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P.W. Singer's Corporate Warriors is an excellent book about the world of private military firms (also called private military security contractors).

When he wrote this, the United States was not yet involved in Iraq, let alone against ISIS. It was updated in 2008 as Barack Obama was running for president so it has been somewhat updated though not completely. It could definitely use another given the events of the past eight years.

Nonetheless, it is an invaluable introduction to the subject (there are several newer books available now), a subject about which I knew very little going in. It presents a disturbing picture of the world in which private military firms are largely unregulated by both national and international law, presenting all sorts of potential difficulties. We have already seen some of these in the Abu Ghraib scandal and in the behavior of Blackwater during the Iraq War and subsequent occupation and civil war.

Singer goes into great detail regarding the history and development of these contractors and the various uses for which they have been hired by our own and foreign governments. There is an example order of battle and a sample contract, both of which are very illuminating. It is heavily footnoted and you can tell Mr. Singer, who is known also for his books about robots and warfare and cybersecurity, did his homework.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in the subject or in national security and foreign policy.
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Mr Singer provides an excellent study of a millenia-old dynamic: the use of mercenaries in warfare. Of course, today's mercs are referred to in much different, politically-correct terms - but that doesn't change the basic principle on which these warrior-for-hire are founded. It is important, though, to understand the changes in the days even since Executive Outcomes, and the evolution that has taken place since then. This work, along with several other written in recent years, do a functional service to the global public by helping to educate those unfamiliar with this often misunderstood profession, its corporte backers, and the entities that hire them today. In my opinion, there is definitely a role for private military companies (call them what you will) in this modern world, and there is little question that - just as they were used 2,000 years ago - the mercenary will always have a role to play in international conflicts. Having attended some training at Blackwater and met Eric Prince (following 9/11, prior to Blackwater becoming a rent-a-cop's dream vacation), and having worked in the national security field, this subject is of intense interest to me, personally. This work furthered my knowledge on the subject and I think should be read by everyone who has an interest in national and international security.
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In Corporate Warriors, Singer provides historical background for the hiring of private military personnel and then describes their contemporary use globally. He notes that the employment of mercenary soldiers began thousands of years ago. But as modern states developed, governments moved to place all military forces under their control. Reliance on hired soldiers declined significantly by the beginning of the twentieth century. During the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet forces provided military assistance to the armies of developing nations reducing the inclination of those countries to hire mercenaries. Singer explains that changing economic and political conditions fostered the rise of modern private military companies. He notes that the market place has ended the state’s monopoly over violence and that private military companies are now active all over the world. The hiring of private military companies appears to have increased for a number of reasons. The reduction of the U.S. armed forces after the end of the Cold War led to a renewed market for private military contractors. It may be cheaper for small or weak states to hire private military companies when they perceive the need for force rather than maintaining sizeable standing armies. Certain corporations and humanitarian groups may hire private military companies for protection in dangerous areas where local police are too few, too corrupt or too incompetent. Demobilization of armed forces after the end of the Cold War increased the availability of weapons and trained military personnel in search of new jobs. Singer also describes how the 2003 Iraq War provided new opportunities for private military companies. This book is a fascinating and enlightening examination of an internationally important topic.

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on April 4, 2015
P.W. Singer has presented a real world portrayal of the way military operations are trending. There is a much deeper story to be had in the operations that a supported as private companies that are true government operations that hide in plain view. Companies started, ran, and operated by the US government but stand opening as supposed private companies. I am not, in any way, saying that is bad. It provides total control over a situation by controlling all facets of the operation. The story is much more interesting but if truly told would hobble their efforts. A story that would stand so firmly as fiction that the truth could be boldly told and believed by no one. The public would find it absurd that such an operation could go unnoticed standing so openly for all to see. A job well done here in the book and to those that operate secretly in plain view. I enjoyed it... the book and ...
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on November 5, 2012
This is highly charged subject with strong arguments for and against the concept and practice of independent contractors for hire either indepedently or as sub-contractors though private military firm. The gamut of arrangements for this polarizing business is larger and more complex than are popularly thought and Singer does a good job. His descriptions, the history of private military organizations/individuals and thoughts are well-organized and cogent. The only caveat to an otherwise excellent book is that this book - while updated - is still dated. The world moves on and while some things are universal, a lot of wars and politics have passed since the 2004 publication of this book. Otherwise, a good and informative read, this book stirs the pot and re-generates the debate on private military contractors.
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on August 15, 2017
I'm unsure about your position, Peter.
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on June 19, 2017
Relevant. Scary. Well done.
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on September 11, 2003
Most folks will automatically assume this is a book about the latest generation of mercenaries. While that's certainly an aspect of this industry, there's a far more surprising side to this story: Their role in the restoration of peace, and in the reconstruction of wartorn countries.
Thus, private military firms (PMF's) are actually one of the 8 sectors of restorative development, often referred to as the global "restoration economy", which currently accounts for about $2 trillion annually. [Restorative development is defined as "socioeconomic revitalization based on restoration of the natural and built environments".]
This shouldn't be so surprising, given that most of them come from engineering or construction roots. But, why the dichotomy of good and evil? It's simple, really:
When PMF's are used to advance "new development" (such as exploiting someone else's natural resources, which often requires a "regime change"), they are often operating on "the dark side". When they are advancing "restorative development", they are usually the "good guys". The same dynamic can be found in the ordinary (non-PMF) civil engineering community.
Corporate Warriors does a wonderful job of documenting this fast-growing, highly profitable "ancient" industry, which is experiencing a rebirth as a major global force after 3 centuries of slumber.
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on June 23, 2011
Singer is one of the most intriguing defense/security writers out there, as his "thing" is basically finding heavily underrreported - yet crucial - developments occurring in the U.S. military. He seems to always be one of the first to really study in a comprehensive and coherent manner certain evolutionary changes in the way war is fought, and Corporate Warriors is no exception. His other works deal with heady subjects like robotics in war and child soldiers, and here he is at the forefront of yet another startling trend.

Corporate Warriors is an attempt to trace the lineage of the Private Military Firm (PMF) from early mercenaries to today's corporate arrangements, and in doing so, to fit them into a theoretical framework for better understanding and predicting industry developments. Published on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003, the book mostly deals with the 1990s, though to fully explain the rise of the PMF it jumps back to earlier examples in the 1970s and 80s.

Much of Corporate Warriors is couched in the language of IR theory, but Singer never slavishly tries to fit all of his findings into a rigid framework. Chapter 2 is an excellent historical survey of privatized military history, ranging from mercenaries in the service of King Shulgi of Ur to Syracusan hoplites to the first "companies" of the Hundred Years War. Singer fully explains the `state as monopoly on violence' and the prominence that mercenaries enjoyed from the dawn of history until the nineteenth century, explaining that the odd little gap between roughly 1860 and 1950 in which the state's monopoly was the only game in town. But he is never overly concerned with the theoretical framework. Chapter 11, "Market Dynamism and Global Security Disruptions," opens with an epigraph from Professor R.B.J. Walker:

"The disjunction between the seriousness of international politics and the triviality of international relations theory is quite startling."

Nevertheless, there is a basic terminology to sort out the different functions that these PMFs perform. Broadly, they can be slotted into the categories of "provider firm" (actual, boots-on-the-ground fighting forces, like Airscan, DynCorp, and Executive Outcomes), "consulting firm" (providing everything but combat troops, including training, intelligence, and logistical planning; see MPRI, Ronco, and CACI), and the "support firm" (logistics such as transportation, maintenance, and catering; see KBR, Serco, and General Dynamics). While the categories are relatively firm, their companies are not - most have sub-units, spinoffs, and subcontractors that define themselves fluidly and often shift between functions.

Singer performs an admirable job of pointing out obvious absurdities in the way contracts are awarded and over the very functions that are now being outsourced and privatized. When the ostensible point of outsourcing to private companies is to save money, it makes little sense to award no-bid contracts, or to ask for bidding when less than a handful of companies exist that are even capable of performing the job. As Singer notes, "such arrangements forget that the efficiency of privatization comes from greater competition, rather than simply that it is private."

A good amount of space is devoted to some of the less obvious problems that arise from private militarization. Instead of a traditional arms race, the Ethiopian-Eritrean War saw an actual bidding race, as both sides rushed to secure the most in-demand services before their opponent could do the same. In this sense, more than any military build-up might be, a PMF race between adversarial nations represents a truly zero-sum situation. Whereas a country can attempt to increase spending, conscription, and overall arms procurement to match another country (such as the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War), every PMF that is hired by one party leaves one less to be hired by the other. This, Singer warns, can have serious unforeseen and destabilizing effects on future conflicts.

Other surprising issues are at stake. One such example of PMFs and the civil-military balance is particularly fascinating, and deserves to be quoted in full:

"Given the checkered history of the soldiers who had served in the elite units of the apartheid-era South African military [and who now worked for PMF Executive Outcomes (EO)], the new African National Congress (ANC) government in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela had a particular incentive to see that these soldiers stayed out of domestic trouble, especially during the first multiracial elections in 1994. This may in part explain the lack of sanctions when EO first fought in the Angolan civil war. In public, the Mandela government was decidedly against the firm's activities, as EO was acting in contravention of the 'new' South Africa's attempt to become a responsible regional power. However, in private, it quietly tolerated and even facilitated early EO recruitment of these forces. The rationale was the government's belief that 'it would remove from South Africa a number of personnel who might have had a destabilising effect on the forthcoming multiracial elections.' The ultimate outcome was the the South African elections went off without a hitch, while hundreds of potential agitators, with high levels of military skills, were kept busy making money abroad."

Another hitherto unforeseen situation is the potential for "good" NGOs and humanitarian groups to hire a PMF. Singer writes that during the early days of Rwanda, the United Nations at one point considered hiring mercenary groups to avoid a prolonged negotiation between its own member countries as to the composition of a peacekeeping force, and because a PMF could deploy much sooner. Groups like Worldvision in Sierra Leone and other agencies of the UN (including the High Commission for Refugees) have hired firms for protection and security advice. The world of private military capabilities is a complex one, and there are both objectively "good" and positive contingent outcomes that are hard to predict in advance.

While a book on the private military industry written on the eve of the invasion of Iraq might seem like it would be woefully outdated, it's held up surprisingly well. This is helped, of course, by Singer's new 2007 postscript - "The Lessons of Iraq" - which makes a compelling case for his own arguments. Sadly, the moderation and careful consideration he proscribed in his earlier conclusion was nowhere in sight during the following decade, and in fact the his most dire assessments of the real dilemmas with private military contracting were somehow outdone by reality. Vast quantities of money were funneled to contractors with little-to-no oversight, much of which simply vanished. Contractors were unaccountable, belonging neither to the military chain of command (and thus subject to the UCMJ) nor to civilian courts - always walking away free.

Singer's final proscription is that perhaps we had best take a step back and ask ourselves whether some of the functions we are now privatizing would be best left to our own military. Are we losing core functions and capabilities to the private sector? And are we paying the cost of training soldiers, only to see them leave and sell those same services back to us at twice the cost? Until such questions are answered publicly and definitely, the hazy, murky world of military contracting will continue to flourish. And while that in itself may not be a bad thing for now, if left to grow rampant and unchecked the blowback will become more than we can possibly imagine.

Corporate Warriors sought to analyze a new and growing trend, and since its writing that trend has increased exponentially. Like Singer's other work, it found a military development on the edge of mass awareness and firmly planted itself in the public mind. He foresaw the problems with PMFs and anticipated their logical extreme, to which they went in the five years after initial publication. Let us hope that in the future, if his next books contain such dire predictions, that they are wrong on those counts.
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on June 9, 2014
Got this puppy for a film script I'm working on. Goes very in-depth into the corporate side of things in the PMC and PSC world. Through key events, looking at the big and small players, the politics and economics behind this industry, the reader gets a great indication of what direction private security and military companies are heading in.
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