Toward a New Foreign Policy

By Avant, Deborah | Foreign Policy in Focus, May 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

Toward a New Foreign Policy


Avant, Deborah, Foreign Policy in Focus


Key Recommendations

* Policymakers should investigate whether the use of PMCs saves money, and their evaluation should consider the long-term political and foreign policy implications of privatization.

* Stronger U.S. regulation of private military exports is needed, including a more transparent licensing process, U.S. government oversight of contracts, and PMC reporting requirements.

* Both the U.S. government and PMCs need to work toward international regulations requiring transparency and accountability and promoting the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Over the past several decades, privatization of certain government functions, including a variety of missions traditionally performed by U.S. armed forces, has been billed as synonymous with efficiency, cost savings, and well-run programs that can respond more quickly than government bureaucrats to new policy directions. The jury is still out, however, on the benefits of outsourcing private military training. It is not certain, for instance, that these programs save money. Policymakers should establish procedures to investigate whether using private 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 also has potential long-term political and foreign policy implications that should be considered. 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 U.S. policy. The downside of this approach, however, could be a public increasingly disengaged from global problems; a military ever more focused on combat operations rather than military training, assistance, and other engagement activities; and significant reliance on private firms for a pivotal role in U.S. foreign policy. If the private option provides flexibility in the short run but prevents investment in (or needed reorganization of) military forces to deal with a new range of problems, this flexibility could yield long-run costs and dependencies.

Managing the costs and benefits of military training exports is very complicated. Many weak states (and nonstates) seek 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. …

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