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I'm trying to figure out how the world's governments would react to an extra-governmental agency. In a world where super-powers are possible through various means, it's the job of this agency to essentially recruit these individuals and move them to where they're most needed - and quickly reorganize them when a disaster happens. Regular, non-super powered individuals can join the organization in order to act as foot soldiers and peace keepers, who can aid police forces when needed, but generally are told to stay out of the way of civilian problems if it can be avoided. If there is a country that has denied the access of this agency, it does not recruit from the country, and it does not help with disasters.

The agency is run as a corporation, with a Head (CEO) that responds to a board, which are liaisons from the countries it currently works with. The agency sells various toys, comics and items relating to the Heroes it recruits, which is how it makes money. It does not interfere in the business of countries that are not part of the board, unless:

  1. The board votes in an 80% majority to intervene, or
  2. The country asks for help explicitly from the organization.

My question is: Does this happen to be a believable organization that could exist? If not, what could be changed to make it more believable?

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    $\begingroup$ so... sort of like S.H.I.E.L.D. ? $\endgroup$ – Rayanth Aug 3 '16 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ Influential nations would likely abuse the high intervention bar by coercing the agency to not intervene in disasters that befall rival nations. In other words, the US is going to use its sway to prevent the agency from protecting Russia against the latest alien invasion. $\endgroup$ – Alex Clough Aug 3 '16 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @R.Daughtry From what I understand of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics, they're more of a spy organization - or at least I thought so? $\endgroup$ – RMH Aug 3 '16 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ @R.Daughtry In the comics/cinematic universe they're a paramilitary mix between the CIA and FBI with superheroes thrown on top (the exact nature of the blend depending on what author is using them). In the cinematic universe they answer to the United States, and in the comics they answer to the UN. Quite a bit different than RMH's question, as SHIELD got its funding from governments, and was sanctioned by said governments. $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Aug 3 '16 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ This is more like the Justice League, which is funded by a private conglomerare (owned bu Bruce Wayne) than S.H.I.E.L.D., which is funded by either the US or the UN depending on the author. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 3 '16 at 17:21
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What you are describing is somewhat like a NGO (non-government organization) like "Doctors without Borders" or the International Committee of the Red Cross. But instead of (or as well as) asking for donations and doing fundraising, they are selling licensed merchandise. There are rules for non-profits versus for profits doing this type of stuff and this group will need a HQ in SOME country in order to conduct financial business with the rest of the world.

The real issue is when they come in and shit goes poorly. The insurance liability they will need to have will be staggering, especially if they are fighting super-powered bad guys, not just cleaning up natural disasters. They will get sucked into civil wars, coups, revolutions, etc.

You are going to have a hard time militarizing this organization. True, there are mercenary groups like Academi (aka Blackwater) but these groups really operate under the aegis of the US, without national support they wouldn't be able to do much. To my knowledge, there are no "private" militaries of any significance that a country like, say Columbia, could hire to go suppress Nicaragua without a bunch of much more powerful countries (like the US, China, or Russia) basically being a strong silent partner. Arms companies can't, or won't, sell advanced weaponry to just anyone. Even if you could score a platoon of heavy armor and a squadron of attack helicopters you need a base SOMEWHERE and most countries won't allow that kinda hardware in unless they control it.

So what you really need to have is a "deniable" private organization that is tightly bound to a sheltering country but has the PR chops to be able to go in to another sovereign country, deal with a crisis, and get out smelling like a rose. This is gonna be TOUGH if the thing they are dealing with is a super-villain from said country, or the fall-out from a super-villain from some other country. The politics at this level are staggering, even between relatively "minor" countries on the world stage. NO ONE is going to want these guys running around answerable only to themselves (and possibly shareholders?). Even the US, as unstoppable a military force as has ever existed, can't just pop in anywhere it wants to deal with some trouble. So unless your superheroes have impeccable global integrity (and that will never happen) there will be trouble in at least some places they may want to go.

What you might be able to have is a loose alliance of heroes from their respective countries that cooperate within their borders. Sort of a Hero NATO, for example. Obviously these guys need logistical support and funding that via merchandising sounds reasonable. It would take a significant shift in world opinion on national versus global sovereignty and identity in order to empower global corporations/supernational organizations to do like you want.

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  • $\begingroup$ For the national vs. global sovereignty - there is a lasting idea among the populace that there's an enemy out there who can strike at any time, and does not have the best interests for mankind. That could help with the Hero NATO idea. $\endgroup$ – RMH Aug 3 '16 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @RMH That would help. Of course national perspective matters. For most of the world, the USA is an enemy that could strike at anytime (but we choose not to) while for people in the US, we seem beset by foes like ISIS :) To have a truly global community I think there would have to be an extraplanetary threat. Even the current threat of global climate change doesn't unite earthlings much. (Of course climate change doesn't personally punch you in the face :) $\endgroup$ – Jason K Aug 3 '16 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like superhero "Rainbow" (Tom Clancy) $\endgroup$ – Deolater Aug 4 '16 at 13:50
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Such an organization would not be set up by the governments. Historically governments were reluctant to give too much power to an organization they could not control.

  • In the UN, the permanent security council members made sure that they are calling the shots, and that they can block each other with their veto.
  • In the EU, the member governments control the European Council which allows them to check the power of the parliament.

To make something like S.H.I.E.L.D. happen, the organization/corporation would need the power to resist government oversight.

One option would be to give them the monopoly over something even better than a helicarrier -- perhaps an orbital base, beyond the effective reach of any national government. They invented a very effective reaction drive, or perhaps they salvaged and reverse-engineered alien technology. If they can keep national governments from grabbing the drive for national security reasons early on, they might be secure on the high ground.

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  • $\begingroup$ To make something like S.H.I.E.L.D. happen, the organization/corporation would need the power to resist government oversight. Go #TeamCap! $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 3 '16 at 18:05
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How viable? I'll just address two topics: money, and viewed military threat.

Mattel Inc sells the following groups of toys:

  • Barbie
  • Polly Pocket dolls
  • Fisher-Price toys
  • Hot Wheels
  • Matchbox cars
  • American Girl dolls and books
  • Barney toys
  • Ferrari toys
  • Certain Disney toys
  • Certain Nickelodeon toys

...You might notice a few big names on that list. Well Mattel's income (not net income) last year was about $310 million. Obviously most of that goes back into funding producing products for the next year. I can't find published numbers on this by Mattel, but let's assume at least 80% went to expenses, with the rest divided between investments, paying stockholders dividends, paying debt, and keeping some cash on hand. So assuming Mattel had no debt, had no stockholders to pay, didn't invest, and didn't want to keep cash on hand that's about 62 million they'd have to form their military with (paying the people, logistics, building buildings, keeping the soldiers equipped, buying fancy vehicles, etc).

Compared to the US budget for defense at $600 billion we find a difference of 20,000 times.

To clarify: We'd need 20,000 of one of the world's largest toy companies to fund the US military.

How much, proportionately, your organization's military presence is compared to the US military is up to you. No matter how much you do, you're effectively creating a "rogue nation" which is seen as a wildcard. Now superheroes likely get somewhat of a pass in the global public opinion, but it should be kept in mind that a lot of people don't trust their own military, and certainly don't trust other people's. Having a military that answers to the "evil corporate agents" and not even to "the people" only makes this worse.

And then the governments won't like it. Especially when your organization starts deploying troops to help superheroes battle super villains. "You come into our nation? You abide by our laws, and follow our procedures." Almost every nation has laws concerning their own citizens owning guns, and they many-times-over won't appreciate external forces marching around in their cities armed with military grade technology. This just won't fly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good points! Thank you. They'll have to diversify their portfolio. As for the troops, I'll have to think on a way for the nations that agree to be on the agency's board either work with the agency on the troops, or they have certain limitations on what they can and can't do. $\endgroup$ – RMH Aug 3 '16 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ You could add in patents created by the supergeniuses employed by this super-corp. Think about the practical commercial applications of spiderman's webbing or Iron Mans repulsor array. If these technologies could be marketed, that would provide substantial income. Even super services, like if a superman offered to take satellites into orbit, could bring in lots of cash. "Heroes United", brought to you by Alphabet Corp :) $\endgroup$ – Jason K Aug 3 '16 at 18:54
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A very boring but real issue your have to face is copyright issues.

Selling toys, t-shirts, etc only works if your the only one selling them. If anyone can make the same items then your only potential profit is that of any retail provider, very tiny and not going to be funding any military in any way.

Thus for your funding to work at all (and as mentioned it's doubtful that the income would be enough) your company would need to copyright it's image.

This becomes an issue when multi national because you need every nation to set rules to protect your image. At minimum this is an additional legal overhead of protecting your image, with lost revenues in places that won't protect it.

However, if your income is dependent on your image being protected this means every government knows that they have a strong bargaining chip on you. Imagine the US trying to dictate terms to this agency with a simple threat of removing the copyright protection if they don't. The US sales would be a decent chunk of their income, so the US now has a very easy way to threaten large expenses if your group doesn't do what it wants. Every country will do similar, though how much bargaining power they have will be tied with how much their people spend on your products.

The net result is that while technically non-government agency they will end up with a very strong ruling body forcing rules and restrictions. They can still be told they can't interfere with that cold war between US and Russia because if they do both nations remove their copyright and they will lose 1/3 of their total income etc. In fact the need to keep governments happy will regulate them to something more in line with a mercenary police force, they can't get involved with any major wars or risk loosing funding, and it's rare that more firepower is needed to handle insider threats like terrorists.

Frankly at this point a better business model is to be a flat out mercenary force actually! I would instead look at a sort of charitable-mercenaries sort of approach. They only help countries that explicitly ask for their help and offer to pay them, but they don't help in situations they don't agree in and in situations where one side is clearly in the right they offer very low rates. Still their mercenary rates cover a good part of their budget with selling items being at most a secondary income to help make up for the pro-bono reduced rate work they sometimes do.

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I'm going to answer the question of how to make a mega-wealthy corporation believable.

The 10 largest companies in the world include Walmart, energy and utility companies in autocracies, energy and commodity companies in the free world, and Samsung. So I'm seeing energy on here a lot. Energy is extremely important to the world, and at the current time it comes from fossil fuels. Most static electricity generation comes from fossil fuel power plants, and most mobile energy sources come from fossil fuel gas/diesel/gas turbine engines.

If you want to make an organization that is independently super-wealthy you should be looking at energy. This company would have to develop a product that:

  1. Completely supersedes either the static electricity generation or mobile electricity generation, and
  2. Cannot be copied by anyone else

So tackling the first part, we need an invention that is so much better than the current methods of energy usage as to make the old methods obsolete. For static power generation, that could be a fusion reactor or micro-wave power beamed from a solar station in orbit. For mobile generation, that could be a new battery type that has very high power/density ratio, or a fuel cell running on some newly discovered chemical reaction chain.

To achieve the second part, you can go two routes. You can say that the technology is sufficiently complex that it cannot be reverse engineered safely within the time span of your story. The regulatory approval for certain products (like, say, fusion reactors) would be extensive. Alternately you can say that your company has a monopoly on a certain component that is required for your product. This could easily happend due to your company also having a monopoly on superheroes.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • The mad genius Archemedes Einstein developed way to build a GW output fusion generator. Rapidly growing countries around the world were happy to shell out for a cheap and unlimited power source (East and South Asian companies with limited oil reserves seem like likely candidates). Archemides' founds the company MegaCorp which erects reactors in less than a year. Seeing their success in China and India, impeccable safety record, and being pressured by their populations to embrace a new carbon free power source, US and Europe approve the MegaCorp design. Within 15 years, MegaCorp generates 75% of the world's electricity while competitors are years behind in working out the engineering of their competing designs.
  • A scientist working at a computer discovers a complex organic molecule, unobtaniide that catalyzes the dissociation of ammoniun nitrate in an aqueous solution, and this could be used to make a closed-cycle, rechargable fuel cell with a very high energy density. Unobtaniide is extremely hard to make in a lab, and would be a footnote in science, except that scientist/entrepreneur Steve Gates reading the paper realized that the molecule could be easily fabricated in zero gravity. Fortunately, the superpowered Blue Lantern posseses a power ring allowing him to travel to space and set up a laboratory. Steve and Lantern found MegaCorp which produces batteries which no one else can replicate since MegaCorp is the world's only creator of unobtaniide.
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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the energy idea! There are a few ways this could happen in the world too, so it's a perfect fit. $\endgroup$ – RMH Aug 4 '16 at 16:24
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The situation you describe did happen in the past. During the early feudal period in Europe, powerful monastic organizations like the Knights Hospitallers and the Knights Templar gained their power through their control of banking, travel protection (heh) and medical services. Of course, as a military organization, they also supplied the muscle to smite enemies of the Church.

The main reason these organizations could exist is simply that they had few competitors and that the political organizations of the time were not well organized, financed or in many cases, even secure in their thrones. OF course it also helped that many of the political units were in debt to the banking arms of the Templars, in particular.

Of course, this state of affairs could not last, and in the case of the Templars, the French King decided that he would rather have the gold than just borrow it, liquidating the Templars and seizing whatever property he could get his hands on. (As a historical note, he didn't get anywhere near what he expected, and some historians believe the Templars true wealth was in contracts and loans rather than physical gold, which explains where the wealth dissapeared to). Other knightly orders, independent duchies and city states like the cities of the Hanse were also gradually muscled out as proto nation states became more powerful and less willing to be constrained or threatened by outside influences. Much of the growth of the French State can be traced to the crown building their forces to deal with bands of unemployed mercenaries roaming the countryside after the 100 years war, for example.

Since the formation of the modern nation state after the Treaty of Westphalia, the room for NGOs with military power has been greatly diminished. If nation states were to diminish in power and authority, then this situation might arise again (although the collapse of the nation state would create more problems than just militarized NGO's).

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Partly it depends on how super-powered your super-powered individuals are, because if they're sufficiently powerful they can be mobilized rapidly and deployed to ameliorate the consequences of any major disaster. For example, if they can travel at hypersonic speed (either flight or teleportation or plain super-speed) and move mountains and change the courses of mighty rivers. But moving the injured and harmed by the thousands and provide medical aid to those thousands would be essential to their success.

Changes to make this more believable. Drop the non-super-powered individuals coming in to assist the civil power (the police, paramedical, emergency services, disaster relief). They are interfering in civil matters if they came in the way described. They are a risk to themselves and to others.

This is a corporation funded by toys, comics and memorabilia. Come on, this is a corporation they will charge massive fees for disaster relief. Their services, moving mountains of damage, charging the courses of mighty waste flows, and getting people to hospitals where they can be treated or safe refuges, will be vastly cheaper than the disaster relief services of almost anywhere on Earth. This applies to small, poorer nations that would have great difficulty to set up and maintain the level and depth of disaster relief services that an international organization composed of super-powered people can do. It will always be cheaper to pay the fees.

The organization should stay out of criminal matters unless asked to do so by national governments and police forces. However, this should be done carefully as there are corrupt governments and this organization might find itself employed as an enforcement arm against political dissidents and other persons resisting oppressive regimes. If they did so, it should be confined to the jurisdictions concerned and stay within that nation's borders.

It should stay out of politics and military matters obviously. Care needs to be exercised about which super-powered persons are deployed in which countries. This is similar to way Amnesty International works as people with backgrounds in specific countries aren't allowed to work on cases based in that country. For example, a person with Russian heritage doesn't deal with political prisoners in the Russian Federation.

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