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Data at Last, Data at Last: Thank God Almighty, Data at Last (Sort of)

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Considering how many times over years I have critiqued the private military and security (PMSC) industry for making claims without providing evidence to back it up, it is always noteworthy to find that rare person who tries to fill that empirical evidence gap.

Thus, meet Lt. Col. Bruce E. Stanley (US Army-Ret.) who graduates next month at Kansas State University. His Ph.D. dissertation, Selective Privatization of Security: Why American Strategic Leaders Choose to Substitute Private Security Contractors for National Military Force was published earlier this year.

One wonders why all the PMSC trade association crack analysts and interns have not been publicizing his work. After all it is not every day that one finds factual data supporting, at least partially, their claims. Oh well, perhaps they're on a long coffee break or out for a run.

Anyway, like everyone else writing on the issue, Stanley knows that writing on the rise of the PMSC industry have become something of a cottage industry over the past decade or so.

Unlike everyone else, he acknowledges that many of the claims have not been proven. As he notes in his introduction:

At best, the existing bodies of knowledge describe the private security industry in its contemporary form and provide some understanding of the contextual conditions that allowed for the industry's growth. However, descriptive accounts by scholars have not been tested with empirical evidence to determine which causal explanations are not only necessary, but sufficient to explain the phenomenon.

Stanley uses a structured, focus comparison method to examine three historical cases to grasp more detailed knowledge about the rise of the private security industry in the United States. The cases are the U.S. intervention in Iraq in 1991 (Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm), the U.S. intervention in Bosnia in 1995 (Operation Joint Endeavor), and the U.S. intervention in Iraq in 2003 (Operations Iraqi Freedom). These cases represent American conflicts in the post-Vietnam era. Second, they occur at a time when the U.S. had an all-volunteer army (after the draft ended). Third, all involve the use of private contractors.

He also uses quantitative analysis; analyzing a time period spanning over fifty years, from 1950 to 2008, using historical data from U.S. government sources available from the Department of Defense, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Office of Budget and Analysis.

Most arguments regarding the use of PMSC rest on a supply-demand framework, i.e., there is a demand primarily by governments and corporations and there is a supply by PMSC. This framework, first academically popularized by Peter Singer in his 2003 book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, has been the subject of much subsequent tweaking by other scholars but the basic framework is generally accepted by all.

Stanley's study is nearly two hundred pages long so I'll spare you all the quantitative detail ((x-1) + x1 + x2 + x3 + x4 + y1 + y2). But one of the key parts of it is that he focuses on five hypotheses, some of which have assumed the status of gospel within the industry, especially the second and third below.

They are:

When military outlays decrease there is an increase in the use of private security.

When the size of a national military decreases there is an increase in the use of private military security.

When the number of a military disputes, military engagements and militarized conflicts increases there is an increase in the use of private security.

When the duration of a military conflict increases there is an increase in the use of private security.

When there is a decrease in bureaucratic controls and regulations there is an increase in the use of private security.

In addition, he tested three other hypotheses:

When there is a force cap placed on the size of the military force there is an increase in the use of private security.

When there is no host nation supporting the intervention there is an increase in the use of private security.

When the security environment is non-permissive there is an increase in private security

What he found was this:

The findings of this research demonstrates that the three key influences asserted in the extant literature the decreasing supply of national troops, decreasing national defense budgets, and the rising demand from global conflicts and humanitarian emergencies are very important to understanding the rise of the private security industry in the past two decades. Yet as this dissertation shows the nature of the security environment in the target state and the reduction (or elimination) of bureaucratic controls in the acting state are also important to explaining the increased reliance of the private security industry. Two other variables that were prevalent in the case studies that may be a factor in the increased reliance on private contractors: limitations on the number of troops committed to an intervention, and the duration of the intervention.

One key conclusion is that "when political leaders chose to reduce their nation's military force structure, they may face conflicts beyond their anticipated scope and duration. Such decision-makers are left with no choice but to legalize and legitimize the use of PMCs resulting in the increased use of PMCs as a deliberate tool of foreign policy."

However, the three case studies show that not all the hypotheses are fully supported. See page 147 for a table summarizing the findings. Gee, perhaps that is why his work isn't being publicized.

The evidence from the case studies suggests that only two of the five hypotheses under review demonstrate unambiguously significant results. When the duration of a military conflict increases there is an increase in the use of private security contractors. The evidence from the three cases suggests that the duration of the military conflict is a significant indicator of an increased use of private military contractors. The evidence from the three cases suggests that decreased bureaucratic controls are a significant indicator of an increased use of private military contractors. The remaining hypotheses are support by, at best, with mixed results.

Hmm, two out of five; congratulations PMSC industry; well done, well done indeed. In the future I will be glad to note that a mere 60 percent of your claims are ambiguously supported. Do let us know when you get it below 50 percent.