Privatizing the Military

July 13, 2012 • Volume 22, Issue 25
Does the U.S. overuse private contractors?
By Marcia Clemmitt


A private U.S. security guard (AFP/Getty Images/Saeed Khan)
A private U.S. security guard stands in front of a chilling monument marking a mass grave for victims of dictator Saddam Hussein in Hilla, Iraq. In 2011, the Pentagon employed about 155,000 private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some 39,000 Americans. (AFP/Getty Images/Saeed Khan)

The United States and other nations increasingly rely on private contractors, many of them armed, to guard military bases, protect diplomatic personnel, conduct surveillance of potential military targets and carry out other such duties. Over the past decade, security companies have greatly increased in number and size, becoming a major industry that attracts private-sector clients as well. Multinational corporations hire the same armed contractors that governments use to guard remote mining operations, and shipping companies hire them to fight pirates. Governments and other clients say private guards save money and provide strategic flexibility. Critics argue, however, that using soldiers-for-hire gives governments too much leeway to take armed actions without citizens' or lawmakers' consent. Furthermore, they contend, no system of law — national or international — holds armed contractors or those who hire them fully accountable for human-rights violations.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Ethics in War
Sep. 16, 2022  The War in Ukraine
Jul. 13, 2012  Privatizing the Military
Aug. 06, 2010  Drone Warfare Updated
May 2010  Confronting Rape as a War Crime
Jan. 2010  Truth Commissions
Feb. 27, 2009  Closing Guantánamo Updated
Jul. 2008  Child Soldiers
Sep. 2007  Torture Debate
Aug. 25, 2006  Treatment of Detainees
Apr. 18, 2003  Torture
Dec. 13, 2002  Ethics of War
Sep. 13, 2002  New Defense Priorities
Jul. 07, 1995  War Crimes
Apr. 26, 1972  Status of War Prisoners
Oct. 07, 1970  Military Justice
Jul. 12, 1967  Treatment of War Prisoners
Dec. 03, 1952  War Prisoner Repatriation
Sep. 07, 1948  War Trials and Future Peace
Jul. 07, 1945  Enemy Property
Nov. 20, 1943  Courts-Martial and Military Law
Mar. 15, 1943  War Guilt Trials
Mar. 30, 1942  War Atrocities
Feb. 02, 1942  Prisoners of War
Aug. 11, 1938  Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations
Middle East Conflicts