Thursday, January 5, 2012

A leaner military? Private military contractors will thrive

Today, President Obama outlined his plan to cut defense spending over the next decade. As a playwright, I’m learning to appreciate the nuance, the art of subtext. As a military veteran, I have witnessed this sort of announcement before and seen the effects of the subtexts of defense budget downsizing. Think back to the period after the Gulf War.

I’m thinking back this evening and I’d like to write a longer column soon about this. But I wanted to post something on the day when the Captain of the USS US decided to set a new course. While Obama’s speech was a powerful announcement politically, as in this is a re-election strategic narrative talking point for this year, the economics effects will reverberate over time. There will be numerous columns about this from the standpoints of foreign policy, budget balancing gymnastics, national security, business, and employment.

You may be weary with my columns about private military contracting (often referred to as PMCs). I’ll continue to nudge with suggestions for us to keep our eyes upon this industry. It is now a foundation of our national security and military strategies. PMCs are no longer subtext and yet their importance receives very little ink beyond the Blackwater historical horror stories. Time will clarify the waters and we will see that PMCs are here to stay.

You think you’ll have a leaner military. Think again. Think broader to the Departments of State and Homeland Security. Widen your lens to our intelligence agencies. Put on your 3D glasses to the global corporations endeavoring to provide you with fuel, food, and water. Consider those three Maslow basics. Add another staple of your daily fare: information.

National security, a very broad term and concept, needs PMCs more than ever. The private military contracting industry has had a very important role ever since the Gulf War when all those new systems like the Apache helicopter, The Abrams tank, and the Bradley fighting vehicle needed technicians close to the fight to keep things ship shape. Our Navy and Air Force know this need very well, yet those two services get little press much less writings about contractors who keep the planes and ships humming.

There’s nothing diabolical about PMCs in my opinion. I’ve written things before and read the reactions with responders calling them mercenaries. It’s useless name-calling but look for the “m-word” below. The diabolical or rather worrying element, to me, about PMCs is the reality that the majority of American citizens are clueless, apathetic, and dangerously ignorant about PMCs to the point of not caring.

This trend of carelessness extends to our appreciation of the uniformed military; now an established professional force where professionalism here infers the “all volunteer” logo we’ve put upon it. It’s certainly professional in many senses of the term, but the citizenry has distanced itself from the military in a very real way over the years. The military needs to do their part to connect with the citizenry, but that’s another column.

This column recommends that you circle this January 5th on your calendar. This was the day when we once again venture into a period of austerity. This is a day to think and realize the subtext of the announcement. This is a day, in particular, for our Legislative Branch of Government to consider creating a Department of National Security Contracting; a clearing house, a go-to agency for all government-contracted services. We must remember that PMCs do not take an oath to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States…”. And yet they do, every day.

While the military may become “leaner”, PMCs will witness a growth in business, sophistication, and role. How effectively they grow depends a great deal on how your government administers, oversees, checks, and balances. Allow PMCs to grow unchecked and we may face a national and international security crisis for which we’re unprepared.

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