Private Sector, Public Wars

By Bartels, Elizabeth | Journal of International Peace Operations, September/October 2008 | Go to article overview

Private Sector, Public Wars


Bartels, Elizabeth, Journal of International Peace Operations


An Interview with Dr. James Jay Carafano

JAMES Jay Carafano is a leading expert in defense and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation. Recognising that the war against terrorism will be a protracted conflict, Carafano 's research focuses on developing the national security that the nation needs to secure the longterm interests of the United States -protecting its citizens, providing for economic growth, and pnserving civil liberties. ?? accomplished historian and teacher, Carafano was an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and served as Director of Military Studies at the Army's Center of Military History. He also taught at Mount Saint Mary College in New York and served as a Fleet Professor at the U.S. Naval War College. He is a Visiting Professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown University. Carafano is the author of several military books, history books and studies. His latest is Private Sector/ Public Wars: Contracting in Combat-Iraq, Afghanistan and Future Conflicts, a rigorous study of the role of contractors on the battlefield and their impact on military effectiveness and civil society.

JIPO: What drew you to contracting as a research subject, given your focus on defense and military history?

Carafano: Hentage is a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation that has worked on national security issues since it was created 30 years ago. After the outbreak of the Iraq War, one of the issues that there was a lot of concern and discussion on was the role of contractors. We spent a good amount of time investigating and decided that defense contracting was not this massive problem that people popularly perceive, or has been portrayed in the press.

But, as a military historian, I found the issue quite fascinating because what I saw happening had much larger imports beyond Iraq. I think this is reflective of a much, much larger trend, which is a fundamentally different way of conducting warfare. If you look with a truly long term view, particularly in the Western way of war, I think you can argue that since the fall of the Roman empire there have been only three different ways we fight wars, marked by shifts in the sharing of responsibility between the public sphere and the private sphere.

From the fall of the Roman Empire to the 17th century, warfare was essentially a private activity. Governments were very weak. They had very little power to tax people and they had very little authority or control compared to modern nation states. If somebody wanted to go to war they had to get money and hire people, and most of them came from the private sector. Over the course of hundreds of years, coinciding with the rise of the modern nation state there is a shift in the balance, making the public sector in war very large. Not that the private sector disappeared, but the public sector had much more respon- sibility in terms of fielding military capacities, directing those capabilities, raising money to pay for them, and driving the research and development. That trend really culminated in the middle of the 20th century in the Cold War, where the public sector was huge and the private sector was a much smaller. But beginning in the 1970s as the world started to globalize, the great increases in global wealth have really been in the private sector, and that's resulted in an explosion of capabilities. The private sector can do things now that 50 years ago only a government could do. So now the private sector role in warfare has gotten much, much larger, and the ability of the public sector to drive that has gotten smaller.

I think that this is a world-historic shift in how warfare is going to be fought in the 21st century. I think Iraq and Afghanistan are wakeup calls for people to recognize what has really been happening for decades. This is not some kind of anomaly, but just a reflection of a growing trend that we've all been ignoring.

JIPO: In your book you state ? …

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