12/25/2011 04:45 pm ET Updated Feb 24, 2012

A Future of PMC Pushers?

Anyone who has ever used a contractor for anything, i.e., fixing your chimney, installing electrical circuitry, repairing a furnace, let alone protecting a supply convoy or your average American diplomat in a war zone, knows they all have one thing in common, aside from actually doing the job. And that is to do more jobs for you in the future. In short they want your continued business.

Or, put more baldly, they want you to become dependent on them as a supplier of needed services. Hmm, not to sound critical but, getting someone hooked on what you have to offer; what does that remind you of?

Anyway, that was the subject of a conference paper Outsourcing Force: An Examination of the State-Based Impacts of Private Military Contractors presented at the annual meeting of the Theory vs. Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners, in New Orleans in February 2010 by Megan O'Keefe.

Following in the footsteps of such scholars as Deborah Avant whose 2005 book The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security detailed the inevitable trade-offs that the market for force imposes on the states, firms and people wishing to control it O'Keefe writes:

Private military companies have become ubiquitous actors in theatre and in garrison. The decision to privatise military functions to contractors may have initially been perceived as a rational option by states seeking to augment their capabilities and pursue their national interest. Yet, the more states decide to privatise, the more they may become dependent on these actors to perform tasks ranging from the offensive to the seemingly innocuous. Outsourcing ostensibly harmless tasks, such as training or threat assessment, may have considerable repercussions on the state's autonomy, democratic values, and military capacity.

Granted, there any number of perfectly legitimate reasons a government might want to use a private military or security contractor. But in O'Keefe's view dependence on these actors may have negative repercussions on the state. She wrote, "The continued use of these actors may in fact be detrimental to the national interest as they negatively impact democratic values, challenge the state's ability to control force, invade the state's autonomy and ability to determine policy objectives, diminish the retention of institutional military knowledge, and erode the military's value system. The impact of these factors may have significant consequences on the state's future ability to pursue its national interest."

What are these reasons? It's been said before but not nearly enough.

Though the use of contractors can been interpreted as beneficial in the short-term to help evade the 'body-bag syndrome,' the continued use of private military actors reduces transparency and accountability.

Contractor activities and causalities are less reported by the media, and the contracts themselves are not accessible by access to information requests. When contracts are released to the public or state officials, the corporations can black out passages as they see fit.

As someone who has filed a lot of FOIA requests on this topic I can only say, amen sister. Tell it!

Furthermore, given all of the perceived instrumental benefits of using private forces, state leaders may be less likely to utilise their national forces. This means that public participation in security decisions and foreign policy strategies may be reduced. Essentially, "the visibility, sacrifice, and political cost of using force" is diminished.

A greater, if less appreciated problem, is that continued use of PMSC affects a nation's ability to dispassionately consider its security threats.

This increased dependency, while affecting democratic values, may also impair the state's ability to control the use of its military and the threats it responds to. As states continue to use private military firms for training, logistics, and core functions such as VIP protection, security, and offensive operations, the industry becomes legitimised as a valid actor within military decision-making. Moreover, contractors are beginning to have greater control over intelligence and surveillance. This means that as private military actors continue to be employed, they have a greater role in threat assessment, and as Leander argues, the firms are becoming directly involved in producing security discourses. In the United States, PM/SCs are perceived to be experts in military intelligence, and the information and risk assessments they provide are directly involved in state decisions about threats and security concerns. Leander notes that, "[t]he information is structured and selected by the firm that provides it." The firms provide recommendations on how to respond to the threats they have identified. It is not implausible that PM/SCs are recommending actions--including more intelligence, enhancing security, or offensively responding to threats--that involve the hiring of contractors in response to the identified risks.

It will come as no surprise that firms often consider their own services appropriate. DynCorp is a prime example of a firm which provides a package deal. It has for example held contracts on the national, provincial and municipal levels in Iraq to assess threats, train Iraqi police and military personnel and give advice on the reorganisation of the Iraqi justice system.