What is the Function They Serve?
They are employed for a range of official reasons by the US Government. The most common reasons are specific technical skills that are needed in advanced weapon systems that it does not make sense to maintain full training programs for the active duty military, and support positions of a “non-military nature” where it is deemed the use of active duty military is better employed in other capacity. These functions include security for state officials, security and operation of food service facilities, and securities for other private contractors.
|Private Security Contractors in Iraq - 2007|
(photo dated 6 Dec 07 from Flickr CC 2.0)
Far more controversial in nature is there use for some covert operations and missions. It is impossible to tell precisely how widespread that use is for obvious reasons, but the one most overlooked is that the reporters and observers claiming widespread use for this have no way of knowing in fact if it is USSOCOM forces or PMC resources being used. The reporter that claims to know because “I asked and the person said they were not a Navy Seal” clearly has no understanding of the nature of covert operations or information security.
Many outspoken critics refer to them as mercenaries and guns for hire. Based on the concept that they carry weapons or work in security for pay and do not wear a US Military uniform it could be stretched to apply. That would also mean all bodyguards should be referred to as mercenaries, civilian contractors to the Department of Defense which make up a substantial percentage of the support staff of the military domestically should be called mercenaries, and the security guards at your local mall may well be considered mercenaries on this broad definition. Interestingly, it is the same most outspoken critics that are the cause of their widespread use.
Why is the US Government Using PMSCs?
As with most things, there is more than one reason. The most common official reason is because they are more cost effective. In other words, it costs less for the government to hire private companies to perform many functions than it costs for the military to perform the same function. The reasons given by the security companies and the government for this are many but include less cost overhead, more efficient cost effective management, and most common is lower costs of procurement for weapons, equipment, and supplies.
There may be some validity to this. The command and control structure for a private company is far leaner than that of the US Military (the Pentagon alone has 31,000 military and civilian employees working at it each day). This is made possible by the fact that private companies do not need contingency forces staged around the globe at all times. For procurement there is little doubt that private companies can be more efficient. The military is contractually obligated to sources while the private firms can comparison shop for equipment whether directly from Colt or from foreign 3rd party vendors like rvops.co.uk.
The truth is it is virtually impossible to tell if the use of Private Military Security Companies is more cost effective. This is because the accounting of the multiple agencies that employ the PMSCs does not break out the costs individually and because to compare you would need hard numbers of what it costs for the US Military to provide the same service in comparison. This brings us to the real reason for the widespread use of Private Military Companies and the fact that it is caused primarily by their biggest critics.
Political Pressure of Anti-Military Gave Rise to Use of PMSCs
The biggest opponents of the use of PMSC are not surprisingly the same liberal leaning front that oppose the military regularly in every area. Through there continued demands of cuts in US Force sizes and troop deployment cutbacks the government and the military was forced to choose between further increasing the danger for troops still deployed or search for alternatives.
The failure of political interests to realize that troop force size reductions do not change the threat level or mission requirements is simply naive. For political gain they push for reduction in forces for the headlines they receive in the US while expecting the troops still deployed to do the same or more with fewer people. Since this is a virtual impossibility the use of private companies increased to make up for the short sighted politically motivated strategy.
As an example, when the to be Democratic Chair of the House Armed Service Committee called for “a phased redeployment of troops” in 2006 (see White House rebuffs call for troop withdrawal in Iraq, CNN.com, Nov 14, 2006). The military, in comply to redeployment clamor, turned to the only available source of manpower- Private Military Companies- to prepare for the expected redeployment (see Census Counts 100,000 Contractors in Iraq, The Washington Post, December 5, 2006).
So the Democratic House leadership got to claim big headlines with redeployments and troop reductions saying 10,000 soldiers a month would be reduced from the theater but it was in exchange for the manpower provided by the private military companies that do not get counted by the newspapers. The same people that condemn their use are in fact the ones that are the direct cause for the greatly increased role of private military.To reduce the role of Private Military Companies the answer is simple – return funding for and control of manpower decisions to the military.
Guest post by Timothy Brighton.