Private Military Contractors and U.S. Grand Strategy

PRIO Report

Isenberg, David (2009) Private Military Contractors and U.S. Grand Strategy, PRIO Report, 1. Oslo: PRIO.

​The debate over whether and how to utilize private military contractors (PMC) often seems like childish name calling, e.g. “You’re a mercenary.” Such rhetoric is silly and prevents people from facing underlying realities.

What nobody wants to discuss is that the U.S. government’s huge and growing reliance on private contractors constitutes an attempt to circumvent or evade public skepticism about the United States’ self-appointed role as global policeman. The U.S. government has assumed the role of guarantor of global stability at a time when the American public is unwilling to provide the resources necessary to support this strategy. Private contractors fill the gap between geopolitical goals and public means.  

As the United States relies more heavily upon military contractors it reinforces the tendency to approach global crises in a unilateral, as opposed to multilateral manner. U.S. use of PMCs is inevitable until people grasp the key point: contracting is both part of war and part of maintaining a global military hegemonic presence.  

Such a policy is not without problems. As Adam Smith wrote in the Wealth of Nations about his experience of the corporations that were contracted to perform British government services — such as the East India Company, the Halliburton of its day, left him too skeptical to suggest privatization: “These companies... have in the long-run proved, universally, either burdensome or useless."


David Isenberg

David Isenberg

Project Leader and Researcher, NISAT