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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

The purported goal of privatization is to introduce market discipline in order to improve performance and cut costs. These benefits are only obtained, however, under particular conditions. Furthermore, privatization can have unintended costs. A sound policy must carefully weigh both the costs and benefits.

The jury is still out on the cost savings gained from outsourcing training. Policymakers should establish procedures to investigate whether using contractors saves money, rather than assuming it does, and such investigations should include oversight costs and actual (as opposed to projected) spending on long-term contracts in order to reveal the true costs.

Privatizing military training has long-term political and foreign policy implications. Employing private companies may increase the flexibility and expand the capacity of the U.S. military. Such flexibility may help impose stability in troubled regions in the short run and may avoid lengthy political debates over the proper number of U.S. troops required to support the engagement policy outlined in "A National Security Strategy for a New Century." The downside of this approach, however, could be a public increasingly disengaged from global problems; a military ever more focused on high-tech combat operations rather than military training, assistance, and other engagement activities; and significant reliance on private firms for a central part of U.S. military assistance and overseas operations.

Managing the costs and benefits of military training exports is even more complicated. Many weak states (and nonstates) are demanding the training services that private companies provide. In the absence of Western governments' willingness to provide training services via their own militaries, PMCs offer an alternative to traditional mercenaries, and they are more likely to provide advice on norms of good civil-military relations and professional military behavior in addition to training in military operations. When states hire PMCs from a position of weakness, however, the potential for individuals to involve themselves in corrupt or criminal behavior is high.

Stronger and clearer U.S. regulations are therefore needed. A more transparent licensing process should be established. It should specify U.S. government oversight of PMC military training exports, and there should be a system established whereby firms must report on their activities. Also, Congress might want to reexamine the thresholds regarding its notification process, since considerable military services can be purchased for $50 million.

A "U.S. only" approach, though, is not enough. The market for assistance and training is global. In the U.S., PMCs employ former military personnel who are aware of professional norms, who are generally concerned about their reputations, and who tend to perform their activities with an eye toward preserving their reputations and enhancing their legitimacy. However, U.S. firms are also competing against PMCs from other countries with different--and sometimes little or no--regulations. If State Department concerns prevent MPRI from selling advice and training to Equatorial Guinea, for instance, that government is likely to turn to PMCs from other countries or to even less scrupulous mercenaries.

The U.S. government and private military companies need to work toward an international regulatory structure that will increase transparency and accountability and will encourage military training that promotes stability, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. The British company Sandline has already voiced its support for international regulation. An international office, perhaps at the UN (replacing the UN's special rapporteur on mercenaries), would be one mechanism through which the international community could bolster the industry's fledgling efforts at self-regulation. Such a structure could also open the way for a dialogue regarding how and whether private military firms should be employed by NGOs--or even the UN--to carry out certain tasks, such as providing security or training for UN forces in complex emergencies.

In sum, policymakers need to evaluate the economic and political implications of privatizing military training before the U.S. proceeds further down this path. If they decide that private firms are to play a role in training security forces, Congress and the administration should work at both the international and domestic level to ensure that PMC practices are regulated to comply with international law and human rights norms.

Key Recommendations

* Policymakers should investigate the cost savings afforded by outsourcing, and their evaluation of the overall costs and benefits should consider the long-term political and foreign policy implications of privatization.

* Stronger U.S. regulation of military exports is needed, including a more transparent licensing process, U.S. government oversight of contracts, and PMC reporting requirements.

* Both the U.S. government and PMCs need to work toward international regulations requiring transparency and accountability and promoting the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Deborah Avant <> is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.
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Author:Avant, Deborah D.
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jun 15, 2000
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