After a quasi-hiatus, Cosma Shalizi is back blogging regularly again. This post
But I don’t know how else to feel, when dubiously legal and definitely undemocratic programs of spying on domestic political dissenters get shopped to private companies through a profoundly corrupt contracting process, and records conveniently disappear without causing any official comment. (Via Laura Rozen, who has been following this story from the beginning.) — The really depressing thing is that even if, inshallah, the GOP loses the House, the Senate and the White House in 2008, it’s not clear how much of this will change. If the last sixty years of the military-industrial complex is anything to go by, the rapidly-growing espionage-industrial complex of spooks and contractors will be very hard indeed to uproot. Wasting money on jets and battle-ships for never-going-to-happen wars is one thing, and might even be excused as Keynesianism-that-dare-not-speak-its-name, but making money out of classifying peaceful political opponents of the current administration as enemies of the state seems, not put too fine a point on it, like a danger to the republic.
seems to me to dovetail with Debbi Avant’s arguments1 about the risks of contracting out military services to private agencies (gated version here).
Have private tools allowed American leaders to take action when they otherwise might not have? A firm conclusion on this question is premature, but there is some evidence that supports a positive answer. To begin, there are indications that leaders within the Clinton administration thought of PSCs as allowing easier action. For instance, when Croatia and MPRI signed a contract in September of 1994 and the State Department licensed the project, there are clear indications that the U.S. wanted to change the Balkan game. … By licensing MPRI, the U.S. government was able to retain its official neutral status internationally and avoid the mobilization that would have been required to send troops to train the Croatians at home but still change events on the ground in the direction it favored. … PSCs also played a large role in the U.S. intervention in Somalia, Haiti, and Columbia. … Common to all of these interventions was questionable levels of public support and congressional disagreement over their importance to U.S. security. In the wake of low levels of public support and civilian disagreement, it should be hard for the U.S. to move forward on policy, particularly policy that requires the deployment of forces. It is possible that private options have eased some of these difficulties. …
In Operation Iraqi Freedom … I am not arguing that these numbers were kept deliberately low in order to sneak in a larger force using the private sector. There is good evidence that civilian decision makers believed a small force would be sufficient … were heated disputes over these numbers, though … Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the stabilization could be done with many fewer troops.It is also the case that these higher estimates were viewed by the administration as politically unacceptable. As the war ended, stabilization proved to be more difficult than Rumsfeld had anticipated, and international support for the United States not immediately forthcoming, Rumsfeld did decide to rely on PSCs to provide security in the country instead of sending in extra troops.This is not to suggest that private options for force caused adventurous policies. The causal arrow may go the other way. Interest in policies without widespread support may lead governments to seek out private actors to implement their policies. The availability of private options, though, may affect the perception of threats by reducing the costs associated with using force and the depth of the market for force make the use of private options easier
This is a point that I’d like libertarians who are concerned about state power (i.e., actual libertarians) to pay more attention to. Getting the government to contract out chunks of its security apparatus to private actors may sound fine and dandy in principle, but it may not be a good idea for civil liberties or for restraining the state from getting involved in unpopular wars. It can make the state more powerful in democratic countries, not less. Lines of responsibility get blurry, allowing the state (bluntly put) to get away with a lot of shit that it couldn’t get away with if it had to do so directly.
1 Deborah Avant (2006), “The Implications of Marketized Security for IR Theory: The Democratic Peace, Late State Building, and the Nature and Frequency of Conflict,” Perspectives on Politics 4: 507-528.