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Military Privatization

The principles of military structure appear at surface level to be concrete and rigidly defined.  In the conception of most laymen, the military can be described as the standing body of armed forces which is associated with a sovereign government, a politically oriented resistance organization, a dictatorial regime or a nationalist party seeking self-representation within a larger state or region.  However, continually changing economic, cultural and geopolitical climates have a direct effect on international relations and, consequently, military structures.

            Increasingly, under the purview of recent historical events, from the end of the Cold War through the September 11th attacks and their manifold repercussions, the shape of the military is taking on relevant characteristics to accommodate the circumstances.  Such circumstances include a heightened need for domestic security, the potential of war in unfamiliar theaters and a versatility in contending with issues of peacekeeping, resource management and humanitarian-aid distribution.

.           One of the most salient addendums to traditional military structure is the adoption of privatized military strategies.  A product of current cultural and corporate standards, the access which Western democracies, individual superpowers, insurgent militia and Third-World autocracies gain to the providers of such strategies is crucial to their success in achieving military goals. Military organizations such as those committed to the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have thus become increasingly dependent upon Private Military Corporations (PMC’s).  This dependency manifests itself in the private military contract; an agreement between a sovereign governing body, its standing military and any number of private military specialist corporations to work for collective military goals.  The private sector has become the fastest and most exponentially growing sector over the last decade within the larger structure of such militaries, bearing a concrete effect on the economy and strategy of war.

            With an increasing emphasis from some of the globe’s most pervasively influential nations on further advancing this structural reformation, recent major conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Liberia and Iraq have illustrated to both positive and negative ends the broader implications of the role which PMC’s play in the modern military.  A review of the history, the current applications and the arguments both in advocacy and in opposition of the growing role of the private contract in traditional military operations reveals that such a development is reshaping the nature of our military, its conflicts and its effectiveness in achieving its goals.

In the early 1990’s, the United States’ involvement in a number of armed conflicts, primarily those in Somalia and Bosnia, combined with its recently reduced military scale, demanded the enlistment of some of these private firms:

“Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen, who worked diplomatically to resolve several conflicts on the continent, gave an historical perspective on the rising costs of traditional peacekeeping. He said in the early 1990’s operations in places like Cambodia and Somalia became veritable budget busters that forced the U.S. Government to begin looking at alternative ways to do peace operations.  When the U.S. military was asked if it could provide support to peace operations during that time, Cohen said, “They replied, ‘Yes, we can do it, but it’s cheaper in the private sector.’ And it turned out to be that way. USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) could get C-130 aircraft flying around Africa much more cheaply than you’d have to pay the U.S. Air Force.”(Fisher-Thompson,1)

            After establishing this principle, it has become increasingly the province of the world’s largest powers to appeal to the private sector for assistance in any number of charges which are incumbent upon them.  This has summoned the massive growth of Private Military Corporations such as DynCorp., Kellog Brown and Root (KBR), Blackwater USA and Military Professional Resources, all of which work under an intimate and long-term relationship with the seat of government, regardless of its party affiliation.  The Center for Public Integrity reported that since 1994, “the U.S. Defense Department has entered into 3,061 contracts with 12 U.S.-based private military companies identified by ICIJ, a review of government documents showed.”  These contracts were worth $300 billion.  There are today roughly 90 companies worldwide that are contending on the security market.

            KBR, in particular, has become increasingly interactive with the Department of Defense and the White House over the course of this decade.

            “In 1992, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney commissioned the firm to research (at a cost of $3.9 million) the privatization of US Army logistics. KBR concluded that privatization would be much cheaper than allowing the armed forces to carry the task out themselves. Subsequently, Cheney granted the firm a contract to implement its own recommendations, mainly in overseas US operations.” (Speetjens, 2) This decision, in turn, had direct impact on the United States’ increasing role in the Middle East, where protection and reconstruction of oil refinement resources represented the most practical route to economic and political stability in the region.  KBR was, due to its specialized proximity to the refinement industry–its parent company and the energy concern Halliburton–a relevant contractor such initiatives.  Due to both the temporal nature of Middle East conflict demands and the resource orientation inherent to said conflicts, it was rationally assessed that the standing U.S. army was not best suited to those responsibilities which were fitted to private contracts.  The 1992 study would become a precedent and a prototype for the larger emphasis on privatization that Dick Cheney would bring to the White House as Vice-President in 2000.

            In recent years, privatization of the military has reached new heights:

“Since Sept. 11 and the Pentagon’s launch of the war on terrorism, the stock prices of the publicly traded contractors have soared. Already, trainers from private military companies are in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where Al Qaeda operatives are believed to be hiding. Executives of several private military companies have met with Pentagon officials about training other armies in Central Asia.” (Schrader, 1)

            Overall, the War On Terror, with a structural intent which is inclined toward a long-term expansion of the United States’ economic, ideological and political interests, has demanded a manpower which cannot be accommodated in number by the enlisted military.  Likewise, the host of responsibilities in this conflict, which vary in cultural circumstances, technological requirements and background requisites, are often better suited to privately contracted units designed to contend with those specific scenarios.  It is thus strategically sound to appeal to such services than to depend on a unit of generically trained military personnel.  The Private Military Corporation, in response to this tactical value, is today a standard element of the state military, working in concert with traditional military structures to achieve collective goals.

            The reasons for the increased use of PMC’s in the Post 9/11 military atmosphere are extensive.  As conflicts of all sizes challenge traditional definitions of warfare, the use of forces which fall outside the category of national military apparatuses enables the United States to more efficiently attend to its military goals.  Under the current climate of political and diplomatic precariousness, as well as strained military fortitude, a refined strategy for military intervention now includes by necessity the broad-based support and active participation of private military firms both domestic and international.

            On a large scale, PMC’s can be central to the combat which comprises a war, elemental as the support which buttresses the primary standing army and authoritative in the process of postwar strategic planning.

Professor William Douglas assessed while speaking at a “conference sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on the subject of the use of the private sector in peacekeeping operations. . . [that] the evolution of international affairs, peacekeeping is changing,” he said, in part, because “there are fewer Western militaries becoming involved in it.” So, the purpose of the conference, he said, was to grapple with the transformation from using national armies and their supply services to private companies that can furnish troops and firepower as well as food, laundry, supply, transportation and communications services to peacekeeping operations.” (Fisher-Thompson, 1)

            A primary factor affecting the form in which military strategy must today be executed is the absence of strong, meaningful alliances amongst nations.  The War on Terror has been marked by the twofold alteration in the military outlook.  This international conflict has produced the need for a highly stratified rationale of military strategies.  It has additionally sparked a set of extremely divisive ideological rifts over the means to its resolution.  The confluence of these two factors has had the effect of diminishing the capabilities of the American military, which had long appealed to a potent combination of its own dominant army and the influence which it bade over its friends and allies in order to emerge from confrontations with the clear attainment of its military goals.  Today, the attainment of these goals increasingly requires the assistance of privately contracted goals.  The United States military is currently dispatched to numerous theaters in the War on Terror, strained by diminished enlistment and record budget deficits, diminished in effectiveness by bureaucratic inefficiency and lacking in the applied experience to execute many dimensions of this new warfare.  It can perhaps best be noted that while the global power-vacuum circumstances which surrounded the Cold War spawned many of the conflicts in which we now find ourselves, the sector transfer of personnel from the military to private firms which was also spawned by the end of the Cold War may present us with the most promising recourse to those conflicts.

“Private military firms are business providers of professional services intricately linked to warfare. That is, they are corporate bodies that specialise in the sale of military skills. They do everything, from leasing out commando teams and offering the strategic advice of ex-generals to running the outsourced supply chains for the US and now British armies.  Such firms represent the evolution, globalisation, and corporatisation of the age-old mercenary trade.” (Singer, 1).

            While there is precedent for such widespread utilization of extra-military forces for assistance in military activities as established here above, the PMCs that are active on the global scale today differ from mercenary units in their structure.  Most of these are modeled in a corporate hierarchical structure, with both profitability and market credibility inbuilt to the mission.  PMCs are typically comprised of former military and intelligence specialists, weapons and technology professionals, language and culture experts and all manner of transferred armed forces personnel.  There is, as a result, a natural relationship established between this private sector and its inevitable strategic partner in the Department of Defense.  In the case of the United States, for example, prominent members of the current presidential administration and its DoD have well documented ties to security, weapons manufacturing and military training PMC’s such as United Defense, Kellog Brown and Root and General Instrument Corporation.  They have levied their involvement with these organizations to bring military service contracts into the mainstream strategy of fighting the global War on Terror.

            PMC’s are becoming instrumental to performing a variety of functions in everyday military strategy. Significantly given today’s top concerns, private corporations with specific capabilities of security provision have been essential to contending with a terrorist methodology which is most benefitted by its capability for subterfuge and consequent talent for security breach.  With a level of imminent threat at constant on the various fronts of this war, the presence of PMC’s has been central in alleviating the military of unforeseen dangers.  PMC’s are now becoming standard points of enlistment for tasks such as setting up check points, guarding infrastructure and providing protective detail to members of a legitimate but fragile government as often heads a fledgling democracy.

            Another purpose which PMC’s now serve in fledgling democracies is in the improvement of native security forces.  Military training, specialized educational regimens and arms training are now the province of private contractors almost exclusively, with such personnel exerting tactical and ideological influence over their local trainees. Such education has the effect of heightening the professional standards of the local military organization as well as buffering its direct interaction with opposition troops.  This is the practical basis for the eventual formation of a standing army for the new democracy.  This highlights another service for which PMC’s are now commonly employed in the utilization of communication methods to rally support amongst the populace.  For this purpose, PMC’s with specialized training in the fields of military propaganda, military tactical communication methods and interrogation methods are vital to the effectiveness of executing a strategy which gains popular ground support.

            There is also a growing prevalence in the use of PMC’s by international organizations such as the United Nations for peacekeeping assistance.  This entails such responsibilities as providing armed observation to electoral activities, overseeing transfers of power and taking part in efforts to secure postwar areas through activities such as de-mining and distribution of aid resources.

            There is, in addition to its benefit to the execution of military initiatives, an important economic practicality to employing such services as well.  By abiding the corporate structure rather than a military bureaucracy as its administrative umbrella, the PMC is capable of creating a return on the government’s economic investment:

“The PMC boom is partly a legacy of the military downsizing that followed the end of the Cold War. But the boom is also self-sustaining; the very existence of PMCs is boosting demand for their services. Not only has it arguably become more cost effective to outsource certain military tasks to the private sector, but the insertion of PMC expertise – even in offering training and/or strategic advice – often changes the relationship between two parties in a conflict situation. This creates pressures for both parties to have a PMC’s services on their side.” (Taljaard, 1)

            This underlines the outlook for the global war which has emerged in the aftermath of the Cold War.  PMC’s are in one regard competitors, seeking to curry the business of the government in marketing the strategies, manpower and machines for making war.  PMC’s may also be competitors in that they may face one another on the battlefield in support of their respectively contracted causes. However, from an industrial perspective PMC’s are part of a network of military organizations designed for profitability and field-effectiveness.  Current military practices indicate that the involvement of Private Military Corporations in international conflicts will continue to increase as national governments and international governing bodies seek to establish a sensible balance between standard forces and pragmatically contracted extra-military agencies.

            The ramifications of September 11th have been extensive with regard to the structure of the military.  This represents a useful point of initiation for comprehending the role with Private Military Corporations play in the modern military.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been an ideological leader in the task of reforming the Pentagon to contend with the new challenges of the War On Terror.  Inbuilt to the new philosophy of the Department fo Defense is a highly integrated military, dynamically balanced by privatization and a well-armed standing military working in close cohesion with one another.

            The Rumsfeld doctrine is complimented by a White House approach to the War On Terror that demands both a perpetuation of multiple wars across varied fronts and an upgrade in the effectiveness of Homeland Security.  The combination of policies, in addition to an unprecedented sympathy within both the DoD and the White House for the philosophical underpinnings of corporate privatization, has created an atmosphere which has been positively fertile for PMC’s.  This is an actualization of the Iron-Triangle principle, which necessitates that the integration of government, military and industry into a unified and collectively goal-oriented entity is an unimpeachable route to the extension of power.  The presence of personnel in the White House and DoD that have inextricable interests in all three capacities has heightened the real applications of the Iron Triangle.  This is notable in the increasing symbiosis of goals between the three sectors.

                        The integration of privatization into major military strategies is principally a positive trend.  Certainly, it is a process which is already well underway and the fact of its evolution is evidence that the military is actively changing to acclimate the times.  Still, there is without question a demand to the international community, the world’s major powers and the PMC’s themselves to establish enforceable and consistent standards for oversight of the activities of the private sector in military endeavors.

Works Cited:

Schrader, E.  (2002).  US Companies Trained to Hire Foreign Armies. Los Angeles Times.

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (SoSFCA).  (2001).  Private Military  Companies.  British Parliament:   Ninth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Singer, P.  (2002).  The Dogs of War Go Corporate.  The London News Review.

Speetjens, P.  (2004).  Privatizing peace and security: A Hobbesian Dilemma. The Daily Star:                Regional Edition.  Online at  <http://www.sandline.com/hotlinks/Daily_Star-Hobbesi10C2AD1.html>

Taljaard, R.  (2003).  Modern-Day Mercenaries.  Yale Global.

 

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