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Occasional Papers | | Waging War

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by Robert Brathwaite

The use of privatized military forces on the battlefield is hardly a new concept, with examples ranging from the operations of the British East India Company during the mid-19th Century to the Les Affreux (The Terrible Ones) employed in the African civil wars that followed decolonization in the 1960s. However, the use of privatized forces on the modern battlefield far out paces their previous employment, and the capabilities that the private security industry now brings to the table marks a watershed in the conduct of military operations. In addressing this subject, the following questions might be asked. What is the current configuration of the private security industry? What capabilities does the private security industry have and is expected to development? And of course, what impact will the private security industry have on U.S. foreign policy?

If the use of the private security in conflict and post conflict situations continues to increase, then it is predictable that U.S. foreign policy will need to address the growing presence of the private security industry. Specifically, various organs of the U.S. government, ranging from the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the U.S. State Department to the Pentagon’s Inspector General Office, will need to establish uniform procedures to (1) facilitate the use of private security services during the policy formation process, (2) ensure more transparency in the contract process, and (3) modify existing military doctrine to more fully utilize the capabilities of the private security sector.

Furthermore, policymakers will have to formulate a coherent public diplomacy effort to explain the relationship between the private security sector and U.S. military and foreign policy objectives, due to the increasingly negative media perception of the private security industry. Report of abuses by civilian interrogators at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, in addition to security contractor incidents inIraqresulting in civilian casualties, highlight the negative publicity that isolated incidents involving the private security industry can generate. Without an active public affairs strategy for the utilization of private security capabilities, entrenched negative media and public perceptions will incur a high political cost.


Sectors of the Private Security Industry

An understanding of the divergent sectors of the private security industry is required to accurately ascertain how privatized security services interact with U.S. foreign policy, and how these services can impact the battlefield environment.  This can best be accomplished by distinguishing between the services offered by private security companies.

Supply Services

The largest sector of the private security industry is the provision of supply services, including logistical support, food service, base maintenance, and numerous other tasks – with Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), Booz-Allen, and Vinnell being the most well-known. [i] The keystone of this service sector is the U.S. logistical civilian augmentation program (LOGCAP), which accounts for the bulk of revenue.[ii]  For example, the largest private security contract currently in Iraq (as of April 2006) – which was awarded to KBR – is administered through the LOGCAP program, and is worth $14 billion since 2003.  Estimates of the total worth of this sector, in fact, stands at $80 billion. To compare, during the Vietnam War the U.S. had at the peak of U.S. troop strength (approx. 625,000 troops) a total of 80,000 service contractors in Southeast Asia. Today, KBR alone employs 50,000 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.[iii]

This sector will remain the backbone of revenue streams within the private security industry for the foreseeable future, and trends suggest expansion is likely. For instance during theU.S.military deployment to the Balkans to enforce the Dayton Peace accords, KBR was the sole logistical provider to U.S. troops in theater. Singer notes:

In effect, the firm [KBR] was the U.S. force’s supply and engineering corps wrapped into one corporate element. KBR provided U.S. forces in the Balkans with 100% of their food, 100% of the maintenance of tactical and non-tactical vehicles, 100% of hazardous material handling, 90% of water provision, 80% of fuel provision, and 75% of the construction and heavy equipment transfers.[iv]

During the Kosovo crisis of 1999, the services of KBR alleviated the need to deploy over 9,000 reservists for the construction of base camps, food service, and vehicle and weapons system maintenance.

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