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Would it be acceptable for a country to offer military services (to other countries) in exchange for payment as one source of non-coercive government funding (i.e., would it violate any philosophical principles)? Would it be advisable (i.e., would the probable benefits outweigh the probable costs)?

When I say military services, I am including any type of services that the military would be good at providing, from providing mere tactical advice, to providing a few special-operations squads to accomplish a single key mission, to implementing a full-scale invasion. So, for example, country X's neighbor is a despotic totalitarian government that is a threat to country X, and country X hires the U.S. Military to come over and deal with the threat (i.e., take out the despotic regime). Or, as another example, country Y is unable to deal with internal threats (e.g., Islamist rebels, gang warfare, riots, etc.), and hires the U.S. Military to come over and provide temporary police-like services until the situation is under control. Or, as another example, although country Z has an otherwise capable military, it does not have access to intelligence that it would need to properly defend itself, and therefore country Z hires the U.S. Military to provide it with military intelligence. Or, as another example, country W enters into a long-term security contract with us in which we agree to provide military protection in the event it is needed in exchange for annual compensation (Taiwan for example?). Or, as another example, country V hires the U.S. Military to provide training to country V’s own military.

My question assumes that we would strictly limit the “contracts” we accepted to only those that required us to perform operations that it would be just for us to engage in. In other words, no attacking a country that it would be unjust for us to attack, no slaughtering of innocents, no propping up dictators, etc.

We would also only accept contracts that would not result in harming our own national interests, which would mean, for example, that we would not aid a country that is a threat to us or harm a country that is an ally.

Basically, a lot of the military interventions that we already do now for free as the "world's policeman" we could continue to do, but now we do it for profit instead of doing it as a sacrifice.

Also, it is worth noting that, just because we charge for some service does not mean that we need to charge for all services. Thus, for example, if country A is a threat to its neighbor country B, but country A is also a clear and present threat to us, we may go in and take care of country A on our own initiative (i.e., without waiting for country B to hire us) in order to protect our own interests.

As another example, it may be in our interest to enter into treaties with certain allies to provide military protection without asking for monetary compensation. Of course such treaties would need to still be in our interest (no sacrifices!), and so we would still need to be getting something out of the treaty even if it is not direct monetary compensation. For example, in a mutual protection treaty we receive the promise of their military help if we need it in exchange for our promise of the same. As another example, it may be in our interest to protect a key trading partner (e.g., Japan), or a strategic allay (e.g., Israel), in which case we might not charge for the service (or perhaps charge less for it).

So, given all of my stipulations, is there some problem with this notion that I am not seeing?

asked May 14 '15 at 10:14

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦
944619

One question I would have is why can't non-government entities provide these services?

Why can't (the company formerly known as) Blackwater do it?

If it doesn't have to be done by the government because non-government entities can do it, then it shouldn't be done by the government.

(May 14 '15 at 15:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Private military companies raise intersting issues, and I am not sure whether I am compentant to tackle those issues. However, my basic understanding is this--private military companies would be allowed to exist, and it would be okay for the government to hire them to assist in military operations, as long as the government retains ultimate control over the company and operation.

However, it would not be okay for a private citizen to hire the company to perform military actions--the govenment must keep ultimate control over the retalitaory use of force in their jurisdiction. A private...

(May 15 '15 at 09:13) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

citizen could hire them to provide security services, but not offesnive military operations.

So, how does this apply to your question about whether private companies could provide the noted services to other contries? Well, if the private military company is from the US, then it would have to be subject to our law, and I do not think that the US could allow them to engage in military action abroad without being subject to the ultimate control of the government. On the other hand, if the private military company is from some other country, then the US would have nothing to say if

(May 15 '15 at 09:17) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

a third country hired that organization--it is out of our jurisdiction. (of course, if the company is used in a manner that is a threat to our interests or allys, then it would be dealt with in the same way as any other threat).

However, some of the actions noted in my question clearly could not be performed by a private company, just due to shear scale. For example, the whole-sale invasion of a country is not something that a private military company could handle. Moreover, I do not think that the government could allow a private military company to grow to the size/strength that

(May 15 '15 at 09:21) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

would allow the company to handle such a task. As noted, the existance/use of the private military company is premised on the strict rule that they always be subject to the ultimate control of the government, which means that a private military capable of challenging the government cannot be allowed.

(May 15 '15 at 09:26) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

So, in summary, yes some of the services might be performed by a private company (under the ultimate control of the government), but others of the services would be impossible for a private company to perform.

However, even for those services that could be performed by a private company, I do not see why the government could not also perform the same services. Just because a service could be provided by a private entity does not mean that the government is forbidden from providing the service.

(May 15 '15 at 09:31) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Well, if the private military company is from the US, then it would have to be subject to our law, and I do not think that the US could allow them to engage in military action abroad without being subject to the ultimate control of the government.

US citizens are subject to US laws even abroad, but I don't think it would be appropriate for the US government to require US citizens to pay commissions to the US government in order to provide military services abroad. The proper amount of control the US government can exercise is to ban "slaughtering of innocents, propping up dictators, etc."

(May 15 '15 at 11:12) anthony anthony's gravatar image

For example, the whole-sale invasion of a country is not something that a private military company could handle.

Not one company acting alone, but the whole premise is that there's some country other than the United States which would be taking the lead and paying to hire experts.

(May 15 '15 at 11:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

However, even for those services that could be performed by a private company, I do not see why the government could not also perform the same services. Just because a service could be provided by a private entity does not mean that the government is forbidden from providing the service.

I'm not sure about that. I seem to remember other hypotheticals where people on here have said exactly that - that the government should not get into businesses which compete with private companies.

(May 15 '15 at 11:19) anthony anthony's gravatar image

So, for example, country X's neighbor is a despotic totalitarian government that is a threat to country X, and country X hires the U.S. Military to come over and deal with the threat (i.e., take out the despotic regime).

I guess this is the example of "the whole-sale invasion of a country."

I find it hard to imagine a scenario where Country X can afford to pay the US to invade another country (enough to cover all costs plus profits), but can't afford to lead the invasion itself.

(May 16 '15 at 08:12) anthony anthony's gravatar image

But moreover, I think it would be wrong for the US to order US soldiers to fight overseas not to protect US military interests, but in order to raise money.

If some group of US soldiers wants to do so voluntarily, then fine, but then they should be the ones paid, not the US government itself. The US could decide not to give those soldiers leave, or to only give them leave on the condition that they can be recalled on a moment's notice, but essentially charging them a tax on their income from abroad is not okay.

Remember that under capitalism all property is privately owned.

(May 16 '15 at 08:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Let's table the issue of whether of not it would be proper for the government to allow private mercenaries to engage in offensive operations abroad--I think that this may be problematic for reasons similar to those for which "private police" forces are problematic, but it is not the focus of my question so I don't want to get hung up on it.

Is it fair to say, then, that your primary reasin for objecting to the government providing this service is that private companies could also provide it? If so, could you justify this position?

(May 18 '15 at 14:00) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

My primary reason for objecting is that, under capitalism, all property is privately owned. A number of years ago I listened to Leonard Peikoff's answer to whether or not that really means what it says. His answer is at http://www.peikoff.com/2008/08/04/in-ayn-rands-definition-of-capitalism-she-says-that-all-property-is-privately-owned-is-that-really-true/ and he says that it does.

If all property is privately owned (and while the linked audio doesn't ask about intellectual property I believe that is included), then what is it that the government is selling to those foreign nations?

(May 18 '15 at 15:18) anthony anthony's gravatar image

(Maybe Peikoff was wrong about his answer, and Rand didn't really mean "all property" when she said "all property" (or maybe Rand was wrong too). I've always felt his answer was right and that Rand was right, but if you disagree, then maybe we should pose that as a separate question.)

(May 18 '15 at 15:20) anthony anthony's gravatar image

And yes, in my comments above I didn't really highlight that point (though I guess I did bold the words "all property"). Really, my comments above, especially my first comment, was meant to clarify your question rather than answer it. I didn't expect we would get into a disagreement about "If it doesn't have to be done by the government because non-government entities can do it, then it shouldn't be done by the government." And really I'm not sure the extent to which US entities should be allowed to get involved in foreign conflicts without working directly with the government.

(May 18 '15 at 15:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

That US entities should be allowed to get involved in foreign conflicts (offensive, defensive, whatever) while working with the government I think is quite obvious, at least once you accept the fact that all property (all uniforms, all tanks, all missiles, all drones, all guns, etc.) is/are privately owned. If the US (via POTUS) sends drones to Iraq to help Iraq fight against ISIS, then whatever corporation owns those drones is going to "get involved" and get paid (by Iraq, by the US, by both, or whatever).

I don't see a realistic scenario where Iraq pays so much the US can take a commission.

(May 18 '15 at 15:31) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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There is little that I can add to Anthony's comments, especially the following:

... why can't non-government entities provide these services?

If it doesn't have to be done by the government because non-government entities can do it, then it shouldn't be done by the government.

[...]

I seem to remember other hypotheticals where people on here have said exactly that - that the government should not get into businesses which compete with private companies.

The existence and role of the military arises in Objectivism in the following context:

  • Government has no reason to exist unless man needs it.
  • Man needs a government to place the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control.
  • In other words, the purpose of government is to protect the individual rights of its citizens.
  • To accomplish this, the three proper functions of government are: the police (for protection from criminals); the military (for protection from foreign invaders); and the law courts (to settle civil disputes according to objective rules without use of physical force directly by the disputants).

In this context, any use of physical force by a free country's military against (or in) a foreign country is limited to defending the objective national self-interest of the free ("provider") country, although this does not exclude mutually beneficial alliances and treaties with other countries to promote the defense of the free ("provider") country, nor does it exclude alliances in which other countries help to pay for the cost of military assistance which they receive. (And the source of the funds for such payment would need to be considered, as well -- i.e., how a foreign government obtains its own funding. Individual rights apply in principle to citizens of other countries as well as citizens of a free country that offers military assistance to a foreign country.)

The suggestion that military services should be treated as a profit-making business activity sounds basically the same as what historically has been known as mercenary services. The Wikipedia article on "Mercenary" begins as follows:

A mercenary[1] is a person who takes part in an armed conflict who is not a national or a party to the conflict and is "motivated to take part in the hostilities by the desire for private gain."[2][3] In other words, a mercenary is a person who fights for personal gains of money or other recompense instead of fighting for the ideological interests of a country, whether they be for or against the existing government.

On the Objectivist view of government, mercenaries would be private individuals, not agents of the government of the country from which the mercenaries come, and they would be limited in what their own government allows them to do in foreign countries. They could not, for example, be permitted to initiate the use of physical force against anyone. Their role would have to be strictly defensive (legitimately retaliatory).

A comment by the questioner asks if a military operation in a foreign country might be too big for private mercenaries, but militarily viable and economically lucrative for a free country's own military to undertake in return for financial gain. My view is that the first principle to apply in such a case is to ask why such a military operation needs to be undertaken at all. Who is the aggressor (force initiator) and who is the victim? Is there any national self-interest for a free country to provide military assistance to the victim(s)? If financial gain is the only benefit, what is the source of the funds that would be offered in payment for such assistance? Are anyone else's individual rights being violated in the process of generating the funds to pay for military assistance? And if there is legitimate financial profit to be gained from the activity, why wouldn't that provide an adequate financial incentive for objectively monitored mercenaries to offer their services to the government that needs military assistance? If the requesting government is a legitimate ally of a free country, in the mutual national self-interests of both, why wouldn't the terms of the alliance determine the level of military assistance to be provided (as an aspect of each country's own national self-interests)?

I could delve more deeply into a case-by-case analysis of the hypothetical examples described in the question, but I would like to emphasize and focus on the applicable principles first, before endeavoring to apply them to specific hypotheticals.

Update: Integrated Context

The questioner has posted numerous additional comments, to which Anthony has responded very succinctly:

I don't see the problem if another country offsets some, or even all, of our costs. The problem is when the U.S. military gets involved in a conflict solely for the money (to be used for something else). That goes beyond the proper role of the military.

Yes, exactly. The key is "the proper role of the military." I don't think it will be possible for anyone to understand this without first understanding Objectivism's view of the nature of government thoroughly. The main article that explains Objectivism's view of government is "The Nature of Government," published as Chapter 14 in VOS. Key excerpts can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Government." In VOS, this article is immediately followed by Chapter 15, "Government Financing in a Free Society." Key excerpts can be found in the Lexicon topic of "Taxation." On the topic of government actions in or against a foreign country, refer to "Foreign Policy" in the Lexicon, including the Playboy excerpts dealing with whether or not a free country should intervene in a foreign country merely because a free country has a valid right to do so.

The questioner probably already knows about these references; I am mentioning them again primarily for the benefit of others who may be reading this discussion and may not know (and for the questioner, as well, if he hasn't adequately integrated what these articles actually say).

As I understand it, the main thesis of the question can be summed up as follows:

  • Making money is a form of self-interest, and Objectivism says self-interest is good.
  • When a government makes money, it's a form of national self-interest, and Objectivism says national self-interest is good.
  • Objectivism says that government financing should be voluntary.
  • Therefore, how can Objectivists possibly have any objection to the military in a free society seeking to make money by offering "guns for hire" (like mercenaries) to any foreign country that has a legitimate defensive need for military assistance and an ability to pay for it that does not depend on initiation of physical force against that country's own citizens or other countries?
  • Even if this would require significant expansion of the military, as compared to focusing military resources solely on defense of the nation's own citizens and intervening in foreign countries only as needed for the primary purpose of domestic self-defense, why wouldn't "making money" nevertheless be a good use of a free nation's military?

From this restatement of the question and its underlying assumptions, little further discussion should really be necessary. Again, I see this line of thinking as an utter failure to comprehend "the proper role of the military" as envisioned by Objectivism. If the questioner (or anyone else) really needs further elaboration, I must again emphasize that a better understanding will have to start with the references noted above. I have seen little visible awareness of those references so far in the original question and the questioner's follow-up comments.

The Lexicon topic of "Principles" describes the relationship between principles and concretes as follows:

Concrete problems cannot even be grasped, let alone judged or solved, without reference to abstract principles. [...]

You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions -- or a grab bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know....

The questioner has said:

Could you please identify these principles and indicate how those principles lead you to your conclusion?

I have tried to identify the essential principles in my original answer above, along with the references cited therein and in this update, and succinctly summed up by the expression, "the proper role of the military." I find it extremely puzzling that the questioner either doesn't see the principles or doesn't see any connection to the concrete hypothetical of turning a free nation's military into mercenaries.

answered May 16 '15 at 20:43

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

edited May 20 '15 at 09:48

I could delve more deeply into a case-by-case analysis of the hypothetical examples described in the question, but I would like to emphasize and focus on the applicable principles first, before endeavoring to apply them to specific hypotheticals.

Could you please identify these principles and indicate how those principles lead you to your conclusion?

If it doesn't have to be done by the government because non-government entities can do it, then it shouldn't be done by the government.

Could you please justify this assertion? (originally made by Anthony but quoted approvingly by you)

(May 18 '15 at 13:53) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

In this context, any use of physical force by a free country's military against (or in) a foreign country is limited to defending the objective national self-interest of the free ("provider") country, although this does not exclude ... alliances in which other countries help to pay for the cost of military assistance which they receive.

This sounds like the type of transaction I am asking about. Note my caveats, in particular that "we would strictly limit the “contracts” we accepted to only those that required us to perform operations that it would be just for us to engage in...

(May 18 '15 at 14:15) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

...[and] that would not result in harming our own national interests." According to Objectivist principles, a war is only "just" when it is to defend us against an objective threat, and therefore my caveat that the operation is "just" limits the proposed services to "defending the objective national self-interest of the free ("provider") country" as you put it.

Note that there are many objective threats at any given time in the world that it would be just for us to destroy. However, just because we would be justified in waging war on a given threat, that does not necessarily mean we

(May 18 '15 at 14:21) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

would be wise to do so---sometimes it is simply not worth the cost to expunge a given threat, even if we would be justified in doing so.

What the proposed transaction would allow us to do, then, is to deal with a threat that we are already justified to deal with, but that perhaps was not yet severe enough (to us) to make it in our interest to address. The hiring country essentially tips the scales by offsetting enough of the cost to make it in our interest to deal with the threat.

If calling it a treaty makes it seem better than a transaction, then that is fine.

(May 18 '15 at 14:29) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

. . . to deal with a threat that we are already justified to deal with, but that perhaps was not yet severe enough (to us) to make it in our interest to address. The hiring country essentially tips the scales by offsetting enough of the cost to make it in our interest to deal with the threat.

I won't speak for Ideas, but personally I don't see the problem if another country offsets some, or even all, of our costs. The problem is when the U.S. military gets involved in a conflict solely for the money (to be used for something else). That goes beyond the proper role of the military.

(May 19 '15 at 14:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Ideas: I am going to disengage with you on this subject, because the discussion is not fruitful. However, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, your "restatement" of my questions is a straw-man.

(May 20 '15 at 12:06) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image
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Asked: May 14 '15 at 10:14

Seen: 726 times

Last updated: May 20 '15 at 12:06