Academic journal article Parameters

Contractors as Military Professionals?

Academic journal article Parameters

Contractors as Military Professionals?

Article excerpt

As of 2008, nearly 200,000 private contractors supported or supplemented military operations in Iraq, with about 30,000 of them providing security services. Today, civilian contractors working for the Pentagon outnumber uniformed forces in Afghanistan. (1) Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, the private security industry's trade organization, suggests that the booming private security industry is here to stay. (2)

Nations have employed civilian contractors to fulfill combat and combat support functions throughout history. But alarming to many observers is the rapid rise of a largely un- (or under-) controlled industry: from less than 15 percent of contractors among the Department of Defense's workforce during World War II to more than 60 percent currently in Afghanistan. (3) Security contractors often work side-by-side with soldiers and sometimes take on roles traditionally performed by the military. Is the use of contractors compatible with the strong and pervasive professional military ethos? What are the motivations, values, and attitudes of individuals who sign on with private security firms? Do they share norms, behavioral codes, and a professional identity? How do contractors view their professional status and relationship with traditional military forces? How do military members view contractors?

Using survey methodology, we explore some of these questions. Specifically, we compare the attitudes of US military officers to those of security contractors with law-enforcement backgrounds who had completed at least one overseas deployment with a security firm and examine how the two groups view each other, their roles, and professional status.

We frame our analysis with a discussion of military professionalism in the United States and the extent to which employees of the private security industry possess similar traits. Next, we present and compare the results of our research using samples of officers and contractors. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of implications for the relationship between military professionals and security contractors in peace and stability operations.

The Military Profession and Civilian Contractors

What is a military professional? Are all members of the military professionals? Are civilians who perform military duties professionals? Do they regard themselves as professionals? Are they regarded as such by officers? This section delineates the traits of the military profession and assesses the degree to which civilian contractors possess these traits.

Five decades ago, Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz argued that military officers are professionals in the art of war and the management of violence. (4) Officers' area of expertise is in the planning, organizing, and employment of military force. Huntington divided these tasks into two subfields: combat and command, and proficiency in "technical support (administration, comptroller, supply) and professional support (legal, religious, medical)." (5) For Huntington, officers who mastered the technical or professional support area of military activity were not members of the military profession because their expertise was split between the management of violence and technical or job-related knowledge, the latter of which was not unique to the military. (6)

Traditionally, it is in the technical and support categories where the employment of civilian contractors has been most prevalent. But contract employees have also penetrated into the realm of combat and command. In 2008, an estimated 30,000 contractors provided security services in Iraq. (7)

Of these, approximately three-quarters were armed, presenting the second largest armed force in Iraq, behind only the US military. (8) At present, between 10,000 and 13,000 private security operatives are working on contracts for the Department of Defense or Department of State, constituting approximately five percent of all US-funded contractor personnel. …

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