This Week’s Report: “Privatizing the Military”

Over the past decade, the United States has hired tens of thousands of private security contractors to support its military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, alleviating some of the pressure on American service personnel but raising significant questions about the role of soldiers-for-hire in U.S. foreign policy, according to this week’s Researcher.

As staff writer Marcia Clemmitt notes, politicians and military leaders long resisted sending large numbers of private contractors into war zones. But that thinking changed in the past two decades. “The government has increasingly turned to security companies … to assist in armed and unarmed military operations and help other government agencies working abroad,” Clemmitt writes. The trend originally was driven by military downsizing in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 1990s, but “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fueled it, as has increased public acceptance of privatization as a way to increase quality and efficiency while reducing the number of jobs handled by government.”

While most contractors perform mundane duties, such as running food-service operations on military bases or building temporary structures, a growing number have taken on “delicate, mission-critical jobs” that analysts say “skate perilously close to duties that should be performed only by military personnel,” Clemmitt writes.  That expanded role has led to charges that using contractors for dangerous or questionable military activities gives policymakers too much latitude to take military action without citizens’ support or lawmakers’ consent.

This important report is ideal for those studying foreign policy, political science, military policy and history, the growing trend of privatization in both the public and private sectors and the application of human-rights law to international business.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor