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Victory for Hire: Private Security Companies' Impact on Military Effectiveness

Victory for Hire: Private Security Companies’ Impact on Military Effectiveness by Molly Dunigan, Stanford University Press, 2011, 256 pp.

Molly Dunigan, associate political scientist in the International Security Policy Group, made it very clear in her book, Victory for Hire, that private security companies’ (PSC) effectiveness in any hot spot or area of responsibility depends on different factors of the situation. In some situations and cases, it can be very effective to have the PSC embedded with the military unit, and in other cases, it can be detrimental to the success and effectiveness of the commander’s intent.

According to Dunigan, there really has not been a lot of analysis placed on PSC’s impact on military effectiveness in the past, so she wrote this easy to read, very insightful book on why it is extremely important for government officials to understand the pros and cons of this type of dynamic for national security. She draws most of her conclusions on PSCs deployed from democratic states and not from rogue nations; however, she does use some examples of nondemocratic nation-states that have used a mercenary type military unit and have been successful. Most of her emphasis is placed on the United States and the American way of life. With the way of the economy and downsizing of the American defense budget, Dunigan is sure “contracting of military functions occurs to an unprecedented extent in the United States at present and shows little indication of tapering off in the near future” (page 152).

Bottom line, PSCs can be effective in some scenarios and not so effective in other situations. Dunigan’s layout of the book made it very easy to understand PSC’s involvement in military effectiveness. First, she addresses the effectiveness of PSCs from a historical and political context of this type of mercenary outsourcing.

After spending a considerable amount of time laying the foundation for this type of military methodology, she delves into a more theoretical context. Throughout her discussion on the different theories associated with military effectiveness, democratic advantage and state involvement, she has an overarching theme reoccur. This theme is “PSCs have varying effects on military effectiveness, depending on the consistency between their own structure and identity and that of the relevant military forces, as well as on whether the public learns of their deployments and the possible moral implications of such deployments.” Dunigan discusses how different military situations would best embrace and add value to its strategic and tactical mission. For example, stability, security, transition, and reconstruction are becoming more military oriented and, therefore, can be an effective mission for a PSC to tackle alongside or independent of a military unit. Having PSCs embedded with provincial reconstruction teams can also be very effective for the mission of that specialized team.

In her third chapter, Dunigan spends a considerable amount of time analyzing PSCs embedded with the military during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She provides many numbers, statistics and charts to prove the numbers of private contractors is increasing. Dunigan revealed how the ratio of contractors to troops had increased in February of 2008 to more private contractors (161,000) to 155,000 military troops (p. 52). Additionally, the number of friendly fire (blue and white incidents) has decreased according to her study from when Operation Enduring Freedom began back in 2001.

Not only does she discuss numbers, she interviews many different military members as well as private contractors to get their reaction to fighting side by side. It varies as to the opinions; however, many military members were put off with having to deal with contractors who were getting paid more money and did not have to follow the same stringent guidelines and rules of engagement the military member had to obey. As a side note, many of the contractors were prior military members who had separated from the military only to take off the uniform and get paid by a civilian organization. Another point of contention was the fact that some military members believed the contractor would merely turn and run at the first sight of danger since they did not take an oath to die for their country. This opinion was not held by a lot of military members; however, it did reveal itself in a few of her interviews.

Additionally, an area that drew considerable attention was the fact that private contractors are not bound by the same laws and guidelines as the military member. The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Law of Armed Conflict are key guiding laws for military members to follow, and since the private contractor does not necessarily abide by those same laws, it is a very strong point of contention. According to Dunigan, there is “empirical support for the proposition that PSC noncompliance with legal and ethical norms of just war has a detrimental impact on military effectiveness” (p. 73).

After thoroughly analyzing how structure and identity play an integral role in whether or not the PSC will either hinder or aide military effectiveness, Dunigan takes time to revert to the thirteenth century to reveal to the reader where mercenaries were effective in some cases and not so effective in others. It helps to drive her point home at the conclusion of Victory for Hire that there can be some positive attributes to having the PSC fighting beside the military member, the negative effects outweigh the positive most of the time.

I highly recommend reading Victory for Hire. It is an easy, informative read to commanders and leaders who are working either out in the trenches with the private contractor or making the decision to embed contractors with military units. It will be helpful to glean some of her pearls of wisdom before embarking on something that can add so much to a unit and mission as well as detract greatly if not employed properly.

Lt Col Deborah Dusek, Lt Col, USAF
USSTRATCOM/J36 National Airborne Operations Center


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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