My answer to What are the characteristics of government overseas contracting job?
Answer by Ken Larson:
Federal agencies of the U.S. Government hire vast numbers of personnel under contracts to support security and logistics efforts and many other services.
The ratio of contracts to military personnel in war zones of late has heavily favored contracting companies providing professionals on a for-profit basis.
“America’s reliance on private military companies in Iraq and Afghanistan hasn’t just expanded the industry; it may have changed the conduct of international relations.
Companies like DynCorp—and, more infamously, Blackwater—were major players in the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing logistics and other services, as well as armed guards and trainers for local armies.
The use of mercenaries in warfare has a very long history—much longer, in fact, than the almost-exclusive deployment of national militaries to wage wars. Before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended Europe’s Thirty Years’ War and marked the rise of the modern state system, medieval powers from kings to popes routinely hired private fighters to do battle for them. As state governments sought a monopoly on the use of force within their territories in the 17th century, however, they moved to stamp out violence by non-state actors, including mercenaries, driving the industry underground.
Private militaries never really went away, but according to Sean McFate, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and associate professor at National Defense University, they have experienced a resurgence in the past 25 years. McFate himself was a contractor with DynCorp International, one of the private military companies whose rise is the subject of his recent book,.
McFate draws a distinction between these types of support contractors, used for defense and training, and mercenaries, who stage offensive operations on behalf of a client. Nigeria has reportedlymercenaries from South Africa and elsewhere in the fight against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. In practice, however, that difference is not clear-cut. “If you can do one, you can do the other,” McFate told me in a recent interview.
In theory, armed forces for hire give private actors the option to wage wars where governments can’t, or won’t. In 2008, for example, actress and activist Mia Farrowhiring Blackwater to intervene in Darfur, telling ABC News at the time, “Blackwater has a much better idea of what an effective peace-keeping mission would look like than Western governments.”
Private military companies also allow governments to disclaim involvement in politically controversial activities. “Putin is using Chechen mercenaries in Ukraine, allegedly,” McFate said. “Who’s going to tell him you can’t do that after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?”