Contractors and the US Military Empire

By now most people understand that private military and security contractors play vital logistics and security roles in U.S. wars and other so-called "contingency operations." But the U.S. military is not merely the most powerful lean, mean, fighting machine in the world. It is also the only global military empire, and I'm speaking in the dispassionate clinical, not a normative, sense.

And it is here where PMSC make their biggest, if not most widely appreciated, contribution. Even as the Department of Defense has downsized in the post-Cold War collapse era it has also been reconfiguring itself and that includes its nearly 1,000 overseas military bases.

To do so the Pentagon has adopted private sector procedures in order to more effectively produce its core product, i.e., "security."

This is the subject of an article in the winter 2012 issue of the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies. The author, 2012 J.D. candidate Matt Weyand writes in Department of Defense, Inc.: The DoD's Use of Corporate Strategies to Manage U.S. Overseas Military Bases writes:

To economically and efficiently "manufacture" the "product" known as security, the DoD has increasingly operated like a transnational corporation: it has adopted the corporate strategies of rightsizing,10 outsourcing, and offshoring. By rightsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring, the DoD has accrued many of the same benefits as a transnational corporation: it has been able to operate more efficiently, more effectively, and more economically. But the DoD is not a transnational corporation, and operating as such risks the breakdown of cooperation, alliances, and diplomacy between the United States and nations hosting U.S. bases.

Essentially both the Pentagon and PMSC are in the same market, in Weyand's view. They are both manufacturing "security." For the Pentagon to better compete it must increasingly operate like a transnational corporation. To do so it has adopted the corporate strategies of rightsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring.

Where do contractors come in? They are crucial to the outsourcing part of the strategy. Outsourcing has become an integral part of modern DoD operations.

After the 9/11 attacks, the DoD turned to PMSC in a very big way. Between 2000 and 2005, the DoD's contracting budget grew by 102.3 percent.

The DoD has hired contractors to perform "core military tasks and ... orchestrate operations." It has contracted with private corporations for weapons and technology development and management. In the war in Afghanistan, private contractors "served in paramilitary units ... maintained combat equipment, provided logistical support, and worked on surveillance and targeting." The DoD has used private contractors to operate, secure, build, and maintain overseas bases. In Iraq, the DOD employed over 39,000 private contractors to perform "base support functions such as maintaining the grounds, running dining facilities, and performing laundry services." ... The DoD has paid KBR at least $4.5 billion to construct and maintain U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. KBR has built some of the largest military installations in Iraq, including Camp Victory North. Camp Victory North is a "small American city," capable of housing 14,000 troops. KBR has been involved in the construction of Camp al-Rasheed, Camp Cook, Balad Airbase, Camp Anaconda, and Camp Marez.

Contractors are also key to the maintenance of CSLs (Collaborative Security Locations), where the U.S. uses a host country's existing military bases. "Retired U.S. non-commissioned officers who are maintenance experts, speak the native language fluently, and are generally well-liked by members of the local community frequently operate CSLs. The contractor rents military facilities from the host nation's military, and charges a fee for the U.S. military's use of the facilities," according to Weyand.

Another supposed benefit is that:

Citizens of host nations are often suspicious of U.S. troops at best, and resentful of them, at worst. Many host nations have a complex relationship with the DoD. Private contractors allow the host nations to indirectly work with the DoD. This allows local politicians to condemn the U.S. military presence while simultaneously reaping the benefits from it. Finally, private contractors prevent "incidents," such as the rape of local women, from happening by steering U.S. troops to the "right hotels and bars, and advising them on how to behave.