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Do private security contractors provide skills and services that the armed forces lack?

Post Date: July 11, 2016 | Category: Around the World

Professional Overseas Contractors

Professional Overseas Contractors

Published by: RAND Corporation — From one standpoint, the employment of private security contractors can provide the United States with access to capabilities that would otherwise be unavailable or “would [either] take an inordinate amount of time to develop internally, or . . . be prohibitively expensive to develop” (Wynn, 2004, p. 4).

Proponents of this “valuable skills” argument claim that although the vast majority of private security contractors provide services that the military itself is designed to perform, a small segment of this group of contractors might be able to off er additional skills.

Aside from basic guard services, private security contractors also provide highly specialized personal security details and bring a background to the job that most soldiers do not have. David Isenberg points out that many of these armed civilians are not merely ex-military, but former members of elite units— Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, SEALs, Special Air Service, or Special Boat Service:

In the role of security operator, they are able to bring a lifetime of training and experience to a specific job. Most of the actual security teams operating on the ground frequently are composed of former and retired senior NCOs, men in their 30s and early 40s. Th is level of experience contributes to a more relaxed environment that simplifi es operations. Leaders trust their operators to ensure basic tasks have been performed as second nature, and that their staff is highly professional and disciplined. In contrast a young Army soldier or Marine, recently graduated from his or her basic training and specialty school is just that: young and inexperienced (Isenberg, 2009, pp. 43–44).

However, a common objection to the valuable skills argument is that it is far from certain that contractors will actually deliver these high-quality services. Behind this skepticism lies the assumption that, because private security contractors are profi t-driven entities, they may not comply with their contracts if they see a better chance of maximizing profi ts (Stoeber, 2007). About one fi rm, for example, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported, “there is no assurance that Aegis is providing the best possible safety and security for government and reconstruction personnel and facilities” (Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, 2005, p. i).2 Th at said, neither Blackwater/Xe, which provided security for the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, nor Aegis and Erinys, which guard the Army Corps of Engineers, have lost a client to enemy fi re yet (Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 2007a; Fainaru, 2007c). Because we have set a high threshold of expectations for armed contractors’ behavior and contributions to the force in this monograph, we expect that military and DoS respondents will view armed contractors as providing valuable skills. Indeed, any considerable evidence to the contrary is cause for concern, for it indicates that one of the rationales for utilizing armed contractors may be mistaken.

Professional Overseas Contractors

Professional Overseas Contractors

Professional Overseas Contractors

Professional Overseas Contractors

Military and Diplomatic Personnel Tend to View Armed Contractors as Providing Valuable Skills

Within the military, on the whole, personnel tend to think that armed contractors do provide valuable skill sets to the U.S. government (Figure 7.1). When survey respondents who felt that armed contractors sometimes, often, or always add valuable skills are considered together, a majority deemed the contribution of contractors in this area to be positive. Both those with and without experience with armed contractors held similar views on this issue, with 92 percent and 93 percent respectively giving an answer in one of these three categories. Only a negligible few felt that armed contractors never provided valuable skills.

In the State Department, the overall view on this issue was also highly positive (Figure 7.2). Ninety-two percent of those experienced with contractors and 87 percent of those with little or no experience felt that these armed personnel sometimes, often, or always provide the government with valuable skill sets. Nearly half of those respondents experienced with contractors considered the contribution to occur often. Th is suggests that diplomatic personnel, particularly those with direct experience interacting with armed contractors, placed even more value on the skills added by armed contractors than did their military counterparts (whose most common answer, in contrast, was “sometimes”). But taking the two groups of State Department personnel separately, it was those experienced with contractors who were more likely to answer “often” or “always.” Personnel without contact with contractors were more likely to see them as only sometimes contributing valuable skills. Again, as with the military sample, only a negligible few DoS respondents felt that armed contractors never provided valuable skills to the U.S. government. Evaluating whether private security contractors contribute to U.S. foreign policy objectives is even more important. Among military and State Department personnel alike, the clear majority consider armed contractors to make both negative and positive contributions: In total, 62 percent of the surveyed military personnel and 67 percent of the State Department respondents held this view. In the military, though, most of the remainder (23 percent) considered them to be contributing positively, while on the diplomatic side, opinions among the remainder as to whether the contributions were negative or positive were nearly split (16 percent versus 14 percent). Considering that we expect armed contractors to augment the force, such numbers indicating that DoS personnel view them as negatively contributing to U.S. foreign policy objectives are rather troubling.

Th ese trends remain consistent when we look at the opinions of those military respondents experienced with contractors and those not (Figure 7.3). Th e unquestioned majority—nearly two-thirds—of both groups judged the contributions to foreign policy objectives to be mixed. About one-quarter held them to be positive. Diplomatic personnel also did not break with the overall trends when viewed as two separate groups (Figure 7.4). Th e vast majority—68 percent of those experienced with contractors and 63 percent of the inexperienced—considered the contributions of private security contractors to foreign policy objectives to be both positive and negative. Outside this majority, slightly more than 10 percent had positive views on the contributions to U.S. foreign policy, while a slightly larger percentage of both experienced and inexperienced diplomatic respondents held a negative view of armed contractors on this issue. In sum, the skill sets and services that private security contractors provide to the armed forces are highly valued by both military and State Department personnel, with the diplomatic group holding those skills in even higher regard than the military does. Th is trend becomes even stronger when comparing only personnel who have had experience with armed contractors across the Departments of Defense and State. But viewed in terms of the contribution that armed contractors are making to U.S. foreign policy objectives, opinions are much more mixed, with a clear majority of both military and diplomatic personnel regarding those contributions as both positive and negative, and a nonnegligible minority of State Department respondents viewing them as primarily negative. Given that we have a high threshold of expectations for armed contractors’ behavior and contributions to the force, such data provide cause for concern. However, in light of the evidence of military and DoS perceptions regarding armed contractors’ impact on Iraqi civilians highlighted in Chapter Four, these data regarding their perceptions of PSCs’ impacts on U.S. foreign policy objectives are not overly surprising. As with the question of whether armed contractors are force multipliers, the data indicate that anecdotal reports skeptical of the value of armed contractors are not completely unfounded.

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