The existence and use of private military contractors (PMCs) are not new phenomena. Their services were utilized throughout the 20th century, particularly after World War II and during the Viet Nam war. However, the use of armed PMCs during Operation Iraqi Freedom engendered a new debate on the role of PMCs in American military operation and how they might affect the efficacy of American military organizations.
Primarily, PMCs pose an issue of image and endanger overall U.S. Foreign policy objectives. By their very nature as employees contracted outside of the central military force, PMCs are not held to the same social obligations. They are proven to be less likely than enlisted soldiers to adhere to the American military’s professed morals. The incident of the Nisoor Square massacre, when employees of Blackwater Security Consulting shot Iraqui civilians, exemplified this ethical disparity and damaged American-Iraqi relations. As exemplified in Afghanistan, foreign nationals are unlikely to differentiate between an American soldier and American contractor. Their armament and use in conflict zones therefore endangers America’s international reputation.
Additionally, there are significant issues of coordination between the U.S. military and its contracted workers. Their disconnect was recently highlighted by the advent of the coronavirus crisis. A lack of clear guidance from the Pentagon amid the coronavirus pandemic is causing confusion among contractors. The Pentagon has issued no agency-wide guidance of contractors. With a lack of cohesive policy, officials are concerned that contracting officers will be handling the virus differently.
As it has done across society and government, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting preexisting issues of coordination and the ability of the military to respond to a crisis. If they are to continue to rely on private contractors, the military must formulate a more effective and efficient relationship with them so as to preclude crises like the one we are currently experiencing.
The U.S. military should be able to utilize Private Military Contractors for certain operations. But, they would be better used to protect property and personnel and leave direct combat to state-run military operations. International and internal events have effectively demonstrated that while PMCs have their uses, the American military profession will be weakened in the long term and be less able to respond with cohesive policies in the face of inevitable future crises.