One Nation Under Contract - A Book Review Essay by PHK

From the first recorded use of mercenaries four thousand years ago, through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and until the nineteenth century, mercenaries were regular features of war. It was not Westphalia that disarmed mercenaries, but a confluence of nationalism, technology, and increasing interstate trade that marginalized them. It would be another two hundred years after the birth of the modern state before states would effectively hold each other accountable for the actions of their citizens, started linking the projection of force to a specific geographic territory, and consolidated the decision to personally volunteer and fight in wars away from the people and into the hands of the governments of states that private militaries were "de-legitimized, de-democratized, and territorialized". The same consolidation seen in privateers was also evident in commercial enterprises as activities from the territory of state was viewed as sanctioned by that government.

In our modern history, liberal economic considerations pushed for greater integration with the private sector, undoing many of the consolidations of preceding decades (not centuries). This led President Eisenhower to famously remark in his farewell address to the nation about the military-industrial complex (he intended to say "military-industrial-Congressional complex", but that was too controversial). But even as Eisenhower was concerned about the private-public partnership, he commitment the U.S. government to increasingly "rely on commercial sources." It took a few years, but in 1966, with Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, the ball President Eisenhower started rolling really took off - probably faster than he intended - and the private sector was preferred over the public sector if it could provide the service or product more economically.

Roll forward to the post-9/11 era and outsourcing by the US government increased dramatically. Considerable reasons for this expansion were given, including surge requirements, efficiency, flexibility in salary and benefits, and more. The true impact on budgets, skills, capabilities, and policies were not, however, discussed openly or honestly.

Pat Kushlis writes at Whirled View that Allison Stranger writes about these issues in One Nation Under Contract.

The outsourcing of U.S.  government functions and the extravagant spending that accompanied it was particularly pronounced in the foreign affairs arena - as Stanger demonstrates. ...

Then there's the closely related issue of over-militarization of the entire US foreign policy apparatus.  This took off like greased lightening under the Bush administration - and Stanger addresses it well. The weakened civilian side has been bled dry. But besides that, the State Department was never known for its ability to administer itself or run programs well.

That's why the US Information Agency and USAID, the two civilian program agencies that did, were created as separate entities from the Department early in President Eisenhower's tenure. Consolidation and dismemberment of USIA in 1999 which had handled US public diplomacy since 1953 has largely resulted in a dysfunctional, bifurcated operation plagued with problems. A similar problem has befallen USAID tortuously, stealthfully and painfully slurped up thereafter by the State Department under the Bush administration.

Stanger presents the USAID problems well in a must read chapter entitled "The Slow Death of AID" but since she doesn't have as good as grasp of public diplomacy, she misses and mischaracterizes that sad story almost entirely (one of the few mistakes in another wise thoroughly researched undertaking.) By 2003, the remnants of neither of these two former civilian foreign affairs program agencies could perform the post 9/11 tasks assigned under the cumbersome State Department bureaucracy.  The situation has not improved.

It's no surprise, therefore, that the "can do," well funded Pentagon stepped in. Today, the Pentagon's budget and staff for strategic communications (the closest military equivalent to public diplomacy) is multiple times that of State's public diplomacy operation plus the International Board of Broadcasting which oversees the Voice of America and other international broadcasting elements combined.

Pat's review is worth a read. Pat suggests the issues are deeper than the author writes, to which I agree. I've written on this issue extensively in the past, including a book chapter, papers for academic conferences (see a recent reference to one of these here), magazines (for example), a seminar (link to a post written in third-person: I was still anonymous at the time), and here at MountainRunner (also a publisher was interested in my book proposal, 288kb PDF).

By the time of the Iraq War in 2003, the Government Accountability Office was issuing frequent warnings on the failure to provide adequate oversight over contractor expenses and actions. This lack of oversight in the unpredictable environment of a war zone has resulted in several high-profile problems in Iraq, ranging from use of force and rules of engagement to equipment and transport availability. (There is a famous example of a contractor providing faulty trucks to the US Army in Iraq claiming that he was not obligated to provide working trucks.) As Pat points out, when contracting officers are unavailable, communication failures may occur and oversight disappears. 

Today, with the increasing democratization and decentralization of influence where virtually anyone can reach and influence anybody and corporations have vested interests around the globe, we take a serious and informed look at how to maximize private-public partnerships, which the US Government is not configured or staffed to adequately utilize, either in public diplomacy, development, commerce, or military affairs.

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