10/20/2010 10:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Let's Tell It Like It Is

I have, on occasion, in the past been critical of IPOA (formerly the International Peace Operations Association and now the Association of the Stability Operations Industry), the Washington, DC-based trade association for private military and security contractors. So it is only fair to mention them when they do something inarguably right.

That something was their three day 2010 Annual Summit that took place earlier this week.

To go to the event and listen to the panels on such subjects as international standards and accountability, logistics and support in contingency operations, regulatory evolutions in the industry was to see both private companies and public officials seriously grappling with issues of oversight and accountability at a practical, not a rhetorical, level.

There was some serious reflection going on. At the beginning of the first day Chris Taylor, CEO of Mission Essential Personnel, an IPOA member company, and a main sponsor of the summit, said the following in his opening remarks:

All of us have been asked to testify or to speak about a great many issues. And deservedly so. Spending the taxpayer's money is an important task that comes with a great responsibility [Note: Let's call this the Peter Parker principle: with big contracts comes big responsibility] But one of the things that we can't let it do is force the industry to be transactional instead of transformational. We do bring a certain value to the government and to taxpayers. Because of the scrutiny I don't believe that - I think it can actually be our finest hour for the industry; not a reason to hunker down and not be cooperative, not be forthcoming with people who may have questions about what it is that we do. As a matter of fact I think it should be quite the opposite. I think it should be an opportunity for us to tell it like it is; to inform people of the facts about our abilities, about the complexities of working in contingency operations, and working in development operations, and working in security operations. I don't think we should, we shouldn't miss that opportunity whatsoever. We certainly should not shy away from it.

I would encourage all of us to ask tough questions of each other first...

To me that reflects the emergence of a mindset that is self-confident but not boastful, proud of its accomplishments but mature enough to understand that legitimate questions can be raised about their operations.

It is hard to imagine a CEO of a traditional military-industrial company, such as Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman, saying something similar.

For those people who think that PMC or the U.S. government don't take seriously issues of oversight and accountability they should view the video of the panel on international standards and accountability.

I recorded it with a Flip camcorder and you can watch the segments on my YouTube page. I had to break them up due to Youtube's size limit on what can be uploaded at one time but you can view them here.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

One of the more interesting parts of that panel was the discussion of the forthcoming International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers. Among other things it:

- Sets out clear obligations and operational standards for PSCs based on international human rights standards

- Launches a process to establish effective oversight and compliance mechanisms.

There will be a high-level signing ceremony for it on 9 November 2010 in
Geneva, Switzerland. You can find the code online here .

As IPOA taped the entire summit it will, hopefully, transcribe and post online the proceedings as soon as possible. Hint, hint.