Book Discussion “Outsourcing War and Peace”: The Rise of Private Military Contractors and the Importance of Public Values

by Laura Dickinson

[Laura Dickinson is the Oswald Symister Colclough Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington DC.]

This is the first post in our discussion of Professor Dickinson’s book. Links to the related posts can be found below.

I want to thank Opinio Juris for offering me the opportunity to post on some of the central ideas contained in my recent book, Outsourcing War and Peace: Preserving Public Values in an Era of Privatized Foreign Affairs.

The book starts from the observation that, over the past two decades, the United States has dramatically changed the way in which it projects its power overseas by outsourcing foreign affairs functions to an arguably unprecedented degree.  At the high point of the combined conflicts Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Government had hired roughly 260,000 contractors—more contractors than troops—to do everything from support tasks, such as delivering meals to soldiers, cleaning their latrines, and maintaining battlefield weapons systems, to more combat-related functions, such as guarding bases, diplomats, and convoys.  At times, contractors even conducted interrogations.  And contractors continue to play a significant role in operating the drones that have become a central tool in our efforts to combat terrorism.

All of this contracting poses an enormous threat to what we might call public values.  These values include the core value of human dignity as embodied in international human rights law, as well as the values embedded in international humanitarian law, such as the idea that the use of force is limited even during armed conflict.  In addition, other core values include transparency, democratic participation in decision-making, and accountability (sometimes referred to as the values of global administrative law).

Book Discussion: Laura Dickinson’s “Outsourcing War and Peace”

by An Hertogen

This week Opinio Juris is hosting a discussion on Laura Dickinson’s book Outsourcing War and Peace: Preserving Public Values in a World of Privatized Foreign Affairs.

Professor Dickinson is the Oswald Symister Colclough Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington DC. Her book addresses issues related to the increasing privatization of foreign policy functions of government. Here is the abstract:

Over the past decade, states and international organizations have shifted a surprising range of foreign policy functions to private contractors. But who is accountable when the employees of foreign private firms do violence or create harm? This timely book describes the services that are now delivered by private contractors and the threat this trend poses to core public values of human rights, democratic accountability, and transparency. The author offers a series of concrete reforms that are necessary to expand traditional legal accountability, construct better mechanisms of public participation, and alter the organizational structure and institutional culture of contractor firms. The result is a pragmatic, nuanced, and comprehensive set of responses to the problem of foreign affairs privatization.

Each day this week, Professor Dickinson will post about a particular topic addressed in her book. Comments will be provided by Professor Allison Stanger of Middlebury College, Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine, Assistant Dean Jeff Walker of St John’s Law School and Opinio Juris’ own Deborah Pearlstein, Ken Anderson and Chris Borgen. Our readers are of course more than welcome to add to the discussion in the comments, and we certainly hope that you will!