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The Contender
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The United States should use private military firms abroad to pursue its military objectives.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 6/20/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,603 times Debate No: 92900
Debate Rounds (3)
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Thanks to our opponents, Team Thrawn, for engaging in this, the second round of the Debate Champions League, with us. We apologize for the delay in the posting, and look forward to a great debate on an interesting topic.

The debate we're having is over a basic question: should the U.S. government be able to purchase the services of privately sourced military forces (PMFs) and deploy them abroad? In order to determine this, we'll have to start with a definition of PMFs:

"firms offering services that involve the potential to exercise force in a systematic way and by military or paramilitary means, as well as the enhancement, the transfer, the facilitation, the deterrence, or the defusing of this potential, or the knowledge required to implement it, to clients." []

So, the focus of this debate is on a means by which the U.S. military sources its support. This includes private military contractors (PMCs) like Blackwater (now Academi), PMFs have been used in this fashion for decades, and as Con, we are arguing that such usage should be discontinued.

1) The Cost of War

Let's start with the basics. How expensive are PMFs for the U.S.? Well, they don't come cheap. In Iraq alone, from 2003 to 2008, we spent $100 billion on contractors. To put that in perspective, that's one of every five dollars spent in the war effort. [2] In the 8 years prior to that, the DoD spent $300 billion on contracts. And that's in one war. Blackwater's federal contracts alone, from the period of 2001 to 2006, amounted to $1 billion, which meant that the U.S. was paying $1,222 per day or $445,000 per year to each contractor, amounting to over 6 times what we pay an equivalent U.S. soldier.[1]

So, with these costs so dramatically high, we should expect a set of outcomes to match. However, that is not the case. PMFs haven't reduced the incidence of conflict for the U.S., and they certainly haven't shortened any of the conflicts we've been involved in over the past several decades, even as we spend more and more money on them. If anything, PMFs present a risk of further warfare because of how they are perceived. Countries that send militaries overseas to fight have to do a lot more to justify that decision because they are sending Americans into harm's way. The more dead bodies and wounded soldiers they bring back, the more they have to justify. The same is not true with PMFs. There was a point during the Iraq War where contractor casualty numbers, wounded and dead exceeded those of the traditional military. This information didn't and doesn't disseminate out to the public, meaning they don't get the full impact of a war effort.

But, then, what's the alternative? How could we better spend that money? We on side Con think that further disincentive to go to war and prolong war efforts are beneficial. The less access the U.S. government has to the means to commit to warfare, the better for the country and world as a whole. PMFs clearly expand those means, allowing for extended occupations and entrenched conflicts to drag out. We view that as a clear negative, and one that should be avoided. Bringing some of those hundreds of billions into the U.S. economy could strongly improve any number of domestic programs

But if we are going to spend our money on defense, it stands to reason that that money should be used to improve the lives of our military personnel. As more and more of our defense spending goes towards these easy-to-use PMFs, we reduce the focus on our military, and thus funds get drained from such important tasks as making sure they're outfitted properly.

In the field, we could ensure that they have the tools at their disposal to both effectively fight the war and to ensure their safety. There are plenty of examples of equipment and training shortfalls that could all be dealt with a generous influx of resources. [3] At home, we could dramatically improve their access to physical and mental health care and ensure that individuals who have made the incredible commitment to fight in our military get the support of their country after they come home. The VA is experiencing a shortfall of $2.6 billion.[4] Considering the tremendous amount of veterans who are homeless and the limitations of the VA with its current funding, this is a problem that can easily be solved with such a shift.

2) Private Risk

There"s a reason that Blackwater is such a well known company, and it has little to do with success. Their perpetration of the Nisour Square massacre, in particular, was an example not only of the actions that PMFs like this could perpetrate, but also of the difficulties involved in punishing such illegal acts when they are taken by non-state agents. The lack of an international legal means to prosecute them means that the perpetrators have and will continue to avoid prosecution. Even when the company was taking on purely defensive roles, they"ve often fired first, escalating conflicts in the process.[5]

This company is hardly alone in perpetrating these kinds of acts, nor are these the only acts we should be concerned with. Companies like CACI and L-3 Services have engaged in torture. DynCorp has been implicated in causing widespread health problems following an air spray program meant to deal with narcotics.[5] The U.S. may have been complicit in these acts, but the individuals involved were protected from legal action by them as well. In the process, accountability was dispersed, and no one was punished for taking actions that were clearly illegal by international standards.

What this comes down to a lack of regulation and accountability on the part of PMFs. In the status quo, they"re practically under nothing but self-regulation, as there is no international policy that governs them and many states are either unable or unwilling to hold them to account. Even if the U.S. drafts legislation intended to hold them to account, there"s little reason for them to enforce those laws in many cases, as made clear by these examples. They would be implicating themselves as much as the PMFs. International policy may eventually accommodate the realities of non-state militaries being real forces in the world, but in the meantime, there is scant little that most nations can/are willing to do about the actions they take under contract.

3) Side Effects

Let"s start with direct funding. The U.S. support of this industry has played no small part in the growth of private military forces. The industry as a whole amounts to several hundred billion dollars in size, and the U.S. and UK are by far the largest contributors.[5, 6] The U.S. isn"t exactly supporting only the "good ones" either, given the spotty records of the ones we"ve cited thusfar. It doesn"t help that some of the groups the U.S. has decided to work with, such as ArmorGroup, actually source their soldiers from warlords in Afghanistan, many of whom are creating further disruptions in the region.[7] By funding these companies and facilitating their growth, we need to recognize that we"re facilitating a broad array of groups, many of which are already our enemies.

We also shouldn"t overlook tacit endorsement. Actions that the U.S. takes are not made in a vacuum. If a government as large as the U.S. employs and fosters the growth of these companies as standard practice, it becomes standard practice for other nations as well. These forces can easily acquire the tools necessary to become disruptive forces in their respective regions, which has led to a sort of durable disorder. With so many small forces on call across the world, the only stability that exists is a constant state of disruption where no power can have any real or lasting effect in a region. [8, 9] The result is that the U.S. will have more and more trouble influencing change abroad. Occupations become even less effectual, and since PMFs have incentive to keep themselves employed, they will either seek to drag these out or propagate multiple small conflicts. That continual instability has tremendous costs for life in the region and trade without.


PMFs may seem like a simple means to bolster our armed forces, but their actual usage showcases a very different purpose. The U.S. should not have access to a workaround solution that keeps the nation from understanding the true cost of wars as they progress. The U.S. should not be employing groups whose standards for warfare are so low, nor should they be able to use them as legal loopholes for practices they want kept in the dark. The U.S. should not allow side effects that facilitate our enemies and produce a more disordered system in the process.



Thanks for the debate, Con!

I. Observations

A. Role of PMFs

Firstly, PMFs need not be in actual combat to count as PMFs. If they're proving support to regular service personnel they are "enhancing" and "facilitating" the ability to "exercise force in a systematic way." Secondly, there are a diverse array of military objectives for which PMFs are used. Military objectives may include things like capturing towns, protecting leaders, and espionage, but may also include such mundane things as operating bases that are used to counterbalance the rise of regional competitors, e.g. China, and to keep allies safe.

B. The Topic

Pro must affirm that the US "should" use PMFs to achieve its military objectives. Con must therefore argue that the US "should not" do so, in order to effectively negate the topic. In essence then, Con's position is one in which PMFs are not tools in America's military toolbox, one in which it completely abnegates the use of PMFs.

II. PMFs Fill a Void

A. Hard to Replace PMF Manpower

In '08, '09, and'10, the height of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were about 232,000-255,000 contractors in the Middle East alone. [1] Consider that there are likely thousands more in NATO countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Africa.

There are only about 1.39 million servicemen in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. There are an additional 800,000 or so reservists. [2] If you assume at least 500,000 contractors during that timeframe, which I think is a low estimate, that would represent almost 36% of our regular military personnel, and 23% if you include reservists, though, the need for reservists to stay at home to assist in emergency and security crises at home places an upward cap on their deployability.

The armed forces already go to great lengths to recruit new troops. Recruiters have admitted to feeling pressure to "bend the rules" to meet quotas and they have a record of using aggressive techniques to bring in new men. [3, 4] In '05, the Pentagon relaxed acceptance standards, and in '06, "The Army paid more than $1 bonuses to attract and keep soldiers in the service...[a] job is made more difficult by the service's plans to grow by 7,000 soldiers a year through 2012." [5] Despite these efforts, the Army missed its '05 recruitment target, and would have missed it's '06 target, had it not specially allowed 653 recruits over the age of 35 to join. [5]

For the $1 billion in bonuses the Army spent in '06, the army recruited 81,000 soldiers. [5] To make up completely for the 800,000 contractors lost, the Army would've needed to spend about $10 billion in bonuses alone, not including base salaries and other benefits, on top of what they already spent for regular recruitment. Media spending, distinct from bonuses, also adds up, projected to hit around 700 billion in 2011. [6] In 2015, only %12 of recruiter appointments resulted in people signing up to serve. [7] If we assume that we spend $210 million (Army spending) for a 12% success rate (about 50,000 new recruits), we would need to spend $3.36 billion to reach 800,000 recruits. The military likely spent more than that at the peak of the war to try to recruit people and still missed annual targets.

B. PMFs Best Option

Perhaps the only viable alternative to PMFs, particularly in times when large numbers of recruits need to be mustered quickly, is a draft. Notice that in '05 and '06 the Army failed to meet even its own recruiting targets, and if it had to recoup the loss of contractor manpower, would have completely missed those targets by several thousand people. Drafts are unappealing not only for the coercive nature of them and the damage to personal liberty they entail but because they produce inferior fighting forces: "conscripts are less motivated, less educated, less creative, and less reliable than those in an all-volunteer army. Their use is inefficient and potentially makes armed conflicts longer and more likely. Further, data indicate that a draft leads those forced into service to civilian harms, including lower wages, less education, and pervasive opportunity." [8]

PMFs are unique in that they can be mobilized quickly. They "can provide 'surge' capacity to quickly field additional forces. Without the political and bureaucratic lead time required for mobilizing military forces, PSCs can move forces in to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. As quickly as these forces can appear, they can disappear. Once dangers pass or local forces are trained and deployed, contracts can lapse and these personnel can be quickly demobilized." [9] Moreover, PMFs lack the kind of lead-time the military needs to train personnel for deployment: "PSCs can also more easily field the kind of forces most needed. These companies recruit from databases of mostly retired military and police personnel. This makes it easier for them to hire people with particular experience...It is much harder for national military organizations to find those kinds of specific skills and experience, and deploy them to a particular arena." [9] In this way, the US can save on training new troops.

Consider a specific example: "Outsourcing permitted the United States to allocate military resources more efficiently, thereby enhancing the military’s overall agility. To cite just one example, Washington could have implemented its Andean counternarcotics policy without [PMFs] simply by deploying U.S. special forces, colonels, pilots, and uniformed aircraft mechanics to train Bolivians, Colombians, and Peruvians in counternarcotics tactics and aircraft maintenance. Doing so, however, would have left vacant key posts in the U.S. Southern Command, military training institutions, and combat divisions--a pattern of resource allocation adverse to overall military preparedness. By contrast, employing PMCs enabled Washington to implement its Andean policy without undermining America’s own military readiness by placing a larger reservoir of talent at Washington’s disposal without straining its all-volunteer force." [10]

PMFs fill a void we simply cannot fill without them. They provide the rapid deployment (of well-trained personnel) capabilities the US needs in times of crises. It would be absurd to suggest that the US will never need this kind of capacity, and so it would be absurd to rule PMFs out.

III. PMFs Promote Responsiveness

PMFs, because they are not regular servicemen, are more easily--not just rapidly--deployed where to respond to various threats. This can allow them to go where other forces cannot, to resolve otherwise unresolvable conflicts. "[PMCs] make it possible to break vicious cycles of violence. They could do this by...providing troops for outside interventions. The importance of providing troops is often argued with reference to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda...: a situation marked by widespread agreement around the necessity of outside intervention, but an equally widespread unwillingness to provide troops. In such a situation, those suggesting that PMCs could be used to enhance security argue that they could make up for the lack of willing and qualified troops." [11]

Public support for long-term military operations abroad has hemorrhaged since Iraq. But that doesn't make these missions somehow less vital, nor does it address the reality that we are there and that we have an obligation to stabilize the countries we occupied. This obligation is both one of basic decency--i.e. we pushed Humpty Dumpty over, at least we could put him back together again--and one of practical need. If these countries are not calmed then they will become breeding grounds for terrorism and violence, each of which having the potential to spillover and generate a dangerous knock-on effect like in Libya. Because of the popular sentiment against continued presence in these places makes it politically difficult to keep in place the experts and forces needed to strengthen post-invasion governments. [12]

PMFs, however, can fill in when these kinds of necessary missions are hindered by the political demands of withdrawing regular troops. The US has around 5,000 servicemen in Iraq, compared to some 7,000 contractors, about 1,500 of whom are in support functions. [1, 13] "[F]or those who believe that a long-term commitment is crucial to successful nation building in Iraq and worried that the US cannot sustain such a long term commitment, the use of PSCs may be a tool to substitute for troops and encourage staying power." [9]

IV. PMFs & Local Benefits

PMFs can (1) give locals a stake in the outcome of missions, (2) train them to succeed post-conflict, and (3) provide them paychecks, building stronger local communities. "Of the estimated 180,000 contractors in Iraq...close to 120,000 are Iraqis, the people who should be doing the reconstruction and security in their own country. As a rule of thumb companies will employ as many locals as contractually allowed since they have better knowledge of the situational complexities, are less expensive, do not require logistic support, and operate under clear legal frameworks. This utilization of local talent makes contractors the most effective counterinsurgency tool conceivable, providing training, capacity building, and income for impacted populations and giving them a significant stake in developing a stable society." [14] Inclusion of locals may also de-mystify US military operations in local communities and, thus, promote accountability.

V. Sources

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Thanks! Please Vote Pro! Over to Con...
Debate Round No. 1


Pro is correct that PMCs can be involved in a variety of activities and what our burden is in this debate. We will weigh all of the activities of PMCs and determine how those result in a net negative, providing reason to not use PMFs as tools in military actions.

Pro"s argument essentially breaks out to three points. We will address all three.

1) PMFs are cheaper

None of the costs Pro cites add up to anywhere near the costs we cited in R1. It"s baffling to see an argument about costs involved in recruitment when Pro is advocating for a system of hiring that pays out more than 6 times what the average soldier receives. These contracts are barely audited: "there is one auditor for every $2.03 billion in contracts."[1] Many of them aren"t even open to bids, meaning the government"s paying quite a bit more than it needs to pay.[2] And what they do pay is largely for corrupt practices: "the Defense Contract Audit Agency has identified more than $10 billion in unsupported or questionable costs from battlefield contractors--and it has barely scratched the surface."[1]

We must also consider where that money goes. Every new soldier is another person gainfully employed, and will likely spend much of what they earn in the U.S. Meanwhile, much of the funds we spend on PMCs in Afghanistan go to warlords fighting the government. This means American taxpayers are literally funding warlords, who are simultaneously undermining and threatening the government we helped establish.[3]

2) PMFs increase troop totals rapidly and easily

We accept and the U.S. uses a great deal of contractors and that these are used to cover for limitations in the number of people in the military. However, we don"t accept that employing those contractors or increasing beyond the limitations of our military are beneficial. Rapid doesn"t mean better.

The benefits Pro cites are chiefly theoretical. Whether the U.S. could potentially have used PMFs in previous conflicts is irrelevant. They chose not to use them, just as they chose not to send troops.

The harms are actual. As we pointed out last round, contractors have a bad habit of stirring up trouble. You only need look to Nisour Square, Abu Ghraib, and the sex trafficking trade to see the effects [4, 5, 6]. This isn"t uncommon. In Iraq "incidents" are happening so frequently that [PMCs] are not even bothering to submit incident reports." The military is clearly frustrated with them, and several officers have made their displeasure clear. This is because contractors are outside the military chain of command, often unaccountable for their actions.[7]

This isn"t just about military perception; we don"t occupy countries for years without trying to win hearts and minds. The U.S. has to win the confidence of a region it occupies in order to get any traction with that nation in the future. PMCs have caused permanent damage to U.S. perception abroad. "[C]ontractors drive convoys up the wrong side of the road, ram civilian vehicles, toss smoke bombs, and fire weaponry as warnings, all as standard practices."[8] As a result, the Iraqis "equate the staff of private firms with coalition soldiers," resulting in negative reception.[9]

Inherent limitations to the size of our military force are not a negative. The theoretical harms of slower responses to future wars are outpaced by the fact that U.S. leadership shouldn"t have access to a deeper well of human lives to throw into combat. With PMCs, the U.S. isn"t held accountable for many of the lives lost in combat. Restricting the number of instances wherein our government can commit to conflicts abroad and increasing U.S. accountability for life lost is beneficial. A draft holds them to even higher account, requiring that the government take responsibility by accepting the political and social consequences of that decision. That"s a positive.

3) PMFs are better trained/have more knowledge of the region

A lot of this argument is based on a set of assumptions about a) how well trained PMF employees are, b) how well they work together with the military, and c) that having pre-trained individuals is paramount. All three are faulty.

A1) Their training

The army would beg to differ with regards to how expert PMC employees are.

Demands for more and more soldiers has led to a sort of tiered system of talent. "At the top, you've got former Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and go down to retired policemen and then you go down a layer or two below that and you get to what the business calls tier bubba, and this is what they fear."[7] That means you end up with untrained people being thrown into combat. The rapid response Pro"s talking about would be comprised chiefly of the lower tiers because "[t]here is a shortage of quality labor. Hiring people takes time now...we have to wait for people to come off other jobs." This has led to PMCs hiring some "particularly disturbing characters" and a "lack of pre-deployment briefing and training important not only for honing sometimes rusty skills, but also for building small-unit cohesion in combat". Even if they have previous training, it often does not apply to the country or situation.[2] Those who do have that training are usually being siphoned off talent from the military, particularly groups like Special Forces and the Navy SEALS.[10] We should not incentivize that brain drain.

A2) Training others

Pro cites how important it is that PMFs be able to train troops in the region, but there"s no evidence of this training being effective. "In 2003, Vinnell won a $48 million contract"to train up new Iraq Army battalions. Twelve months later, the U.S. military had little to show for its contract. Half the troops in the first Iraqi infantry battalion trained up deserted and the other half couldn"t carry out such perfunctory tasks as march in place or answer radio calls properly, let alone go into battle." However, even if it had been successful, the whole practices misses the point. "[A]dvising a partner military is not just about building up their military skillset. It is also about passing on values and building long-term relationships. When you contract out military advisors, the values of civil-military relations and professionalism are supplanted by the evident commoditization of military skills, not always the best message in a developing democracy."[11] Shifting the task to a private entity hampers many of the benefits we aim to achieve by engaging in training.

B) Working together

It cannot be understated how important it is that military efforts be cohesive. It's one of the main reasons why organized militaries have become the norm in almost every country: a clear, established chain of command allows for effective dissemination of information and coordinates military movements.

However, "PMFs are independent entities, responsible for their own operations, safety and security." They don't have access to military intelligence, communications, weapons or protection. "[T]he lack of information means that contractors are "flying blind, often guessing about places that they shouldn't go." For example, before the Fallujah killings, Marines were preparing their own operations in the vicinity as a follow-up to fighting in the city a week earlier, and the intelligence was that insurgents in the town were prepped for ambush. These contradictions carry over to critical differences in the field." This is compounded by the fact that PMCs themselves have widely varying means of information collection, evaluating risk, and operating procedures, and they often don't share info they have gathered.[2]

"The lack of established practice of identification in the field also raises obvious problems...with the planning, synchronization, and the management of violence. The destructive capacity of modern armed force is staggering. It takes an enormous effort to focus that destructive power on the right objectives without killing civilians". And yet, that focus is lacking when PMCs are introduced into the field. They fundamentally reduce the flexibility of the military, as they often aren't coordinated with military actions. This means the military has more difficulty adapting to situations, missions and concepts that it could otherwise address due to a lack of coordination and visibility, reducing its effectiveness and leading to errors.[12]

C) Pre-training versus training

The idea that we could have our forces trained and ready for use by PMCs sounds great, but it increases our dependency on them: "the consequence of turning over so much of the supply system to private civilian firms, which have this right to decide when and where they deploy, makes our logistics system "a house of cards.""[1]

"Using contractors also deprives some military personnel of valuable field experience and training. The problem-solving opportunities that are so critical to the preparation of senior logistics officers and NCOs are no longer available. When contractors become responsible for providing supplies, this leaves no trained force structure capable of handling this function in the battlespace. If...the concept of substituting parts of the logistics by contractor services does not prove successful, the military will find itself unable to instantly grow, train, and benefit from the experience of the mid- and upper-level managers developed within the enlisted and officer corps. It may take...20 years before the military can regain the capability now resident in its personnel." [13] So the brain drain is made worse by the use of PMCs masking glaring deficiencies in the U.S. military.


Back to Pro


Thanks, Con!

I. Costs

A. Financial Burden

Con must not only prove that PMFs cost more, but that the harms of spending outweigh the benefits.

1. Con's argument is not one that the US should not use PMFs, it is one that the US should not use PMFs as extensively as it currently does. Pro can supporting trimming down PMF usage to save money while still affirming that the US should use PMFs.

2. Con is in a double-bind:

2a. If Con is right, and PMFs cost so much, then the expense of them will disincentivize entangling ourselves in military action abroad. The economy and the federal budget deficit are the two issues that worry Americans the most. [15] More than just voter sentiment, policymakers realize the dangers of ballooning spending, thereby putting pressure on them not to engage in costly wars.

2b. If Con is wrong, then PMFs don't cost more than conventional forces, and are actually cheaper military solutions for the US to utilize. Con's focus on salaries oversimplifies the true costs of conventional soldiers, who collect benefits, including health, educational, and economic assistance. Consider that "[f]or every one of the 866,181 soldiers officially counted injured casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government is expected to spend some $2 million in long-term medical costs." [16] That equates to more than $1.73 trillion in taxpayer money just for injured troops, not including all those uninjured troops who cash in other benefits. Add to these costs three others: the advertising and recruiting costs we detailed in our case, and training costs resulting from the need to train new recruits rather than caching in on experienced PMF personnel. Turn Con's own argument here: Con wants to expand these benefits further, which could be financially devastating. If PMFs save money, we can reinvest those savings into Vet benefits without breaking the bank.

3. If Con is right, and the costs are high, increasing the competitiveness of the bidding process could solve the issue. Con says as much himself.

B. Ease of War

1. We can solve the problem of "hidden costs" without stopping use of PMFs. Simply passing legislation that forces more transparency about the loss of contractor lives, and perhaps including those lives in official casualty tallies, would address Con's concern without forfeiting the benefits of employing PMFs.

2. There is no guarantee that curtailing the use of PMFs will result in the withdrawal from conflict that Con envisages. In fact, there are real risks that the US may spread its forces too thinly in order to compensate for the reduce manpower as it attempts not to leave its allies in the lurch. As I discussed regarding the Andean counternarcotics mission, deploying troops from our limited reservoir of soldiers can leave key areas of sectors under-staffed or under-protected.

3. It's in the US best interests to support our allies, to combat terrorism abroad, and to project power to counterbalance the activities of rivals like Russia and China. Mistakes of the past notwithstanding, we cannot withdraw from the world or reduce our capacity to respond to sudden, unanticipated threats. Reducing the tools in our toolbox limits our flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing world.

4. Con cannot know whether Iraq or Afghanistan would have ended sooner without PMFs. That is pure speculation. However, given the data, those wars may have cost more and been less well-supported without PMFs. PMF's local knowledge may have also been a boon to our forces.

5. PMFs have a profit-motive, which makes them less likely to accept missions that are going to fail or drag on without end. Botched or prolonged escapades reflect poorly on the firm's record and apparent capability, which jeopardizes its ability to secure future contracts. This reality acts as a break on US military adventurism and willingness to go to war. This effect could be augmented further if payment, in part or whole, were contingent on a PMF's results.

II. Risk

Con is supporting an alternative whereby the US employs conventional soldiers instead of PMFs. If Con cannot show that (i) PMFs commit more abuses than conventional soldiers and (ii) PMFs are significantly less accountable, his impacts vanish.

A. Treatment

1. Con is trying to smear all PMFs on the basis of a few, cherry-picked examples. Consider that "even at the height of the surge, Blackwater employees comprised only 1 or 2 percent of all contractors in Iraq." [17] Con isn't even skimming the surface of the PMF industry with his examples.

2. Con's failed to provide any evidence of systematic or inherent problems in PMFs which would them more inclined to violence. In fact, "[D]emographic factors also tend to indicate that PMCs...are no more likely to engage in unlawful violence...[A]ge, education, marital status, and the presence of children correlate with a lower likelihood to engage in crime...and...violence." [24] PMFs serving abroad are, on average, (i) older, (ii) more educated, (iii) more likely to be married, and (iv) more likely to have kids. PMFs are thus less likely to be violent than conventional soldiers. [24]

3. Many contractors are unarmed and unable to commit the kinds of abuses Con describes. "If you visit any base or post within the United States or abroad, it is likely that contractors are running the family assistance centers, sexual assault prevention programs, physical therapy rehabilitation clinics, and schools for service members' children." [17] Con would have us cease using PMFs in these helpful, but safe, applications.

4. Abusive behavior is not unique to PMFs. US soldiers at Abu Ghraib engaged in actions against prisoners which entailed "physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder." [18] "The US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq...confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special 'coercive techniques' can be used against enemy detainees." [18] In some cases, female inmates were raped by US soldiers while their children were made to watch. [18] Of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, PMFs were involved in only 36%. [19] Additionally, in the Haditha Massacre, 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were massacred by the US Marines. [20]

B. Accountability

1. Soldiers in the US army are not significantly more accountable than PMFs. In the Haditha incident, of the eight people charged, 7 had all or most charges against them dropped (with one receiving a dereliction of duty conviction), and one was acquitted. [20] US military doctors accused of forging death certificates at US prisons in Iraq were never even investigated. [28] By contrast, in the Nisour massacre four Blackwater employees were convicted on very serious charges, one of murder and three of manslaughter. [25]

2. "The 2007 Defense Bill...places contractors...under UCMJ (the Uniform Code of Military Justice), by defining UCMJ to cover civilians not just in times of declared war but also contingency operations. To put it another way, basically 100,000 contractors woke up...under the same set of military laws that govern the armed forces." [21] Thus, contractors are also regulated in a similar fashion to conventional soldiers.

3. Even US troops are not beholden to international legal norms. "[T]he US applies 'broad doctrines of legal privilege and immunity' to prevent torture victims from seeking compensation against their torturers...[T]he US government invoked the principle of 'extraterritoriality' to exempt itself from compliance with the ICCPR on foreign soil." [26]

4. PMFs' profit motive can help make them accountable. If they reflect poorly on the US, they can be fired or not rehired. Loss of money through suits can be another reason to stay clean. "Since the 1990s, victims have increasingly used the [Alien Tort Claims Act] against corporations...Victims of PMC abuses abroad could well piggyback on this trend, and file a tort claim with a US federal court. Such claims against PMCs are considered to be viable, and have indeed been filed, notably in the District Court for the District of Columbia. Victims of alleged PMC abuses have also filed common law tort claims for wrongful death and US courts." [22] For example, a PMF was successfully sued for $5.8 million by ex-detainees in US prisons in Iraq. [27]

III. Side-Effects

1. Con is cherry-picking examples and hasn't shown that his harms will likely materialize.

2. Con's complaints could be addressed via (i) more careful screening/hiring of PMFs and (ii) reforms/legislation to boost PMF accountability and protect state authority. In fact, the US does regulate the export of PMF services, which can set an example for other states. [23]

3. Many PMFs aren't armed or capable of producing these side-effects.

4. Because Western states have successfully regulated PMFs domestically, PMF use is primarily a concern in "areas of limited statehood" like Iraq. [23] These places already are in a "state of disruption;" so there's hardly a net-negative. In fact, PMFs have the potential to help these places by protecting NGOs, providing security, providing employment, etc.

5. States have so far retained control of the PMFs in their employ, and it is highly unlikely that the community of nations would tolerate significant harm to state monopolies on violence. PMFs are also nowhere near challenging the power of many of the world's nations.

6. The US cannot risk allowing other countries to gain the benefits of PMFs while denying itself those benefits.

IV. Sources

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Thanks! Please Vote Pro!
Debate Round No. 2


Thanks to our opponents for a solid debate on a difficult topic.


We agree with our opponents: this debate is about net benefits. Whether it's costs, lives, perception or general strategy, we must establish the importance of those effects and weigh them against one another. That will be the focus of this round. But first, an overview.

OV1: Regulation

A common response Pro has given in this round is that we can regulate away the problems. We can use fewer PMFs and rely on them less. We can institute a bidding process. We can increase transparency. We can screen better.

Unfortunately for them, none of this will happen. Pro provides absolutely no reason to believe that the U.S. would pass laws to accomplish these; they've certainly had time to do so. Even if they did, these policies would be purely symbolic. Pro is depending on self-regulation to remove major advantages it perceives in employing PMFs, particularly the low visibility that comes with their usage.[1] Using PMFs less extensively means that the U.S. government still has to up its recruitment to make up the difference. Bidding for contracts has been implemented before, and it resulted in contractors with lower qualifications, as the trained members will simply take other contracts.[2] Despite knowing that the U.S. has funded warlords who are disrupting the Afghani government, the U.S. has continued to do so due to a lack of other options in the region.[3] Pro gives us no reason to believe the U.S. would handicap itself in any of these areas, and doing them minimizes any benefit to Pro's case.

Onto the arguments.

1. Manpower

This argument assumes that PMFs are sending out qualified individuals. However, as we explained last round, even PMFs have only delayed access to those with significant training, and their numbers are far too few to meet U.S. demands. The result is sending people into the field who have extremely minimal or no training. Even when they have prior training, experts from PMFs are often ill-equipped to fight abroad.

We"ve shown that any given PMF has an apparatus that exists outside of the military chain of command, which hampers the flexibility of the military as a whole, resulting in botched missions and dead and injured people. Even where PMFs provide some benefit, they are a crutch that the military relies upon. They can always take their business elsewhere, depriving us of resources we have become more and more dependent upon. Every deployment with PMFs increases that dependency.

Pro's has argued that we need to have the tools available to us to combat unknowns, but all they do is cite a handful of potentially problematic countries and non-state entities without any explanation as to why hard power is a) required (our soft power is dominant [4, 5]), b) net beneficial (hard power has failed against terrorism and comes at the cost of soft power [6]), and c) insufficient without PMFs (we are the world leader in hard power [7]). Pro is reliant on an unknowable future with unknown demands, whereas ours are based solely in the known failures of PMFs.

2. Costs

We've explained over the last two rounds how the costs of PMFs exceeds the costs of expanding military recruitment. Pro's numbers don't approach the hundreds of billions we've spent on PMFs. Pro only quantifies a single cost they claim will close this gap: injured soldiers. However, those injuries and casualties occurred in a system with PMFs commonly being used, which means they exist in both our worlds. If they do increase in our case, then the demands of injury and death would drive popular opinion against a given conflict, ending it sooner and reducing the overall toll.

The double-bind doesn't exist. The cost of PMFs has clearly not functioned as a strong disincentive against military action abroad. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans are fine with current military spending or want more.[8] And it stands to reason that finances aren"t the reason we hire PMFs. Polling shows an inverse correlation between were awareness of total wartime casualties in Iraq and overall views of the war itself.[9] Voters are swayed by loss of life, not monetary costs. PMFs are a means to avoid public outcry.

So, why does this matter? Pro drops the benefits of closing the VA shortfall and equipping and training our soldiers, both of which would save lives. Pro drops that spending abroad has resulted in money getting into the hands of dangerous warlords. Even spent judiciously, this money would go to other economies. Only in the instance where that money is paid out to U.S. soldiers is it assured to stay within and boost the U.S. economy.

3. Conflict

We're talking about future hypotheticals; there are no guarantees about what conflicts will happen or how they will end. What we can guarantee is that the means to fight these wars are going to be limiting.

How will that affect the way that the U.S. wages war?

Pro tells us that the U.S. would spread its troops too thinly, though there's no incentive to do this. It would put every mission at risk; it's completely unsustainable. As for duration, a profit motive certainly hasn't stopped PMFs from accepting long missions in both of the wars where they have been employed the most: Iraq and Afghanistan.

The alternative is to reduce the duration or overall number of missions and locations in which troops are needed, reducing loss of life and costs. Future conflicts would be limited as well by the size of the military. Both public support and limited human resources would require the government to reduce loss of life.

4. Risks

The risks we've cited (engaging in massacres, sex trafficking, torture) actually are both systematic and inherent. A lack of training that results from increasingly large troop demands brings in untrained individuals with disturbing behaviors. That isn't changing so long as troop demands are high, nor is the lack of military decorum and visibility that the separation between PMFs and the military engenders. PMFs will always be private. And these acts aren't isolated examples " we've shown in the previous round that many of the detrimental behaviors they engage in are all too common among PMFs.

But it's not required to be systematic or inherent. Despite Blackwater only representing small proportion of contractors in Iraq, their name is best remembered and their effect on U.S. perception is huge. Clearly, instances like this have greater fallout for the U.S. than the random soldier engaging in destructive behavior.

The accountability of the U.S. is the problem, not of the PMFs. Pro drops that the U.S. can and has used PMFs as shields from legal action and blame for human rights abuses. This was the case with DynCorp, which we contracted to spray herbicides on Colombia. In doing so, the U.S. essentially gave itself carte blanche to violate basic human rights in pursuit of its goal of eradicating narcotics, resulting in the widespread health problems we mentioned in R1, as well as tremendous environmental damage.[10, 11] DynCorp was let off by the U.S., and no one was punished. There may be other means by which the U.S. can avoid facing the consequences of its actions, but this one can be rapidly deployed anywhere, as our opponents have been quick to argue. They are legal shields for clearly illegal actions.

5. Side-Effects

Where our troops come from, and who is funded as a result, are key considerations we should make. Pro is quick to dismiss this, however a) they fail to provide anything beyond theoretics to showcase the benefits employing locals for conflicts, and b) the Afghanistan War is ongoing and these same groups are still employed by the U.S. government, which means even if the warlords example is unique, the harms are ongoing.[12]

We have argued, and will continue to argue, that PMFs have an outsized, negative effect on the world that only the U.S. can address. Pro has argued that PMFs have the potential to provide protective effects, yet all of the examples in this debate demonstrate the opposite. In many states, PMFs are stronger than the national militaries. These nations have lost a monopoly on force, creating fragile and conflict-driven states that exist in a constant state of disorder.[13] This pushes the U.S. to spread itself more thinly in order to respond to these threats, which requires more PMF support, which in turn increases reliance on and the power of PMFs worldwide. Pro drops that the U.S. is integral to the persistence and growth of PMFs, and thus our ability to affect them stands. It is only by spurning them completely, by recognizing the harm that they do in the world and rejecting it, that we can have any means of reducing the problems they create.


We've shown how, on nearly every level, the hiring and utilization of PMFs by the U.S. yields a net negative for the U.S. and other nations. If we have to rely on training our own soldiers, this long-term investment in our continued military prowess is not a negative, nor is making our own sourcing decisions separate from PMFs for non-combat activities and bringing them in under the chain of command. PMFs have clearly shown a willingness to throw untrained, destructive individuals into the field, sourcing from and enriching our enemies in the process. Whether we're talking about perception, success, lives, monetary costs, or accountability, PMFs are failing on every front. The idea that we need this resource in our toolbox only sets us up for failure in future conflicts, increasing our dependency on PMFs that have no allegiance to anyone.

Vote Con.



Thanks, Con!


Con agrees that PMCs are not confined to combat uses. To successfully negate, Con must show that the US should not even use non-combat PMFs.

II. PMFs are Cheaper

A. Costs

Con drops that vet benefits yield $1.73 trillion in long-term costs. Con says we spent $300 billion over 8 years of one war in PMF contracts. It would take the US almost 48 years for those contracts to add up to the costs of those vet benefits if the cost of those benefits remains stagnant. But, that cost won't remain stagnant; as more soldiers are injured, that $1.73 trillion number will steadily rise. That number will also rise if Con gives vets the additional benefits he proposed. Plus, since we're no longer engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the extent we were when those contracts were awarded, we're probably spending less on PMFs now then we were during the timeframe Con cited.

Add to the $1.73 trillion the billions in media costs and bonuses needed to replace the loss of PMF manpower, as well as the costs of training new recruits, and it's clear that, in the long-term, conventional soldiers are far more expensive. Turn: only PMFs will yield savings to reinvest into our vets.

The double-bind does exist. Public opinion on military spending, per Con's source, is volatile, and would likely change if the debt ballooned. Even if public opinion didn't changed, officials may not support higher spending due to their knowledge of the risks; this is already true of many generals. [31]

B. Corruption

Corruption is problematic among regular soldiers too. Some examples: (1) a Marine and his wife stole nearly $2 million; (2) one ring of US military personnel stole $52 million. [29] Conventional soldiers--no less avaricious than any other human being--have a greater incentive than contractors to steal because (b/c) of their lower salaries. Also, the $10 billion figure Con cites doesn't significantly change any of the math I just explained, esp. as that figure may be cumulative over several years.

Re: warlords, this is non-unique. The CIA paid President Karzai "[t]ens of millions of US dollars" to buy influence in his administration. This money found its way, via corrupt officials, to warlords and the Taliban, all without PMF involvement. [32] Con cannot show that PMFs in/directly fund the Taliban more than other US actors do.

Re: my contention IV, just b/c it's theoretical doesn't mean it's wrong; Con oft-uses theoretics too. PMFs may not spend in the US, but their spending in war zones is good; it stabilizes local communities and gives locals a stake in missions.

III. Responsiveness

A. Rapidity

Con is not only supporting reduced war-making capacity, but also reducing our ability to respond to sudden crises, e.g. a sudden attack on an ally. Con never contests that PMFs have rapid-deployment abilities.

Con never disputes that a draft is the alternative. The draft is bad for 3 reasons: (1) it violates the liberty of conscripts, (2) draftees have poorer prospects after service (Con places much importance on vet welfare, yet accepts the goodness of the draft), and (3) conscripts are less able/ready/motivated to fight.

Con wants the US to respond to emergencies with less able troops (conscripts) instead of trained contractors; that is something we ought to reject.

Rwanda (had nothing to do with rapid deployment) may be theoretical, but the reality that the US will face emergencies that require fast responses is not theoretical, it's fact. Only PMFs offer those responses.

Rwanda shows how PMFs give the US greater flexibility to respond when necessary even when responding may be controversial.

B. Accountability

I already showed that soldiers (conscripts are soldiers) are not more accountable than contractors. Con's only reply was that the US used PMFs as shields from accountability, but I showed that the US ignored enforcing the ICCPR for even its own troops. It seems that human rights laws aren't applied to either group. If Con cannot show that his alternative leads to greater accountability, than accountability cannot be an advantage for Con.

US soldiers committed 68% of the offenses at Abu Ghraib and committed massacres like Haditha. Both cases harmed US-Iraqi relations. [18, 20] Con cannot prove that PMFs harm the US's reputation more than conventional soldiers do.

Con also cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that PMFs "caused permanent damage to US perception abroad" and also say that the US hides dubious actions with PMFs.

IV. Effectiveness

A. Training

Con's source 7 states, "There are a number of...pretty experienced reputable security companies...those are the big companies that get the multimillion-dollar contracts." These PMFs hire "[s]pecial Forces, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and...SAS [Special Air Service...] from other countries." It seems the linchpin PMFs--the ones in the most vital missions and most present on the ground--are highly experienced. His source 2 notes that the "shortage of quality labor" came during the Iraq war, indicating that PMFs, like the military, had trouble recruiting as the war dragged on, as many of the available hands were already fighting. This doesn't impact a PMFs ability to provide troops early on in a conflict (when rapid deployment is often most essential), nor does it mean that PMFs have unqualified staff. And even if PMFs hire someone who "does not apply to the country or situation," like a retired cop, that person still is likely to have more skill with firearms and with lethal situations, than a fresh recruit. The other harms Con notes seem, again, to only apply to a small number of PMFs. His source adds, " admiration for the professionalism of and the difficult jobs carried out by [PMFs]...But all realize that not every firm can be the best." Again, given the info from Con's source 7, it seems that smaller, less involved PMFs may have these problems, but that PMFs that matter and are used most are very well-trained.

Training others was never a main impact of my case; this is a side issue. Con has not shown that US trainers are any better than PMF ones, but PMFs can be successful in this regard. The US used PMFs to train Croatian soldiers, who used their newfound skills to launch "a stunningly successful attack on Serbian-held Krajina" and force Serbia to the negotiating table. [10] The theoretical harms Con cites (e.g. commoditization) did not materialize there, nor does Con ever give concrete examples of their materialization.

B. Working Together

Con's own source notes that PMFs do have partial access to US intelligence, and have their own ways to collect data.US intelligence agencies also often fail to share information, leading to failure to ID threats, or agencies acting at cross-purposes. [30] This issue is non-unique.

This is fixable through better regulatory frameworks (e.g. setting up channels of communication).

Recently, we've increased all kind of PMF regulations. Given the inertia towards regulation, it's likely that regulation will increase. [15, 21, 23] There is also an incentive to fix problems to improve results. Even if it weren't likely, it's still possible, and so some weight should be given to regulatory fixes. Other fixes (e.g. civil litigation) are already happening. [22]

C. Brain Drain

Soldiers are increasingly seeking corporate jobs. [33] Businesses actively recruit vets, b/c "[i]t makes marketing much easier b/c we are able to show how we are different...People really want to get behind veteran-owned and -operated businesses." One group managed to bring "203,890 former service members" out of the military and into the franchise industry. [34] All this shows that brain drain is going to happen no matter what: civilian businesses pay better, are safer, and actively recruit vets. At the very least, PMFs can bring a vet who may have gone to the franchising industry into the defense industry instead where their training won't go unused. PMFs help retain talent.

PMFs aren't creating deficiencies in the military, b/c while they augment US capacity in key areas, the US still has its own soldiers performing tasks in those areas, so the skills sets aren't being lost. In fact, the US is increasing recruitment of its most specialized and elite forces. [35] And, the very fact that PMFs were needed to fill the void implies that the military was always deficient in these areas; there's no reason to believe the military will stop being deficient without PMFs.

Finally, it's hard to say that depriving "some" personnel of experience is sufficient to lead to the harms Con discusses. This unquantified issue doesn't outweigh the quantified ones, e.g. not being able to afford conventional troops.

V. Conclusion

A. PMFs Good

PMFs (1) are cheaper (even if they weren't, Con's in a double-bind), (2) are better trained on balance, (3) demographically less apt to be abusive, (4) help stabilize local communities, + (5) allow effective responses to emergencies. Also, many PMFs won't cause the harms Con cites.

B. Con's Issues

(1) Many of Con's harms are non-unique: accountability, warlords, abuse... (2) Con drops that PMFs profit-motive "acts as a break on US...willingness to go to war." (3) Without PMFs, the US may spread itself too thin to try to protect as many positions as possible, or to respond to threats. (4) Con relies on a few examples to make his case; points like my demographic data are more encompassing. (5) Con has no examples of PMFs destabilizing countries not already at war; there's no net-negative. (6) Many risks of PMFs are fixable; more regulation is likely and possible; other fixes are happening already. (7) Con has no alternative for rapid-deployment.

VI. Sources

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Thanks! Please VOTE PRO!
Debate Round No. 3
68 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by whiteflame 3 years ago
If you"re willing to provide, I"m always up for receiving more feedback, particularly on a debate like this.
Posted by tejretics 3 years ago
If the two of you are fine with it -- and I realize this debate is old -- I thought I'd leave an RFD at some point this week.
Posted by bsh1 5 years ago
@Hayd -

See here:
Posted by Hayd 5 years ago
I agree with tej, this should be redone
Posted by kasmic 5 years ago
Here are my thoughts, take them with a grain of salt.
Posted by bsh1 5 years ago
@whiteflame - I agree.
Posted by whiteflame 5 years ago
You're a good voter, kasmic, and I'd be more than happy to see how you perceived the debate. I'm sure bsh1 would agree.
Posted by kasmic 5 years ago
Despite not really being a top tier voter that is...
Posted by kasmic 5 years ago
I have not spent much time on the last few days but would be happy to read and submit an rfd/vote if you guys want one despite the voting period being over.
Posted by tejretics 5 years ago
I have two things you could potentially do in mind:

1. Restart the debate and C/P all the rounds, and then get this one deleted
2. Create a new debate saying "voting for previous debate"
No votes have been placed for this debate.

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