Written By: - Date published: 7:30 am, December 28th, 2012 - 103 comments
Categories: assets, david shearer, housing, human rights, leadership, Privatisation, Public Private Partnerships, war - Tags: military industrial complex, neoliberalism, tpp
Some of us have been asking what David Shearer actually stands for, as was seen in some of the comments below Mike Smith’s Amidst th’ encircling gloom post. For many of us a substantial new political direction is needed to tackle many urgent problems. Democratic collective action is a key element in left wing politics, and is in need of revival to counter our destructive, individualistic celebrity culture.
David Shearer was launched as Labour caucus leader with a compelling back-story. As in this Dec 2011 NZ Herald article he was characterised as a humanitarian who could act well under pressure: a successful negotiator, team-builder, consensus-finder, and diplomat, when working on the ground for the UN and in in war zones.
Since then there have been questions about his leadership and his apparent refusal to ditch the neoliberal consensus that has existed since 1984. This week, Chris Trotter’s post presents him in a different light from that of the December 2011 article. Trotter outlines how Shearer was parachuted in to Labour candidacies more than once; his pragmatic rejection of the left-right divide; his lack of explicit objections to the neoliberal shift begun under the 1984 Labour government; his fascination with militarism in his roles for the UN and jobs researching for intelligence operations; his favouring of private military options as a pragmatic solution in some crucial conflict zones.
Shearer on Private Military Companies: 1990s-2001
As I commented a couple of days ago, Shearer argues in his 2001 article, ‘Privatising Protection‘*, for the limited use of private armies in a small number of conflicts: ones where there was a moral need to protect civilians from genocide, rape, violence and looting; where the government is weak and its army inadequate; and where the UN has difficulty accessing suitable peace-keeping forces.
According to Shearer, private military companies are cheaper than national armies, as was seen in Sierra Leone. Furthermore, he argues that such companies aim to protect their reputation and ensure getting paid, by working hard to fulfill the objectives set out in their contracts. For Shearer “economic gain” is a motivating factor that has resulted in companies protecting the control of diamonds, gold or minerals. They thereby prevent them from being stolen by rebels and then traded illegally to finance their wars.
As I commented on another Shearer article, his arguments favour a regulated market over a “free-market” of private armies, as argued in his earlier 1998 article, ‘Outsourcing war’*. In this article Shearer argues that contemporary private armies are legitimate corporate entities, operating professionally and within the law.
Shearer gives examples of governments that have successfully worked with military companies: a British company that works with British Army officers to train Omani government forces; a company of high-tech military-industrial suppliers that has contributed to the upgrade and training of Saudi armed forces, using mainly US weapons; and MPRI working first for the US Department of Defense then taking up major contracts with the 1994 Croatian government, and for the Croatian offensive, Operation Storm, in 1995.
However, Shearer doesn’t acknowledge the fact that such corporate entities are a central part of the military-industrial complex. Furthermore, he argues in favour of the way economic liberalism of the late 20th century has been advantageous for the growth in this private industry.
Private Military Coercion to Settle Deadlocks
In his articles, Shearer often presents an disturbingly positive attitude to the use of “coercion” by military companies. In this 1998 article he argues that, such companies are particularly suited to using coercion to resolve deadlocked conflicts for weak governments, with inadequate military forces. Shearer argues against the preferred academic approach to conflict resolution, of impartially bringing the two sides together to negotiate.
Shearer argues that goal-oriented private military companies like EO, can successfully use coercion to end a stalemate in a conflict, especially where one side is clearly at fault. He claims that most domestic conflicts in the 20th century have ended as the result of outright victories. In places like Angola, Bosnia and Sierra Leone, breakthrough and settlement were only achieved after coercion was used.
Does this contradict the recommendation of Shearer as a consensus builder, praised for his negotiating skills? Could he be trusted to negotiate the TPP to the benefit of NZ, or revive social security, or protect state assets, or reduce poverty and inequalities, or enable sustainable living? Or to negotiate democratically with the Labour Party membership?
Neoliberalism, Private Military, & Interventionist, Privatised State Provisions
Neoliberalism has been constantly evolving since the 1980s, and it has been strongly linked to the rise of private military companies, as argued by Aaron Ettinger [in 'Neoliberalism and the Rise of the Private Military'*. "Neoliberalization" involves two, sometimes sequential, but often intertwined moves: rollback (the state) and roll out (interventionist state involvement in private endeavours - PPPs etc). As such, the military was in a unique position pre-1980s, because it already involved interaction between the state and business, via the military-industrial complex.
So-called "neoliberalism" changes to adapt to failures and opposition. As a result there has been an increase in government intervention, which has resulted in private enterprises becoming more central to state provisions.
Shearer's Politics Now?
Shearer doesn't seem to have written or said anything about private armies since 2001. Since then President Bush Jrn oversaw the increase in the use of private armies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Trotter ends his article saying this:
... Mr Shearer remains sympathetic towards private armies and paid mercenaries. [citation needed, Mr Trotter?]The Labour Leader’s on-going support for these private-sector problem-solvers speaks volumes – and very little to his credit.
Certainly, in his Kiwibuild policy, Shearer does favour increasing affordable housing through government enlisting and/or enabling private builders/contractors.
In Shearer’s favour, however, he is explicitly against asset sales, and he has said that NZ troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan. His argument for the use of private military options was always based on using them sparingly, in devastating situations, and when other measures fail or can’t be accessed.
However, Shearer’s back-story does raise some unsettling questions, especially as there is little other evidence of Shearer’s long and strongly held political views. It would be helpful if David Shearer stated his politics and vision for a Labour-led government more clearly.
[*Articles accessed through Auckland Libraries, Digital Library]