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Blackwater and Democracy

Blackwater and Democracy

Americans are not less sensitive to the deaths of private soldiers in wars than they are to those of regular U.S. troops, UC-Irvine political scientist Deborah Avant and a colleague discovered. But the use of security contractors in combat zones has other implications for a democracy, she tells a UCLA audience. Listen to a podcast of her talk.

At a Jan. 24, 2008, event sponsored by the Burkle Center, a standing room crowd of about 50 people heard Deborah Avant enumerate issues that the military, the legal system, and the public will face as a result of the use of private security contractors in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Avant is a professor of Political Science and director of International Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

In a recent paper, Avant and a co-author found, among other things, that "Americans are not less sensitive to private soldiers' deaths" than they are to those of U.S. troops in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

So if the "political cost" of deploying guns hired by companies such as Blackwater appears lower than sending troops, she said, it's only because the government does not provide data about their deaths to the public.

This lack of transparency is related to an erosion of constitutional checks and balances.

The use of security contractors--Avant avoids the term "mercenary" because of inexact historical analogies--could lead to more foreign wars "if it reduces the choosiness of the U.S. government in picking battles."

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