Multi-National Corporations and Stability Operations: A New Role

Multi-National Corporations and Stability Operations: A New Role

by Jason Thomas
October 1, 2012



United States foreign policy is underpinned by a three-pronged strategy of diplomacy, development and defence within an era of extremely tight US fiscal and budget constraints.

As former US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates stated in 2011, “the overarching goal will be to preserve a US military capable of meeting crucial national security priorities, even if fiscal pressure requires reductions in the force’s size.” While not limited to, the focus of US foreign policy on denying safe havens for trans-national terrorists, geo-political stability, access to resources and commodities and working through bi-lateral security treaty obligations. This paper puts forward the concept that multi-national corporations, particularly those from the extractive sector, with 10-20 year project life cycles, their access to global capital funds and the attractive return on investment in unstable states, could act as a force multiplier for the US military and signal a new phase in civil-military operations.

Corporate Stability Operations a Post-Afghanistan Opportunity

In a recent Small Wars Journal paper, Irregular Warfare and the Two Minds of the Venture Capital Green Beret, EM Burlingame says that an economy can only be created and sustained through boundless energies and limitless creativity of the people living at the expansive, chaotic edge of a system, employing the Mind of the Disruptor to establish new assets and wealth. While the post-Afghanistan security environment may mean pulling back to core principles for Western armed forces, it is also an opportunity to engage disruptive thinkers so we can adapt as fast as our enemies.

Despite a war weary nation and as the United States and its coalition partners prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan insurgencies will continue to threaten the stability of many regions across the world. Post- 2014 Afghanistan will remain high on the US watch list of states teetering on the edge of failure along with a host of other nations with the potential to provide a new era of trans-national terrorists or an open door policy of influence to Iran.

At the same time it is imperative that the US maintains a strong and enduring strategic posture to insure against the consequences of instability and in the face of a rapacious China that is increasing its ownership of infrastructure of key commodities around the world. China’s current posturing in the South China Sea is a case in point. While the current application of counterinsurgency may be at the end of its military life this paper argues that the US military and its bilateral partners in other nations fighting insurgencies, such as the Philippines, could turn to the corporate sector and enter a new phase of counterinsurgency or what could be described as corporate stability operations.

In a 2009 Rand Corporation paper Corporations and Counterinsurgency, Rosenau et al emphasised lessons for the US military and how US policy makers often overlook the provision of security outside the state structure. This paper goes further and recommends a strategic partnership between multi-national corporations and the US military for future stability operations where the US has a foreign policy priority. The resource sector or extractive industries tend to have the financial capacity, long project time frames and deep footprints in a foreign country’s local and national political landscape required for a counterinsurgency or stability operation to be effective. Given the attractive return on investment from oil, gold, copper and other commodities, resource companies such as ExxonMobil, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, AngloGold Ashanti and Chevron are prepared to embark on major projects in conflict or post conflict environments.

Alignment of multi-national corporations and US Command Operations

The US Africa command mission statement stipulates that: "U.S. Africa Command protects and defends the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defense capabilities of African states and regional organizations and, when directed, conducts military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development." With the exception of conducting military operations, resource companies operating in Africa such as Shell in Nigeria or AngloGold Ashanti in Mali or PETRONAS in South Sudan require the same secure environment and good governance to protect their people and assets. These resource companies embark on significant economic development projects requiring a careful study of the human terrain and HUMINT as well as building connections into community leaders, potentially complimenting the US mission in Africa.

As with US military operations in Africa, Asia or South America resource companies operate in complex environments requiring an in-depth analysis of areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE), in order to understand the human terrain. This is not about corporate social responsibility where global companies feel compelled to support local communities in order to be positively perceived by growing numbers of politically-correct international monitoring organisations. While global corporations should adhere to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, it should not lead to cultural and social engineering in an attempt to avoid being morally stigmatized into providing free social and community services. It is not about creating a corporate welfare trap. That is a blanket that became wrapped around much of our COIN efforts in Afghanistan, led by many Western political leaders with a deep confusion as to why troops are committed. One minute Western Governments state we are defeating terrorism and the next they declare we are using our military to drive a cultural agenda through a government or international NGO welfare scheme.

Resource companies are focused on stability in order to reduce the threats to their people and assets. The US and host nation security forces are focused on stability in so called ‘grey-areas’ of some countries to prevent them from becoming breading and training grounds for regional or global terrorism. It also advances US foreign policy interests by building a stronger and more reliable regional partner for trade or mutual defence obligations. Taken together we are presented with an opportunity to shape the operating or project environment in order to reduce corporate security risks and establish local relationships that allow foreign investment and US foreign policy to co-exist. The Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction published by the United States Institute of Peace and the US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, asserts that security is a the platform for development and stable governance. The authors acknowledge that while progress has been made by the US to leverage and coordinate civilian and military assets it still lags behind the adaptive abilities of the enemies of peace. Where there is not a direct war, the human security imperative cannot be delegated only to peacekeepers or military intervention forces. Even in Afghanistan, a focus on getting the full productive operation of the Mes Aynak copper mine Logar Province, may have been far more effective in delivering stability and assisting in the war effort, than any Western government aid program. Here is an example where a unity of effort between the US military the Afghan Government and multi-national corporations could have been tested to deliver and sustain a military objective. This does not overlook the enormous challenge in reducing large scale violence, restoring public order, physical security, territorial security and improving the legitimacy of the host government in an environment influenced by insurgencies.

Corporate Foreign Investment and US Military

In Rethinking Insurgency, Steven Metz suggests different ways of thinking are required to defeat contemporary insurgencies. Insurgencies can destabilise regions, adversely affect resource flows, and markets; the create avenues for transnational crime; humanitarian disasters and transnational terrorism. Metz argues that given this, the U.S. goal should not automatically be the defeat of the insurgents by the regime (which may be impossible and which the regime may not even want), but the most rapid conflict resolution possible. It may be difficult to find examples where a rapid end to conflict involving insurgencies has actually been achieved. However, given the time it takes to eliminate the seeds of an insurgency, coordinating with resource companies with their generationally long project operating timeframes, along the focus on economic development could contribute towards village stability at the local level and build a stronger regional partner at the national level.

The areas of operations for US Command and the location of hydrocarbons and mineral resources often overlap. Minerals are in fixed locations and companies must invest significant funds to develop and operate their mining projects. Resource companies require the same environmental factors to establish a more predictable area of operation as US foreign policy for some of its important regional strategic partners. This includes protecting and separating the population from the insurgents, training and advising the host government’s security forces, restoring law and order, reconstruction of basic services and functioning infrastructure. In Nigeria Shell not only supports the police force but also provides what the military would describe as a range of non-kinetic support in healthcare, education and agricultural services. At the same time US AFRICOM is concerned with Islamic extremism and terrorist havens while ensuring Nigeria has adequate military training and support to defend itself against anti-government forces. Could US AFRICOM military planners benefit from working more closely with corporations such as Shell?

This proposal is not without political and public challenges and politically correct reasons why such a partnership should not be considered. Shell has learnt the hard way in Nigeria with human rights organisations quick to point the finger. Shell’s stability and community approach has more to do with reducing security risks than being socially responsible corporate citizens. Similarly, in seeking to address hot-spots of instability, defeating insurgencies and removing the conditions that support trans-national threat organisations, the US military is never going to receive praise from well-meaning international monitoring organisations who take their own freedom for granted.

The Philippines is another example where multi-national corporations could be seen as potential partners in delivering benefits to US foreign policy and military objectives. Given the US foreign policy interests are ‘pivoting’ back to the Asia-Pacific region, the US requires the Philippines to be a stable and economically strong regional partner. The Philippines has also been at the forefront of the global war on terror, with a specific focus of US military advisors in Basilan and Zamboanga, Southern Mindanao. Philippines has large deposits of gold, copper and other extractable mineral wealth, especially in Southern Mindanao. At the same time many areas of the Philippines provide the right conditions for criminal banditry, terrorists and insurgent groups not only to destabilise the Philippines but also to plan, train and prepare terrorist operations in other countries. Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF-P) has been active since 2002 and consists of rotating units of US military advisors focused on to targeting the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has ties to al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah.

As highlighted in a 2006 Military Review article by COL Gregory Wilson, Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation, the US modus operandi in the Philippines is to work “by, with and through” the indigenous forces. US military planners of Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines developed their strategy by adopting Gordon McCormick’s Diamond Model. The principles of the Diamond Model of targeting insurgent safe havens, infrastructure and support, developing an indigenous security force, enhancing government legitimacy and control, focusing on the people’s needs and security are precisely what a resource company looks to manage in order to reduce their exposure to risk. The Philippines Armed Forces (AFP) Commander of Eastern Mindanao believes the New People’s Army (a Communist insurgent group) is the military’s biggest problem with more than half of the NPA’s force in Mindanao – twenty-seven NPA fronts. They pose a massive threat to Philippine stability, distract the AFP from fighting Abu Sayyaf and regularly target mining operations with grenades, RPGs and high powered weapons.

US military assistance also aims to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) transition away from being a domestic focused defence force to an outward one, and to help the country establish a credible maritime security presence and capability. The Philippines has one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold projects in the world located in Southern Mindanao. The Tampakan Copper Goldproject is enormous and requires USD5.9 billion of capital investment. If it proceeds, the project could be a ‘game changer’ for Southern Mindanao and Philippine, providing a strong economic growth platform for strengthening US/Philippine strategic objectives. There is an overlap between the need for stability in an area of the Philippines that has suffered from insurgent groups and the US need for a stronger regional partner with an outward focused defence force who can contain and eliminate trans-national terrorist organisations. US military planners could look to develop a civil-military operations partnership with the right multi-national corporate in the defeat threats that undermine stability in the Philippines and generates the revenue to modernise its armed forces. This is in the interests of US foreign policy in Asia-Pacific. It may be all a matter of how far military leaders and foreign policy planners believe it is in their interests to explore a new strategic arrangement.


This paper argues that multi-national corporations, particularly those from the extractive sector could act as a force multiplier for US military and foreign policy planners. The social, economic development and security activities required by a resource company provide an opportunity for civil-military operations or a new phase of counterinsurgency that may be unconventional, but proves highly effective. It does not require more boots on the ground, therefore appealing to fiscal constraints and working around increasingly strict rules of engagement or the need for US troops in sensitive conflict environments.

No doubt such a proposal is not without fault and pitfalls requiring further exploration. It does not mean the militarisation of corporations or a new COIN fad. But if we can hold back the legal and political affairs departments, who are an anathema to disruptive thinking, then we may enable the US military to recalibrate their own efforts and resources across a wider AO. Given the US military is one of the most adaptable in the world, with an entrepreneurial mindset there may be merit in factoring this new partnership into current or future stability operations.