Opinion Brief

An ex-Blackwater boss' mercenary army: 3 theories

Why is the oil-rich United Arab Emirates hiring controversial former U.S. security contractor Erik Prince to build it a private army?

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi has decided the United Arab Emirates needs an 800-member battalion of foreign troops and he's hired Erik Prince, the controversial billionaire founder of security firm Blackwater Worldwide, to set it up, according to The New York Times. Prince sold Blackwater — now called Xe Services — under a cloud after a notorious 2007 incident in which company employees opened fire in Baghdad traffic, killing 14 Iraqi civilians. Prince's new company, Reflex Responses, will get a whopping $529 million to recruit and train the new military squad in counter-terrorism and other security techniques. Why would the U.A.E. put its defense in the hands of a disgraced former U.S. defense contractor? Here, three theories:

1. To crush any internal uprisingThis is one way to keep out the Arab Spring, says Linda S. Carbonell at Lez Get Real. The seven families who rule the United Arab Emirates "are sitting on a combined $20 billion a year in oil revenues," so they're willing to do anything — even create an army of mercenaries — to prevent their citizens or abused legions of foreign workers from rising up in revolt. "The only unforgivable sin in Islam is the killing of another Muslim." The Emirates are dodging that problem by having Prince hire foreigners — mostly Colombians — "who will have no religious injunction against killing Muslims." 

2. To protect themselves from IranThe U.A.E.'s interest in Prince's mercenary experience precedes the Arab Spring, says Spencer Ackerman at Wired. Their country "lives in fear of Iran." And while the U.A.E. has invested heavily in its own elite forces, it could use an extra security detail to protect its massive oil wealth. "Its ruling sheikhs are used to paying foreigners to do their dirty work: its labor force is imported. Now it prefers to apply that model to its security needs."

3. To prevent terrorist attacks It's true that the U.A.E. will now have a shock force with "no qualms about opening fire on demonstrators to secure the regime’s control," says Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com. But "officially, the reason for the new mercenary army is 'anti-terrorism' operations." The mercenaries, according to the contract, will be responsible for protecting skyscrapers and oil pipelines from attack. And perhaps that's just what they'll do.

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