Monday, April 02, 2007

It's good work if you can get it.

Most North Americans probably do not know the name, Sir Malcom Rifkind. That would be because we tend not to hear a lot about British politics and honestly, we don't really pay attention.

Rifkind has been around the British Conservative party for over thirty years, having first entered Parliament in 1974 as the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Pentlands and a member of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. As he advanced through appointments in the Thatcher government he became known as something of a moderate and had the occasional public dispute with Thatcher as she devolved government.

Once Thatcher was replaced by John Major, Rifkind ascended, in 1992, to the post of Defence Secretary. It was in that post that Rifkind executed defence spending cuts known as Front Line First. What it actually did was reduce the size of the British armed services by almost 12,000 uniformed personnel.

That might not have been so bad except that the British armed services had already endured a four year draw down of strength which saw a reduction of forces by about 18 percent. It was the so-called "Peace Dividend" and it was no different than any other of the western allies were doing after the end of the Cold War. It was also responsible for "redundancies" or efficiency dismissals of British service personnel as regiments were amalgamated, ships paid-off, air-force squadrons stood down and bases closed.

Rifkind's actions simply continued that activity and in an exchange which would be considered bizarre today, a Conservative Defence Secretary was being criticized by the Labour Party for cutting too much out of the armed forces.

Rifkind argued that the front line or "sharp end" of the armed forces were not being affected but that he was cutting support services and physical assets. He was attacking the imbalance of the "tooth-to-tail" ratio, something which has a tendency to leave an armed forces unable to function without additional "contract" support. It was a popular fad among western governments and it left the armed forces of not just Britain, but the United States and Canada in a state which left a trimmed-down front-line fighting force and little in the way of regular service support.

The solution to all of this "modification" was to bring in private contractors to provide service support to garrisoned units, whether the need was domestic or on foreign deployment. In the years after the 1991 Gulf War, it was made apparent during a series of engagements that the only way to support troops in the field was to put civilian contractors in situ with a deployed force.

With the engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq it became clear that the numbers of armed forces personnel needed to handle the security functions of military occupation simply did not exist and, in the case of Britain and the United States, private military contractors under the label of "security companies" were employed to provide protection of reconstruction projects and non-military missions in both countries. Those companies today employ ex-service personnel as little more than mercenaries carrying out functions which, in previous conflicts, were the duties of uniformed troops.

What this got to do with anything? Well, getting back to Sir Malcom Rifkind, this little tidbit showed up in The TimesOnline.
ArmorGroup, the British private security company, has won a $189 million (£96 million) contract to protect the United States Embassy in Kabul.

The contract is one of the largest awarded to a private security company and confirms Armor as a leader in diplomat protection.

The company already guards the British Embassy and Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff in Afghanistan.

It has other contracts with the American and British governments for embassy protection in Namibia, Jordan, Rwanda, Uganda and Ecuador.

Armor, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, said that it would use former Gurkha soldiers and other ex-servicemen to guard the US Embassy in Kabul. It said the former soldiers have the operational experience and high standard of training needed to provide guard services in warzones.

Britain and the United States are outsourcing protection services to private companies so that their soldiers can concentrate on fighting insurgents. In the past four years, Britain has spent £165 million on private security in Iraq.

My, didn't that work out well for Sir Malcolm.

No comments: