Recent developments in the field of the military contracting have sparked a lively debate on merits and/or disadvantages of this course of action. While some commentators seem to believe that the utilization of private military contractors (hereinafter referred to as the PMCs) may be a beneficial contribution to the U.S. Army’s battle readiness and effectiveness, some others assert that the use of the PMCs leads to the growth of “shadow government”, which would bring down American democracy (Cole 27). In my opinion, the latter claim has a grain of truth to it. However, the opposing party’s arguments may also be valid, so in this paper I will attempt to find some common ground between them.
The need for the PMCs’ support has grown organically out of the U.S. Army’s funding decrease after the end of the Cold War (Latham Jr. 41). With the U.S. forces no longer focused on opposing the alleged Soviet peril, their development proceeded in the direction of more lean and flexible operational model. The PMC companies such as MPRI lent great materiel and training assistance to the U.S. in the Yugoslavian conflicts; in particular, the revamping of the Croatian army after its previous defeats was conducted with the help of Kellog Brown & Roots (KBR) and MPRI corporations (Stanger and Williams 8; von Hoffmann 79). The same pattern may be observed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the PMCs fulfilling as diverse functions as providing for the Army’s laundry and engaging in combat field operations (Latham, Jr.). Nevertheless, it is this role of theirs that appears to generate the most intense controversy.
While I am inclined to support views of those who decry the PMCs’ increasingly prominent role in military affairs, it would be both honest and intellectually beneficial to provide a dissident voice of those who consider these corporations’ role to be advantageous to the U.S. Army. In addition, such approach would allow better understanding of the complicated relations the PMCs hold with the Federal government and Pentagon in particular.
Among the authors that subscribe to the aforementioned position, Stanger and Williams appear to provide the most detailed and unbiased list of advantages and costs of having the PMCs fulfill the conventional Army’s duties. In addition to the already mentioned example of Croatian military modernization, the contractor corporations supplied valuable aid to the U.S. military in its attempts to deal with such issues as the Andean narcotics trafficking networks (Stanger and Williams 9). The assistance of the DynCorp company enabled the U.S. Government to greatly enhance its position in War on Drugs in this region, as the “crop-eradicating” missions sent by the State Department benefitted from DynCorp-provided aircraft (Stanger and Williams 9).
In addition, Stanger and Williams allege that the PMCs allow for both minimization of the U.S. Army combat losses. While these authors include financial savings from the deployment of the PMCs into their list of benefits, they concede that the latter’s existence has been difficult to demonstrate empirically (Stanger and Williams 11). In this way, they are ready to admit certain inconsistencies inherent in the respective statements by the U.S. Government agencies.
Therefore, Stanger and Williams’ claim rests on the assumption of principally beneficial effect of the PMCs participation in the U.S. military operations and support thereof. However, these authors understand limitations and contradictory nature of the PMCs as defense and security operators, being more positively accepting than uncritically enthusiastic.
With this in mind, it is necessary to present my argument here. Building on the framework previously developed by Singer (193-197), I tend to view a proliferation of the PMCs as one of expressions of the larger process of transformation of traditional military structures, which is characterized by decentralization and commercialization of a war. Within this structure, the PMCs play role of the new brand of security providers, which are both connected and partially independent from the conventional state power.
Such situation leads to certain developments that may be considered abnormal from a point of view of the formulaic national sovereignty advocates. In particular, the PMCs’ involvement in the practices described by Cole as “Washington’s shadow power” (27), i.e. the maintenance of covert operational structures and the use of private forces in extraordinary rendition missions, tends to undermine the conventional military code and open way for loss of accountability on behalf of the secret services and the military. On the other hand, the issue of military professionalism’s erosion should also be mentioned, as the growing dependence of the U.S. Army on logistical, technical, and even combat support provided by the PMCs may lead to the fall in the former’s professional standards (Latham, Jr. 46).
Nevertheless, as it might be demonstrated from the previous discussions of Stanger and Williams’ views on the subject matter, the PMC-critical approach need not completely deny the usefulness of certain services provided by these contractor companies or resort to confounding sensationalist media reports upon them with the sound scholarship. As shown by the examples featured by Stanger and Williams, the PMCs may be rather effective in specific tasks and areas of expertise (9-10). This means that the proper control over their services may guarantee the prevention of the negative consequences of their activities mentioned by Cole and von Hoffmann.