by David Phinney
Oct. 30, 2007 — Here’s the lead: “On the post-Sept. 11 battlefield, Fiji is marketing for hire its 3,500 active soldiers, 15,000 reservists and more than 20,000 unemployed former troops.”
According to Bloomberg’s A. Craig Copetas, “Fiji is a martial culture with no problem in fashioning a gross domestic product that includes mangoes and mercenaries.”
Since 1978, Fiji has outsourced more than 25,000 troops to the UN, the British Army and independent mercenary contractors — and sent home $300 million over almost 30 years. In 2003, the mercenaries brought about $9 million in wages to Fiji — including the 1,000 Fijians deployed to private security contractors in the Middle East, Copetas relates, who adds that eight Fijians have been killed in Iraq.
Soldiers for Hire: A highly trained Fijian soldier can earn about $1,700 a month. That’s about 3 percent of the $50,000 a month those same companies will pay for a retired and similarly seasoned U.S. or British combat trooper. ($50,000 sounds high for the going rate to me, but you get the idea.)
That is a good buy for the United Nations peacekeeping missions, apparently.
The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the multinational force with an annual budget of $5.5 billion and about 100,000 personnel serving in 18 security actions globally, has 243 Fijian troops deployed in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. It sees Fijian soldiers as a cut-rate blessing.
In the abstract, it is understandable to appreciate the need for private military companies in supporting the military around the world — ideally, the bring professionalism, experience and a quick, just-in-time response. But the practice also raises some very poignant and substantive questions:
— What does it say about a nation that relies heavily on paying citizens of other countries to wage war?
— To what extent should private soldiers engage in war rather than having a nation invest its collective will with a military draft?
— And if a draft is not politically possible, if, indeed, a draft is political suicide, should there be a long-term war at all?