Saturday, October 15, 2005

Outsourcing War

If you can get your hands on it, I strongly recommend reading the article "Outsourcing War." by P. W. Singer in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs.


Blogger Noumenon said...

Can you bring it to work?

1:23 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

If the library will let me renew it, I will.

Just a plug for the library system in the part of the state where I live. They have had the brilliance to realize that, if they're going to offer interlibrary loans at all (which almost all libraries do) it costs almost as much to send a truck with one book as it does to send a truck with 200 books. By sending trucks with 200 books, however, the library system needs to keep far fewer copies of semi-popular books. Rather than having every library have a copy of, for example, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid they can have five libraries have it (enough to keep the developmental economists happy), and the other twenty-five can invest in other books. Thus they offer interlibrary loans for free here, and I love it. If I ever move somewhere where the library does not provide this service, I will campaign for it day and night until the library gets a restraining order against me.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

At Noumenon's request, heres my synopsis of the article:

"PMFs [Private Military Forces] are businesses that provide governments with professional services intricately linked to warfare; they represent, in other words, the corporate evolution of the age-old profession of mercenaries."

"The modern private military industry emerged at the start of the 1990s, driven by three dynamics: the end of the Cold War, transformations in the nature of warfare that blurred the lines between soldiers and civilians, and a general trend toward privatization and outsourcing of government functions around the world."

"The industry is divided into three basic sectors: military provider firms (also known as 'private security firms'), which offer tactical military assistance, including actual combat services, to clients; military consulting firms, which employ retired officers to provide strategic advice and military training, and military support firms, which provide logistics, intelligence, and maintenance services to armed forces, allowing the latter's soldiers to concentrate on combat and reducing their government's need to recruit more troops or call up more reserves."

"PMFs, in other words, have been essential to the U.S. effort in Iraq, helping Washington make up for its troop shortage and doing jobs that U.S. forces would prefer not to."
Five problems with PMFs:

First, a PMFs interests do not always align with those of its client. PMFs are outside the military chain of command, and those outside of control. Plus, "PMFs retain a choice over which contracts to take and can abandon or suspend operations for any reason, including if they become too dangerous or unprofitable; their employees, unlike soldiers, can always choose to walk off the job."

• Second, PMFs are unregulated. There are few controls about who works for these firms, and who these firms work for.

• Third, PMFs are not included in public oversight, but rather contractual obligations, which are not viewable through Freedom of Information Act requests. They also allow the president to circumvent Congress in regards to manpower caps.

• Fourth, PMF personnel do not fall under any category of law, they are technically illegal combatants. They do not meet the legal definition of mercenaries, yet they are not civilians, and they are not soldiers. The crimes they commit are also doubly hard to prosecute because of their fuzzy legal standing.

• Fifth, the monopoly on the use of coercion has been the hallmark of what a government is. PMFs blur that line, and make military service, which is far more poorly paid, much less attractive.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

Funny how the grad student's take-away points from Foreign Affairs compare to the dilettante's. Here's what I noted:

There are 20,000 private military contractors in Iraq, 6,000 using combat arms. That is the size of all the countries in the "coalition of the willing" -- the author suggests calling it the "coalition of the billing."

The Pentagon does not report casualties suffered by contractors, keeping our official body count lower. It also need not respond to their kidnappings.

Important point: democracy is about accountable government. Outsourcing prisons, schools, army means we are governed unaccountably. (Your note about being invisible to the FOIA fits here.)

Private contractors really do fill needed functions: the Army is way behind with its first new counterinsurgency manual + officer training course in 25 years.

Legal scholar quoted: "Private contractors occupy the same grey area as the 'enemy combatants' being held at Guantanamo." This is big either from liberal or conservative perspective. From lib, would love to see Bush's disregard for Geneva thrown back in his face, applied now to American prisoners. From conserv, this shows the need for new legal standards is real, and not just a disregard for Geneva.

Contractors were present as translators at Abu Ghraib. None were charged, as neither military tribunals nor Iraqi courts have clear jurisdiction. In fact, unlike our GIs, no private security employee has been charged with any crime in Iraq. This must indicate that we have the most admirably sensitive and squeaky-clean mercenaries in the history of warfare. Or that they're above the law.

Note that these private forces are competing with the Army, both for trained soldiers and for the unique sense of defending your country.

Don't know if this was the same article, but it said the Army de-emphasizes the infantry. We have only 70,000 infantry in the Army and 20,000 in the Marines -- about the same number as the United States has floral arrangers. (I couldn't confirm these numbers on the Web.) One reflection of this emphasis: "We can afford the best fighter jets for our pilots (millions of dollars apiece) but not the best body armor for our troops (hundreds of dollars a set)." That sounds less like perfectionist liberal kvetching and more like a real structural problem when you put it that way. I looked it up -- the Air Force's budget is actually 21% larger than the Army's. That is ridiculous.

The article closes on Clemenceau's old saying that war is too important to be left to the generals. "This also holds true for the CEOs." Nice.

I should have noted the democratizing effect of having military troops who can refuse to take on certain assignments, but I just forgot.

So in general what I got out of the article was not the outline that you have: I. Origins II. Structure III. Problems. What I got is various factoids to file under topic folders in my brain: the Iraq war, being ruled by corporations, the nature of the Army, private military forces. Plus some turns of phrase. Great article, anyhow.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

It's probably more part of my debating experience than grad school. I still use the standard debate format: problem, cause, harms, solution, benefits, while writing short papers.

4:42 AM  

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