Toward a New Foreign Policy

By Avant, Deborah D. | Foreign Policy in Focus, June 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

Toward a New Foreign Policy


Avant, Deborah D., Foreign Policy in Focus


The purported goal of privatization is to introduce market discipline in order to improve performance and cut costs. These benefits are only obtained, however, under particular conditions. Furthermore, privatization can have unintended costs. A sound policy must carefully weigh both the costs and benefits.

The jury is still out on the cost savings gained from outsourcing training. Policymakers should establish procedures to investigate whether using contractors saves money, rather than assuming it does, and such investigations should include oversight costs and actual (as opposed to projected) spending on long-term contracts in order to reveal the true costs.

Privatizing military training has long-term political and foreign policy implications. Employing private companies may increase the flexibility and expand the capacity of the U.S. military. Such flexibility may help impose stability in troubled regions in the short run and may avoid lengthy political debates over the proper number of U.S. troops required to support the engagement policy outlined in "A National Security Strategy for a New Century." The downside of this approach, however, could be a public increasingly disengaged from global problems; a military ever more focused on high-tech combat operations rather than military training, assistance, and other engagement activities; and significant reliance on private firms for a central part of U.S. military assistance and overseas operations.

Managing the costs and benefits of military training exports is even more complicated. Many weak states (and nonstates) are demanding the training services that private companies provide. In the absence of Western governments' willingness to provide training services via their own militaries, PMCs offer an alternative to traditional mercenaries, and they are more likely to provide advice on norms of good civil-military relations and professional military behavior in addition to training in military operations. When states hire PMCs from a position of weakness, however, the potential for individuals to involve themselves in corrupt or criminal behavior is high.

Stronger and clearer U.S. regulations are therefore needed. A more transparent licensing process should be established. It should specify U.S. government oversight of PMC military training exports, and there should be a system established whereby firms must report on their activities. Also, Congress might want to reexamine the thresholds regarding its notification process, since considerable military services can be purchased for $50 million.

A "U.S. only" approach, though, is not enough. The market for assistance and training is global. In the U. …

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