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According to the Department of Defense Law of War Manual, “as a legal concept, “war” has traditionally been viewed as a condition in which a State is prosecuting its rights by military force, usually against another State.” By its legal definition, war is calculated and organized, with clear distinctions. It is the state in the action of prosecution against another state; a legal proceeding playing itself out on an international level. Legally, it is clean, but by nature, war is unpredictable, disorderly, and highly consequential.

War, by its very nature, encompasses violence and suffering, as it is characterized by using force to play out violent conflicts of interest—a violent means used to settle a violent end. Modern-day warfare has especially brought to light realistic characteristics that undermine the structure of a legal war. According to UNICEF, “ Modern warfare is often less a matter of confrontation between professional armies than one of grinding struggles between military and civilians in the same country, or between hostile groups of armed civilians.” It does not represent the legal standard, rather it exemplifies the opposite—undeterminable insurgents, mass casualties, and general chaos and destruction. It bares consequences that defy explanation.

For example, in 1992 alone, 500,000 children under the age of five died because of armed conflict. At the beginning of the century, civilian fatalities of war were reported to be only 5%, whereas in the 1990s, they encompassed over 90% of war casualties. Humanitarian efforts are now targets, and sexual abuse is a widespread policy of war, used as a means of dehumanization and control.

PTSD rates in soldiers have similarly increased over time, leaving more soldiers scarred in the wake of an unending stream of violence. Even those with the most advanced skill sets and weaponry become victims of war. In Vietnam War veterans, about 30% have dealt with PTSD in their lifetime whereas, 12% of Gulf War veterans get PTSD in any given year, and 11-20% of veterans who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have it in any given year.

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While the direct consequences of war are harrowing, indirect consequences also abound. War profiteering is a notoriously proliferated, legal outcome that has sprouted from a history of persistently developing and complicating the act of war.

War profiteering occurs when any entity, whether it be an individual or group, profits from war. Profits incurred come from a variety of sources, both legal and illegal, including military contracts, legal/illegal arms deals, and any other form of war-based transaction.

In an article written for Al Jazeera, Jonathan Turley, a Shapiro Professor at George Washington University, states that there is an increasing “ military industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating war. ” At the heart of this complex are three distinct groups of profiteers, corporations, lobbyists, and agencies, “ that have created a massive, self-sustaining terror-based industry.” Under the notion of a continuous terror threat, these entities persistently advocate for more war, funded by the public, and although they occupy markedly separate sections of the state, each sector relies upon the other two to consistently provide a road to profit.

For example, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff lobbied for the implementation of full-body scanners in airports, because the company that manufactured the scanners was a client of his security-consulting firm. Chertoff stood to gain a substantial profit by operating in all three sections. The ability to do so brings into question the reliability of politicians and other heads of agencies, and their commitment to serving the people, especially since war- profiteering is achieved at the expense of people’s lives.

While war profiteers are criticized for their immoral gains, the work that most of the companies and/or individuals do is praised for its positive impact for states. Peter W. Singer, the Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings, in an article written for the Brookings Institute, provides a broad perspective on war profiteers exploring in part the actual work that profiteers or employees of profiteering companies do. He specifically analyzes the work and presence of Private Military Firms (PMFs), who themselves are profiting entities.

According to Singer, private military companies operate on all corners of Earth, in over 50 nations. Their rise in the modern era is due to three factors:

[i] End of Cold War

[ii] Change in the nature of warfare, which “blurred the lines between soldiers and civilians”

[iii] Trend toward outsourcing government tasks

The changing political arena, with a post- Soviet era downsizing of armies and increasingly chaotic forms of war, created circumstances that weakened the influence of national armies and the desire to intervene. Simultaneously, militaries relied more heavily on products manufactured by private firms, while a general wave of outsourcing became an ideological norm for states. These factors gave rise to a network of privatized, market-based military firms that work alongside national militaries. Of their campaigns, the war in Iraq proved to be the most important and most controversial for private military companies.

According to Singer, there are over 60 firms, who “currently employ more than 20,000 private personnel there to carry out military functions…—roughly the same number as are provided by all of the United States’ coalition partners combined.” These contractors “have been essential to the U.S. effort in Iraq, helping Washington make up for its troop shortage and doing jobs that U.S. forces would prefer not to.”

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Despite their work, the companies have been criticized for profiteering, because as Singer notes, “To put it bluntly, the incentives of a private company do not always align with its clients’ interests—or the public good.” For example, among the abuses attributed to Halliburton in Iraq are gasoline overcharging and billing without service, totaling to approximately $1.8 billion dollars.

Despite the immorality of these alleged acts of abuse, profiting from war is not in and of itself illegal. Attempts to create accountability for it however have been as persistent as war has been. The House of Representatives even passed the War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007, which was defined as an “act to prohibit profiteering and fraud relating to military action, relief, and reconstruction efforts, and for other purposes.” The act would have made any fraudulent act pertaining to war provision or private profit against the United States illegal, and subject to prosecution. It never passed Congress, because it died in Senate.

The War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007 would not realistically change litigation on war profiteering, because it followed the same structure as other laws pertaining to the subject; it made the means of profiteering subject to prosecution, not the act. Under the United States’ legal system, there is and can be no law against making a profit from war. Such a law would subject the government itself to prosecution for illegal dealings, since a large part of modern warfare entails contracting to private businesses, which would in turn be deemed an accessory to the crime. Any such law could also be deemed unconstitutional, or anti-capitalistic in nature, and as a result, the law only allows prosecution of acts deemed illegal, such as deliberately defrauding states or falsely claiming income for goods and services not rendered.

The issue with allowing persistent profiteering is that it is a strong incentive for persistent war. Profiteering has created a business venture, within which the varied components of war have become subject to market supply and demand. The demand for profit is always high, and because of that, the supplier of profit, war, is also in high demand. Potential profits incentivize unending wars and perpetuate news ones.

For example, the world is currently waging a war on terror, a concept created out of fear and eventually weaponized out of potential warring profits. The more emphatic the concept was, the less important costs became just as long as resources were/ are being used for the sole purpose of annihilating the threat. This in turn drove businesses and other entities to take advantage of that fear and profit off of it. They continue to do so today, and will continue as long as society’s fear on the matter persists.

Although currently war is driven by profit through society’s fears, this pattern of exploitation will eventually culminate in war becoming a consequence, in itself, of greed and profit-seeking entities. Companies today take advantage of fear to turn war into a means for a profitable end, but eventually, they must either exploit war itself, rather than fear (since fear will eventually fade) or create new sources of fear. Warfare will no longer adhere to any current legal definition, as the actors behind it will no longer be states prosecuting through the use of force.

War profiteering, under the pretenses of constitutionality and pro-capitalistic endeavors, will ultimately perpetuate countless other direct and indirect consequential acts of war because its incentive causes the very thing (war) that created it and other problems in the first place.

-Louisa Saakian


Department of Defense:


U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:

Al Jazeera:

The Brookings Institute:

House of Representatives:


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