Military Contractors and the Perils of Outsourcing War

Allison Stanger discusses One Nation Under Contract.

By + More

Say we need 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan and a Chinese mercenary company offers a low-cost alternative to the Pentagon. Why not use them?

It does make logical sense. But I argue that war should be a national endeavor, done only when absolutely necessary. Outsourcing makes war that much easier to fight. As you add more for-sale forces to the equation, the more destabilized, violent, and chaotic things become. You can look at the Middle Ages, where forces were often hired and locally based, or you can think of privateers in the Caribbean. Neither situation offered great stability in the long run.

What do contractors think of the outsourcing?

Most contractors think of themselves as working for the U.S. government. But the fact is that they ultimately answer to a profit-making company, not government acting in the public interest. In the end, contractors are looking for guidance. There will be a new rule issued by the White House that will determine what activities are "inherently governmental" and what are not. That's something that contractors have been waiting a long time for the government to accurately and conclusively define.

How should we deal with this issue?

We need to have a debate about what the government should do and what can be done by the private sector. There's a temptation to fight over contracting by bringing everything in-house. You couldn't do that if you wanted to because the government simply doesn't have the capacity to do it anymore. The unions are rubbing their hands at that prospect, but that's not necessarily the way we should go. I hope that Congress and the public can effectively debate the issue, because the status quo isn't sustainable.

  • Check out our political cartoons.
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine.