially Colombia and Venezuela) through Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. …

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