The Impact of Private Security on US Foreign Policy

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The U.S. military is the most extensive user of privatized military services in the world. Between 1994 and 2002, the U.S.accepted more than 3,000 contracts, with an estimated value of more than $300 billion, for supply, consultant, and operational services. Examples included the operation of ROTC training programs by MPRI, the aerial surveillance of NASA and USAF space launch facilities by Airscan, and the conduction of clandestine special operations support and possible direct-action missions by Betac.[xxiv] With the use of privatized security by theU.S. military likely to increase, key developments must be in place to ensure the continued viability ofU.S. military forces, and the cost effective use of theU.S. taxpayer’s money.

The contract oversight and monitoring process must be strengthened to ensure transparency and the facilitation of problem reporting. According to Doug Brooks (president of IPOA), the U.S. Defense Department’s contract oversight process is ossified due to inflexibility when contracts need to be adapted to realities encountered in the field. In his opinion, the problem lies in the small number of trained contract officers who are disconnected to the fluidity of the conflict environment. This opinion is echoed by Coffer Black (former head of the CIA counter-terrorism center and current vice-president at Blackwater USA) and Dov Zakheim (president of Booz Allen Hamilton), who actively want better contract oversight in order to reward companies that are adhering to deadlines and to differentiate from less reputable firms in the private security industry.[xxv] One of the ways to strengthen this process would be the enlarged involvement of the Department of Defense’s Inspector General’s office by the creation of a trained reserve contracting officer component that would provide a surge capacity when large numbers of contracts are implemented and need review.[xxvi] With better oversight and transparency, the public will become more confident in the use of private security contractors as a cost effective way to benefit U.S. military forces.

Another development that needs to occur to benefit U.S. military forces and policymakers is the streamlining of the command and control process regarding the use of contractor services. Lt. General John Vines thought that, during his tenure as commander of coalition forces in Iraq, there was poor coordination of private security contractor ground operations with the coalition command center due to the voluntary nature that governed whether these companies had to participate.[xxvii]  Dov Zakheim also saw this as a problem, especially in relation to supply firms engaged in services, due to the restricted nature of chain of command regarding how their services were utilized. In his opinion, the most efficient way would be by having specific regional LOGCAP programs that would be responsible to theater commands (ex. U.S. Central Command or U.S. Pacific Command) in order to streamline the contract awarding process and make the services provided more responsive to regional particularities and demands.[xxviii]

A better public relations effort to explain the benefits and capabilities of the private security industry is needed by U.S.policymakers to combat the mercenary perception that many hold regarding these services. Public perception is not limited to the U.S.civilian population, but also needs to be conducted in reference to allies and organizations. When MPRI began its training program for the Croatian military, many NATO allies were not supportive of a private military company undertaking such a task since they believed it would lack the aura of legitimacy. This has been the basis of arguments against the use of privatized security services within U.N. peacekeeping missions, with proponents of this view arguing that the use of these services would seriously hurt the credibility of multilateral institutions.[xxix] The pervasive use of the mercenary label inhibits action due to the complications it generates in the realm of international law.  By shedding the mercenary label and having the private security industry’s status codified within the international system, many complications that arise with their use would be laid to rest.[xxx] Better marketing of the idea of private security to the general public will markedly ease the use of privatized security services that will become an increasingly vital part ofU.S. military deployments abroad.

Robert Brathwaite
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