Outsourcing Security: Private Military Contractors and US Foreign Policy

  • Published

Outsourcing Security: Private Military Contractors and U.S. Foreign Policy by Bruce E. Stanley. Potomac Books, University of Nebraska Press, 2015, 238 pp.

Looking at any US military recruiting commercial, poster, or other advertisement, you usually see images of action and adventure. What you will not see is the truck driver, the cook, the custodian, the construction worker, and the plumber. In days past, these folks would be uniformed military members doing this work as either a full-time position or as an additional duty. While recent military manning decisions have resulted in fewer uniformed personnel available for this kind of work, the foundational and basic logistical work of conducting combat operations must still get done. Today, this work is primarily done by private military contractors (PMC) who are responsible for everyday logistical responsibilities and private security contractors (PSC) who are specially trained and armed professionals charged with defending the overseas operating locations and act as personal bodyguards for high-ranking officials. Bruce E. Stanley takes a first-ever look at the economics behind the use of PMCs and PSCs. His intent is not to open debate on whether the United States should or should not use contractor support but on identifying the environmental and contextual factors that contribute to the increased use of contractor aid. Stanley accomplishes this task with great effectiveness.

Stanley starts off by showing the use of PMCs and PSCs is not an entirely new concept. The United States has used contractors in military operations for decades, and he presents evidence of the Department of State (DOS) and Department of Defense (DOD) reliance on PMC and PSC support in every military venture since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This brief history lesson is important because he explains the analysis of work that has gone before, while directing our attention as to what has been overlooked. His explanation of private military contracts describes the four different flavors of contractor support—foreign, domestic, support, and security. This is very helpful to those with limited background in working with contractors in the field. He then goes on to define the environmental factors under which the likelihood of the DOS and DOD utilization of PMCs and PSCs would fluctuate. This is important because it gives US leaders and military commanders the tool to understand how much contractor support will be needed to augment the uniformed military service members. It also gives a free-market capitalist the insight as to where, when, and what types of services may be required by the DOS and DOD.

Stanley provides a general description of economic supply and demand theory and then goes beyond the obvious observation of “it’s happening” to explain “what makes it happen.” He describes five primary components and three subcomponents chosen for evaluation against the supply and demand theory. Stanley also talks about the many variables in play that could affect the outcome. He is very specific and detailed in research and analysis. To test his hypothesis, Stanley chose four significant military operations: Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm (taken as a whole), Operation Joint Endeavor, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. These specific examples were chosen because he believed them to be an array of “best case scenarios” to allow for the hypotheses to be tested. He then analyzes his results and, surprisingly, one of his hypotheses seems to fail. Stanley honestly takes this data point into account and gives it an appropriate amount of weight when forming his conclusions.

Despite his thoroughness, an unaddressed point is that all of the contractors (both domestic and foreign) are doing jobs in the actual area of responsibility. Stanley does not directly address whether he counts US contractors performing logistical and support work from within the United States. It is understandable to say the majority of PMCs and PSCs are in theater. In fact, host-nation contractors are one of the types evaluated. These are the people providing the security, transportation, logistical, civil engineering, food supply, and routine base operations in the field. However, many other PMC support personnel are stationed within the United States and should be counted toward that effort. Stanley laterally includes this point by quantifying the numbers of contracts in effect and the amount of DOS and DOD budget spent on each, but he does not flesh out any further details or their strategic implications.

This book makes the reader much more aware of the scope of PMC/PSC and upheaves any negative mental images of what it may mean to be a private contractor, providing critical services, in a war zone. Military operators should read this book to appreciate the vast infrastructure that must exist prior to kinetic, purely military activities. Logisticians need to read this book to help their understanding of the nature of contractor support needed in deployed military environments. Senior military leaders must take this information to heart as they contemplate resource budgeting actions that certainly will have economic and political implications. As any successful military operation starts with proper mission planning, Stanley’s observations are essential to proper logistical mission planning.

Maj Randall G. Mercer, USAF

"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."