12/31/2010 02:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

PMC: Past, Present, and Future

Hmm, celebrate my birthday today or write the final PMC post for 2010? Hey, I'm a multitasking man; no reason I can't do both.

It's been precisely a year and eight days since I first started writing on private military and security contracting issues for the Huffington Post. I started on Dec. 23, 2009, with this piece "Contractors 'R U.S." Since then I wrote, including this one, 224 posts, or 61 percent of the time. Thanks to Huffington Post management for letting me do so much. Of course, the fact that I've not yet been able to find fulltime work after returning to the United States in late 2009 has given me time to write. I'd like to find one though, so in case there is an employer out there looking for someone please feel free to contact me.

The beginning sentence in my first post was "Welcome to the wonderful, and frequently wacky, world of military and foreign policy outsourcing and privatization." A one year anniversary seems sufficient reason to muse a bit about that world.

Guess what; it's still wacky but there are a few signs that at least the public debate about it is becoming a bit more rational. Of course, that may not be saying much, given how low the bar has been set in the past when it comes to public discussion of the issue, but one takes what one can get.

Thanks to work by groups ranging from the Commission on Wartime Contracting, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, various NGOs, some outstanding reporters, some very good bloggers, and even a relatively few farsighted officials within the PMSC industry itself critical and key issues like oversight and accountability are moving, albeit slowly, from rhetoric to reality. Note: that is not to say everything is fine and dandy in the PMSC world. Of course, it is not. But the trend is positive, even if the upward slope is an exceedingly gentle incline, instead of a sharp angle.

What is important to think about in the future regarding private contractors? Note that I did not write private military or private security contractors. That is not an oversight, pardon the pun. The use of private contractors to do things formerly done by people in government is vastly more widespread than commonly thought and goes far beyond those carrying guns or serving food in a dining facility and delivering supplies to troops under a LOGCAP contract, to name the two main divisions in what the government persists in politely calling "contingency operations." Note to the younger generation: this is what, back in the 20th century, we used to call war.

Just looking at the so-called national security realm contractors are widespread in the intelligence community, they are critical to the Department of Homeland Security, they do the majority of the work for the U.S. Agency for International Development. They are heavily involved in what will be the growing field of cyber defense and, if it comes to that, outright cyber war

Just looking at some of the industry literature I have lying around, in 2010 contractors were supporting counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan, Mexico; and Nigeria (SOS International Ltd.), helping farmers in Pakistan and providing HIV/AIDS prevention in Ethiopia (International Relief and Development), proving Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and mine clearance services (EODT and Pax Mondial), and provide training for Basic and Advanced Law of War that is required by the Pentagon for all contractors accompanying U.S. armed forces overseas.

Speaking of literature, during the year I have frequently referred to and quoted from academic scholarship. If nothing else, the law journal articles I cited were at least good for helping you go to sleep. So for the last academic reference in 2010 let me refer you to an article published earlier this month. It is "Sovereignty and Privatizing the Military: An Institutional Explanation" by Ulrich Peterson, published in Contemporary Security Policy journal. He looks at some of the standard explanations for the rise of privatized military companies both in the United States and elsewhere and finds them insufficient. But he does find some uniquely American history to explain whey privatization finds such fertile ground in the United States.

One consequence of the idea of shared sovereignty is that the federal state does not possess the exclusive right of maintaining the most powerful means by which oppression could be exercised: the armed forces. Although control over the use of force abroad is located at the federal level, it is not the exclusive right of the federal government to own means of violence.


It shares this privilege with the constituent states and even the citizens. The most important point is that in this crucial area of statehood, the idea of 'sharing' has already been introduced. Adding another actor therefore did not amount to a violation of a paradigm. This significantly lowered the barrier for the participation of market actors. The interaction of the principles of shared sovereignty and the minimal state led to extensive privatization in the armed forces. Second, although the state is of course supposed to defend its citizens, defensive force is not its sole prerogative. The right to own weapons and to use them in self-defence, some argue even against the state, is deeply rooted in American history. This notion of everybody's right to self-defence paved the way for privatizing defensive services such as the protection of senior civilian officials, site security, and convoy security. Thus, the domestic structure and the international changes resonated well with each other and therefore facilitated extensive privatization.

It's an interesting argument and one that, on the face of it, makes sense. If you follow the logic of it far enough it means that the largest private security force in the United States would be the membership of the National Rifle Association. Perhaps it will be wooed by the International Stability Operations Association as its next member.

At the end of my first post I wrote, "Before going any further let's acknowledge that that vast majority of contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere are decent, honorable men and women, doing their best to do difficult jobs in dangerous and hazardous environments." That is still true. Let's hope that in the future those men and women have people in their management who are as good as they are.

And to all of you who read these posts I wish you a very a very merry and serene 2011.