Cancian dispels the myth that PMFs are mostly mercenaries; in fact, the vast majority of military contractors are unarmed support personnel involved in diverse tasks. The largest group of contractors--nearly half--are involved in reconstruction efforts, with manifold benefits. Not only does it keep troops focused on military missions, but it establishes long-term stability in the occupied territory.
Work removes the bored and unemployed from the streets. Men who might otherwise join the insurgency for ideological or economic reasons now have a stake in maintaining stability. A job also has significance in traditional societies such as Iraq and Afghanistan, a fact that is sometimes difficult for westerners to appreciate. A job means that a man can get married and leave his family's home. Traditionally in these societies, unmarried children do not move out and get apartments on their own. This transition to independent living makes a young man an adult, thereby giving him a stake in the stability of his neighborhood or town.2. Logistics
The military's own functioning depends heavily on PMFs for logistical support.
Most of the US personnel involved in these functions are blue-collar technicians (truck drivers, electricians, maintenance specialists), the people who keep materiel flowing and bases running. They are unarmed and often highly skilled in their areas of expertise, frequently more so than their counterparts in the military who are often much younger and, in effect, apprentices in their trades. Traditionally, military personnel performed these functions, but the high cost and relative scarcity of experienced uniformed personnel in the all-volunteer force made use of contractors an attractive option. Why use military personnel for a job that a civilian is willing, able, and often better qualified to perform?For an example, Cancian focuses on food service, an area in which private firms outshine and have largely replaced their military counterparts.
Communication makes private support an absolute necessity.
Conflicts overseas, especially counterinsurgencies, require a large number of interpreters so US forces at every level can communicate with the local populace. Although the military is expanding its number of linguists, large-scale operations require thousands of interpreters. The military will never have enough personnel skilled in any particular language (except Spanish) to cover more than a small proportion of its total requirements. Contractors will always provide the bulk of this capability.4. Security Details and Bodyguards
Admittedly the most problematic PMFs, armed security details and bodyguards draw the most attention, despite their relative smaller scale. Regarding the former,
About three-fourths of these security contractors protect fixed facilities inside major bases and never venture outside the wire.... The main function of these security guards consists of screening personnel entering facilities by checking identity cards. The majority of this group has never fired a shot in anger. They are more akin to the security guards one sees in the United States guarding banks or shopping malls.Bodyguards, on the other hand, have ignited the most controversy, due to their involvement in violence. Yet according to Cancian, they represent fewer than 1% of all PMF personnel. A lack of coordination with and oversight by military forces, and what Cancian calls the "bodyguard mindset," in which the bodyguard will engage in disproportionate force in order to protect the client at all costs, combined to precipitate the infamous Blackwater incident in 2007. Since then, Cancian argues, necessary changes have been made.
The Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department finally issued new guidelines that brought contractors under military control, required State Department security officials to accompany every convoy, installed video cameras in contractor vehicles, and clarified the rules on the use of force.The full impacts of these changes remain to be seen, but it's an exaggeration to argue that PMFs are rogue elements operating entirely outside the control of the government.
5. The Future
The evolution of conflict, which I'll discuss further in a future post, demands an expanding military.
The Army is currently expanding from 482,400 to 547,400 soldiers. This expansion could have reduced dependence on contractors by channeling all the additional personnel into support units. But it has not. Although some of this additional manpower is being integrated into support units, the majority is going to combat units. The purpose is clear-reduce stress on personnel by increasing the number of units in the rotation base. Army leaders have repeatedly cited the need to lengthen the time units spend in the continental United States. In all their testimony related to expanding the force Army leaders have never expressed a desire to reduce dependence on contractors.6. The Absence of a Realistic Alternative
The Army is developing a strategy based on a future of "persistent conflict" where every combat unit, active and reserve, deploys on a regular basis. Indeed, the Army's planned force structure does not make strategic sense without the implicit expectation of continuous deployments. As a result, the Army will continue to depend on contractors in support of deployed forces.
What of those who would advocate replacing PMFs with military personnel? Cancian dismisses this as impractical, bordering on impossible:
Replacing the 113,000 contractors in the security and logistics arenas (excluding interpreters and all those in reconstruction) would require a minimum of 250,000 additional military personnel, and when the rotation base and training pipeline are considered the number quickly swells to more than 400,000 as a high-end estimate. With the Army struggling to meet the more modest target of its current expansion, an increase of 65,000 active-duty soldiers, such a large expansion would appear impossible without reconstituting the draft. Since a draft is opposed by the military leadership, politicians, and the American people as a whole, reinstituting conscription is infeasible, whatever its attraction for op-ed writers.Cancian's article, which goes into much more depth regarding the legal status of military contractors, is well worth reading in full, especially for Affirmatives building the case for PMFs.