Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security

Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security

by Thomas Bruneau


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This book develops a new approach to the analysis of civil-military relations by focusing on the effectiveness of the armed forces in fulfilling roles & missions, and on their efficiency in terms of cost. The approach is applied to the United States using official documents and interviews with policy-makers. In addition to analyzing the impact of defense reform initiatives over the past thirty years, the book includes the recent phenomenon of "contracting-out" security that has resulted in greater numbers of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than uniformed military personnel.
While the book demonstrates that democratic civilian control of the military in the U.S. is not at issue, it reveals that there is little public control over Private Security Contractors due to a combination of the current restricted interpretation of what is an "inherently governmental function" and limited legal authority. This is despite the fact that PSCs have taken on roles and missions that were previously the responsibility of the uniformed military. Further, despite numerous efforts to redress the problem, current political and institutional barriers to reform are not likely to be overcome soon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804775496
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 07/18/2011
Series: Stanford Security Studies
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Thomas C. Bruneau is Distinguished Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he was chairman of the department from1989 to 1995. He is co-editor of Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil-Military Relations.

Read an Excerpt

Patriots for Profit

By Thomas C. Bruneau

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7548-9

Chapter One


In retrospect, the catalyst that led me to write this chapter was an epiphany I had while participating in a Center for Civil-Military Relations (CCMR) workshop in Katmandu, Nepal, in May 2007. Nepal was in the midst of yet another turbulent political upheaval, characterized by general strikes and street violence incited by Communist youth groups. The conservative, self-immolating monarchy was at its end; a tentative peace process had put the Maoist insurgent forces, which had been waging a nine-year civil war against the government, into U.N.-supervised cantonments; and the Nepalese Army were confined to barracks. The parliament was deeply divided among extremely heterogeneous and antagonistic political parties that were attempting to reach agreement on a date for general elections, with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist playing the spoiler. In short, Nepal's institutions and traditions were swiftly being relegated to the past, but there was no consensus on the future, and violence was pervasive.

CCMR had been invited by the South Asian Centre for Policy Studies, a Nepali policy research center, to hold a series of workshops under the sponsorship of the U.S. Embassy, to assist military officers and civilian politicians find possible ways to create a stable system of civil-military relations for a future—ideally fully democratic—Nepal. In the public conferences preceding the workshops, during which I presented a framework for analysis that is the precursor to the method in the next chapter, a young Nepali anthropologist named Dr. Saubhagya Shah, who had earned his PhD from Harvard University, treated the audience to a long exposition on Samuel P. Huntington's approach to civil-military relations, which explores the difference between objective and subjective civilian control. I was deeply disturbed to see this vital discussion on how to assist a country facing extremely serious political and military problems, along with high levels of violence, hijacked by abstract theoretical discursions. It became clear to me that Huntington's formulation may be useful for discussing civil-military relations in stable democracies, but it provides little help to those still in the process of reaching this state. I was thus further inspired in my attempt to formulate an approach to analysis that would be useful not only for new democracies that are struggling to engage and prepare civilians for leadership of the military but would be relevant to all democracies, new and old, including the United States.

In writing this book on U.S. civil-military relations, I had intended to mine what I assumed would be an established literature applicable at least to older democracies, even if it wasn't particularly useful for the new democracies that CCMR works with. I wanted to frame the analysis in civil-military terms, with a particular focus on the interaction between civilians, including private contractors, and the military as they confront national security challenges. Unfortunately, as I will describe in the following pages, I found that the field has not yet crystallized; there has been not only little accumulation of useful knowledge but also minimal conceptual development. So far, researchers continue to exchange disparate factual information without analyzing it according to any rigorous theoretical framework, with the result that a broader body of knowledge does not accumulate. Some ten years ago, Peter Feaver identified what he termed "an American renaissance" in the study of civil-military relations. I am not so optimistic that such is actually the case. Instead of developing a conceptual base of comparative and empirical studies that could be built on by encompassing other disciplines, the field of civil- military relations remains amorphously delineated and heavily anecdotal. Those scholars who might have worked within a developing and coherent field of studies have made important contributions to areas such as military effectiveness from the perspective of historical or sociological development and strategic assessments, but in my view these contributions are not building the field of U.S. civil-military relations.

One might also have hoped that current scholars are contributing to a larger analysis of the implications of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, the main contributions so far have been from journalists such as Thomas Ricks and Bob Woodward, from former government officials such as Richard N. Haass and James Stephenson, and from RAND Corporation analysts led by Nora Bensahel. They are writing very useful books on war and reconstruction that nevertheless lack an analytical foundation. Thus, only a minimal amount of applicable knowledge has accumulated from these extremely important events that have serious implications for civil-military relations. To explain why this is the case, I will begin with a discussion of the recognized leader in the field, Samuel Huntington; and, by drawing on the work of other scholars, I will attempt to understand where things went wrong. I will then bring this review up to date and expand it by looking at the main journal in the field, Armed Forces & Society.


Fifteen years ago, in 1995, Paul Bracken wrote, "Theoretical treatments of civil- military relations have changed little in the past 40 years, even though the context in which these frameworks were devised has changed enormously." He went on to suggest:

One very real problem with the study of civil-military relations as it has developed in the United States is that it has petrified into a sort of dogma, so that conceptual innovation and new problem identification earn the reproach of not having applied the theory correctly. The resulting situation has tended to recycle the same problems in a way that exaggerates their significance.

It is with authority that Peter Feaver, maybe the leading scholar and expert on U.S. civil-military relations, writes,

Why bother with a model [Huntington's] that is over forty years old? The answer is that Huntington's theory, outlined in The Soldier and the State, remains the dominant theoretical paradigm in civil-military relations, especially the study of American civil-military relations.... Huntington's model is widely recognized as the most elegant, ambitious, and important statement on civil-military relations theory to date. Moreover, Huntington's prescriptions for how best to structure civil-military relations continue to find a very receptive ear within one very important audience, the American officer corps itself, and this contributes to his prominence in the field.

Another recognized authority in the field, John Allen Williams, concurs: "The Soldier and the State remains one of the two standard reference points for discussions of military professionalism, civil-military relations and civilian control of the military." Given the comments of these two widely recognized experts in the field of U.S. civil-military relations, and the remarks of the Nepali scholar I mentioned earlier, it is clear that Huntington's conception still carries enormous weight. In his magisterial Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, Eliot A. Cohen refers to Huntington's book as the "normal" theory of civil-military relations, "the accepted standard by which the current reality is to be judged." Indeed, the 2007 Senior Conference at West Point took as its theme "American Civil-Military Relations: Fifty Years after The Soldier and the State," and the most recent book includes extensive references to Huntington's work in all five chapters.

In my view, there are three main problems with Huntington's work that have impeded development of the field. First is the tautological nature of his argument; second is his use of selective data; and third is his exclusive focus on civilian control of the armed forces. Together, these methodological weaknesses have become major obstacles to original scholarship, which, although they have been acknowledged by leading scholars, have not been overcome.

First, at its core, Huntington's approach is based on a tautology—it cannot be proved or disproved. Huntington focuses on what he terms "professionalism" in the officer corps, and he bases his argument on the distinction between what he terms "objective" and "subjective" control. As Bengt Abrahams son wrote thirty-five years ago,

Essentially, a "professional" officer corps is one which exhibits expertise, responsibility, and corporateness. "Professionalism," however, to Huntington also involves political neutrality; as a result, "professionalism" and "objective control" are inseparable as theoretical concepts. The immediate consequence of this is to rule out the empirical possibility of establishing the relationship between the degree of professionalism and the degree of political neutrality. Huntington's thesis becomes, in Carl Hempel's words, "a covert definitional truth." In other words, professional officers never intervene, because if they do, they are not true professionals.

Peter Feaver attempted to use Huntington's theory to explain how the United States prevailed in the Cold War and concluded, "The lack of fit strongly suggests that Huntington's theory does not adequately capture American civil-military relations." Earlier in this same book, Feaver, more delicately than Abrahamsson, analyzed the theory of causation proposed by Huntington, which in his words has bedeviled the field from the beginning:

The causal chain for Huntington's prescriptive theory runs as follows: autonomy leads to professionalization, which leads to political neutrality and voluntary subordination, which leads to secure civilian control. The heart of his concept is the putative link between professionalism and voluntary subordination. For Huntington, this was not so much a relationship of cause and effect as it was a definition: "A highly professional officer corps stands ready to carry out the wishes of any civilian group which secures legitimate authority within the state." (Huntington 1957, pp. 74, 83–84). A professional military obeyed civilian authority. A military that did not obey was not professional. (Emphasis added.)

Empirical research built on the foundation of a false premise forfeits its validity.

A second problem with Huntington's approach is his selective choice of data, that of the military as a profession, as the explanatory variable. "Professionalism," similarly to "culture," is not a fixed or solid concept. The qualities that make up professionalism, just like culture, are subjective, dynamic, and changing. Indeed, in Chapter 4 we will see that a fundamental goal of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 was to promote joint professional military education, a goal that has generally been achieved across the U.S. armed forces, but only long after Huntington wrote his book. The U.S. Congress forced the military services to educate and utilize their officers jointly and thereby changed the culture of the U.S. armed forces, something that Huntington assumed to be largely static. Other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Spain, are currently seeking to change their professional military education. In short, the meaning of "military professionalism" is not something static; it can be changed through intentional programs of incentivized education.

In 1962, five years after Huntington published The Soldier and the State, Samuel E. Finer, in his book The Man on Horseback, questioned Huntington's approach by arguing that "professionalism" in and of itself has little meaning, and "in fact often thrusts the military into collision with the civil authorities." 16 One has to dissect and analyze "professionalism" to determine its relevance. This is what Alfred Stepan did a decade after Finer, in his classic research on the Brazilian military and the coup of 1964. Stepan coined the term "The New Professionalism," which he described as a new paradigm based on internal security and national development, in contrast with the "old professionalism" of external defense. In complete contradiction to Huntington's theory, Stepan demonstrated that, rather than keeping the military out of politics and under civilian control, the new professionalism politicizes the military and contributes to what Stepan called military-political managerialism and role expansion.

More recently, in his 2007 book on the history of the U.S. Army, The Echo of Battle: The Army's Way of War, Brian M. Linn raises fundamental questions about the way that Huntington simplifies and glosses over major variations regarding the U.S. military profession. What for Huntington was a unified officer corps becomes for Linn three main schools competing for ascendance within the Army. In contradicting Huntington, Linn states: "But as a historical explanation for the evolution of American military thought between 1865 and 1898, the thesis [of Huntington] imposes a false coherence upon an era of confusion and disagreement, of many wrong turns and mistaken assumptions." The key point here is that Huntington found largely static and readily identifiable a quality that is in fact dynamic and nebulous. Professionalism is definitely not a solid basis on which to build an argument about democratic civilian control of the armed forces.

A third problem in Huntington's approach is his exclusive focus on control, to the detriment of all other aspects of civil-military relations. In the introduction to The Soldier and the State, he notes, "Previously the primary question was: what pattern of civil-military relations is most compatible with American liberal democratic values? Now this has been supplanted by the more important issue: what pattern of civil-military relations will best maintain the security of the American nation?" Nowhere in the rest of the long text, however, does Huntington return to this issue of military effectiveness. By contrast, he devotes an entire chapter to the topic of control, where he posits his objective and subjective models of civilian control of the armed forces.

Control is the primary focus in the vast majority of literature on U.S. civil-military relations. Peter Feaver focuses on control in some of his publications, and in the second sentence of his 1999 review article, he noted that, "Although civil-military relations is a very broad subject, encompassing the entire range of relationships between the military and civilian society at every level, the field largely focuses on the control or direction of the military by the highest civilian authorities in nation-states." More recently, Dale R. Herspring commented, "As I surveyed the literature on civil-military relations in the United States, I was struck by the constant emphasis on 'control.' A common theme was that the United States had to guard against any effort by the American military to assert its will on the rest of the country." This is not to say that democratic civilian control is irrelevant, particularly in newer democracies, but the intense focus on it in the United States is misplaced and distracts from the other dimensions. The issue of control itself will be dealt with in more detail in Chapter 3 and again in Chapter 4 with regard to reform initiatives.

The observations of Paul Bracken regarding a largely marginal issue in civil-military relations, the posited "civil-military gap" in the United States, still hold. Not surprisingly, the 1990s saw a plethora of conferences, op-ed pieces, and publications on the "civil-military gap" during the tumultuous presidency of Bill Clinton, but surprisingly they have continued down to the present. In 2002, one of the main authors in this line of research, historian Richard H. Kohn, published an article titled, "The Erosion of Civilian Control of the Military in the United States Today," in the Naval War College Review. The Foreign Policy Research Institute held a conference in 2007 on the theme "Mind the Gap: Post-Iraq Civil Military Relations in America," which found that "American civil-military relations were troubled even before the Iraq war, which conflict has only exacerbated frictions." A 2007 report published by the RAND Corporation, "The Civil-Military Gap in the United States: Does It Exist, Why, and Does It Matter?" refreshingly concluded that the military and civilian leadership do not differ greatly on the questions that are of most concern to the Army, despite the fact that the report used data collected during the Clinton administration, prior to the terrorist attacks of September 2001. According to the report, civilians and the military view transnational terrorism as the primary security threat; nor is there any major threat to the principle of civilian control in the United States.


Excerpted from Patriots for Profit by Thomas C. Bruneau Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1

1 Problems with How We Think about Civil-Military Relations 13

2 A Comparative Approach to the Analysis of Civil-Military Relations 28

3 The Institutions of U.S. Civil-Military Relations 50

4 Defense Reform: Institutional and Political Impediments to Effectiveness 77

5 The Scale and Politics of Contracting Out Private Security 107

6 An Assessment of the Performance of Private Security Contractors 126

7 Summary and Conclusion 149

Appendix 1 President Barak Obama's Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies, Dated March 4, 2009 167

Appendix 2 Letter to OFPP of OMB, by Contracting Industry Representatives, Dated June 8, 2009 171

Appendix 3 The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 179

Notes 185

Interviews 233

Selected Bibliography 239

Index 255

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