Outsourcing Security: Private Military Contractors and U.S. Foreign Policy – Book Review
There are many books published that are simply not intended for the mass market. These volumes are crafted by authors to be read by a particular readership. When that book also fills a gap in scholarship for that select group of readers then you have a special volume. This is the case with Bruce Stanley’s outstanding book, Outsourcing Security: Private Military Contractors and U.S. Foreign Policy. It unquestionably fills an existing niche and greatly adds to the body of knowledge in this area.
As the title clearly suggests, Stanley’s focus is on the use of private military contractors (PMCs) by the United States. Certainly, this is a subject area which can generate some highly emotional debate. However, the author stays clear of the moral and legal aspects of their use. Instead, Stanley examines the rise in the use of PMCs by the United States in the past 25 years. Just as importantly, he dissects the reasons for this increase. Some of these explanations are readily apparent; while others are not so obvious and will even surprise some readers.
As readers progress through the volume’s introduction, they will quickly detect an academic flavor in the author’s approach. Clearly, Stanley has organized his book with a thesis feel. This includes addressing his hypothesis, discussing his research and how he analyzed the data collected, and finally, displaying his findings. I believe Stanley’s method is highly effective in achieving the objectives he sought to accomplish within Outsourcing Security.
Although organized academically, this volume does not read like your typical academic fare. In other words, it is not filled with academic jargon nor does it have an impersonal feel to it. I believe readers will find Outsourcing Security to be an incredible easy book to move through. It is an extremely free-flowing volume and one in which you feel the author is actually striving to make a connection with you.
The centerpiece of Outsourcing Security is Stanley’s use of case studies. He has focused on America’s use of PMCs in the last four major operations they have been involved in. These are (and the periods he addresses): Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (17 January – 28 February 1991), Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia (December 1995 – December 1999), Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (October 2001 – April 2014) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 2003 – December 2011. Stanley devotes a chapter to each and utilizes the same construct in the discussion of each operation. This includes providing a concise, yet very detailed overview of the operation, the use of PMCs during the period, discussing the bureaucratic controls which were placed on the PMCs, addressing the other conflicts or deployments the United States was engaged in during the period, detailing the size of the military and the defense budget during the period, and describing the other choices the United States had other than PMCs to achieve that specific task and purpose.
There is no question Stanley has collected a significant amount of information on his subject. Yet, if you do little with it, it is relatively meaningless. The author has conducted the next two steps in making his research meaningful. First, he has taken the research and analyzed it. Second, he has utilized different techniques to display the results of his study. This includes addressing it in paragraph form and also by inputting numerous graphs and tables in the volume’s conclusion. The techniques are very complementary with one another and enable Stanley to effectively communicate his study’s findings.
Several times during the review, I have mentioned that Outsourcing Security is not aimed for the general reader. With that said, there are several groups who will find the volume particularly engaging and beneficial. First, Stanley’s discussion of the past will assist current military operational planners and civilian policy makers as they determine the use of PMCs in the future. Second, military historians (particularly those interested in the aforementioned operations) will find the volume provides significant detail in certain areas which may enable them to answer some questions they have. Third, this will certainly become a superb reference book for those studying PMCs and their use in the above operations. Finally, anyone with an interest in PMCs or those in the private security industry will find this a valuable read.
Within his introduction, Stanley states, “To date, the scholarly work on the increased use of private security, both domestically and internationally, has failed to produce a working theory of the phenomenon. At best the existing bodies of knowledge describe the private security industry in its contemporary form and provide some understanding of the contextual conditions that allowed for the industry’s growth. However, descriptive accounts by scholars have not been tested with empirical evidence to determine which casual explanations are not only necessary but sufficient to explain the growth of the industry.”
I believe readers will find that Stanley has crafted a book which delivers on the above. This is a volume which does provide readers with a detailed theory of why the United States has dramatically increased its’ use of PMCs. In conjunction with this theory, Stanley has also answered the why to this increase. This in combination makes Outsourcing Security a valuable addition to the body of knowledge.
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.