Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security

  • Published

Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security by Thomas C. Bruneau. Stanford University Press, 2011, 288 pp.

When considering the topic of civilian-military relations, the analysis usually orbits around the concept of civilian control of military power. In Thomas C. Bruneau’s Patriots for Profit, the “civ-mil” question is addressed from an entirely different perspective. This book moves the discussion away from the traditional concerns most notably covered in Samuel Huntington’s eponymous The Soldier and the State and brings it to the more contemporary issue of the privatization of US security. The civilian-military question in Bruneau’ s work remains one of control, but control in the sense of legal oversight and institutional constraint over independent private companies that have found the business of state security to be very lucrative. In addition to this different spin on control, the question of the role of civilian contractors in our nation’s security matrix is analyzed through the dual lenses of “efficiency and effectiveness,” which requires a review of defense reform itself.

Bruneau, the distinguished professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and co-editor of Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil-Military Relations, meticulously surveys these critical questions. He deconstructs the dichotomous role of civilian institutions in security and the use of deadly force in the interest of the state—a role that has been traditionally considered “inherently governmental” in the broader picture of the US national security institution. What truly makes Patriots for Profit stand out from other efforts at analyzing the civilian-military dynamic is its extensive research. Bruneau builds his argument in seven succinct chapters but includes three appendices as well as detailed notes, providing the reader much more access to applicable legislation and valuable source material.

Bruneau’s argument is that since civilian control over military power is not really questioned in the established US democracy, the analysis should shift to the privatized elements of state security. With this in mind, he builds a viable framework to assess how civilian institutions—most notably, private security contractors (PSC)—have entered into tasks that have heretofore been monopolized by the state and how the state may seek to control this new paradigm. This evolution in the US security posture, which has expanded rapidly over the past decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, is one that has outpaced the establishment of consistent legal or institutional controls over the civilian contractors involved. At the core of the problem is the fact that market forces as well as political realities have made the new civilian contractor dilemma naturally resistant to government oversight and control. Patriots for Profit is the first expansive attempt to analyze this state of affairs.

To set up his argument, Bruneau builds his analysis around the framework of “new institutionalism.” In this case, contractor/civilian encroachment into the realm of state security has changed our nation’s security, and the best way to understand it is to analyze it through the prism of the institution’s structures and mores. After establishing this analytical framework, he walks the reader through statistics, applicable laws, and rules that are in place, culminating in the assertion that the path for security reform in the twenty-first century begins with consistent oversight as well as blunt assessments on the efficiency and effectiveness of PSCs. To decompose his thesis, Bruneau provides a step-by-step review of landmark efforts in US national security reform beginning with the National Security Act of 1947, continuing through the Goldwater-Nichols Act, and culminating in the 2008 Project on National Security Reform. Control, effectiveness and efficiency, and the role PSCs play in national security cannot be appraised without this strategic review of the US defense institution and its guiding principles. Through this approach, the author exposes what little attention has been paid to PSCs in the control framework, particularly in the later efforts of the mid 2000s, ironically, while the nation experienced its most rapid boom in security privatization. This review highlights the author’s assertion that much of the control for PSCs rests with the companies themselves and the scope of their contracts. Bruneau points out that private security firms remain proprietary, market-driven, and immune from the public’s demands of transparency to which government agencies are normally subjected (p. 108).

Patriots for Profit also explores the expansion of our national security requirements and the reduction of the uniformed personnel in light of ongoing military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It demonstrates that this state of affairs provides the perfect opening for private companies seeking lucrative government contracts to fill military mission gaps. This free market dynamic also sets the stage for conflict among the nation’s dominant political parties and increases pressuring tactics from special interest groups. To demonstrate, the author includes a memorandum from multiple private firms that urges the Office of Management and Budget to refrain from providing an exact definition for “inherently governmental functions” (appendix 2, p. 171). In light of a rapidly evolving, increasingly privatized, national security institution, this type of influence and political posturing raises serious concerns for control and calls into question the nation’s ability to assess efficiency and effectiveness with regard to contracted PSCs.

The book’s unique, up-to-date approach to civilian-military relations, as well as its breakdown of the market and political forces that influence it, makes it a must-read for students and professors alike in the security studies field. Additionally, this work should be helpful to senior decision makers in the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense, to name just a few. Finally, military members who perform contracting duties would greatly benefit from this book. As the future contracting officer representative for the Afghan Air Corps Training Center in Kabul, I found this book to be personally enlightening. It is, as the author intended, a foundational work in the investigation of the evolving US civilian-military relationship in the twenty-first century. In Patriots for Profit, Bruneau has written a book that will be recognized as an important work in the genre; it also will provide future researchers a starting point for expanded analysis of the role private organizations play in our nation’s defense.

Lt Col Louis S. Perret

United States Air Force Academy

"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."