Uncertain Future – Part XII – National Defense

As mentioned before, the vast majority of contractors trace their roots to service with the US military, or the militaries where their company operates. The cream rises to the top, so the best contracts are awarded to those with proven success and training, namely to services like the Navy SEALs, Army Delta Forces, Rangers, or the United States Marine Corps infantry, particularly any of these with experience in combat. Less prestige and pay may be warranted to someone of non-combat military jobs, police officers, and security specialists, and the lowest level bids will likely go to local militia and hired gunman. It must always be remembered, though, that the demand will always come for those elite operators, the Special Forces team members of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Like any industry built on recruiting the best of a different industry, the first, which expends all the resources to make those operators so valuable, suffers the long term effects of the brain drain. It will be the US military that foots the bill, paying for years, sometimes decades, of training into making civilians into the most lethal warriors on the planet. During their times in, they will amount to the tip of the spear, deploying with units like the SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Army Rangers, to conduct missions in the service of the United States. They will face dangers no one else in the world could handle, able to push through with only the value of the extensive training hours they have logged, the teams they learned to be a part of, and the massive logistical behemoth at their back. As a friend of mine would say, “They are the Dudes of Dudes.”

At some point though, many just get done with all that. Perhaps they just want to do something else with their life. Underwater basic weaving, maybe. Or crochet. These dudes have enough man cards racked up from 12 years in the SEALs to become professional crochet artists if they want. Many want to retire to their families, while some see the reality that, if they take the PMC jobs, they will experience a better lifestyle with far better pay than the military could ever provide, easier missions, and less chance of death or maiming. It needs to be understood that Benghazi was a freak event. From 2009 to 2012 only 5 members of the Global Response Staff were killed [70]. During the same time 1,808 Americans troops lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan .[71] This includes events like Operation Red Wings, the largest single loss to the US Navy SEALs in its history, when four SEALs on advanced recon were attacked, killing three and a quick reaction force helicopter sent to in to rescue them id was shot down with a rocket propelled grenade, killing all eight Navy SEALs and all eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators on board. [72]Quite frankly, I wouldn’t blame anyone for hanging up the uniform at that point, and it is a wonder why so many of them still don’t. But many do, for all the reasons listed before.

Now it’s important to think about what this means to the military as a whole. The military’s job, be it Marines, Army, Navy, or Air Force, are to be the strong arm of American diplomacy and the backbone of defense in NATO. Over the last fifty years, however, we have seen the military reduce in strength, rather drastically, to the point that today we have fewer active duty military than we did prior to the start of World War II. [73]

Moreover, the prevailing strategy over the last thirty years has been to obliterate the enemy using advanced weaponry and devastatingly superior technology. The problem we’ve seen, however, is that the military is proving more and more often to be under equipped to handle the manpower requirements necessary to successfully pacify an occupied territory such as Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone both. Regardless of the number of drones we have in the air, without boots on the ground, we simply don’t have enough men to keep the peace. This is particularly true when we consider expending and $80,000 missile on a $200,000 bombing run to kill two insurgents in a tent a sustainable wartime strategy.  [74]

Instead, the United States has centered its focus on Special Warfare, creating units whose primary focus is in black ops intervention and direct action operations. These forces are truly lethal, the creme of the crop in every sense of the word. They are, as they say, the point of the spear. The problem is, they are only one small point, and not capable of being everywhere at once. For an example, the SEALs are who everyone talks about. For as much as they are mentioned the US Navy SEAL community only has about 2,500 active duty members [75]. There is a reason they are special. Of the three hundred million Americans, almost none of them have what it takes, including the physical desire just to do it, that is required to be a part of these elite teams. This is also why we can’t just train to be like them [76]. Of those who try, more than 80% will fail, and according to Marcus Luttrell, the subject of the book Lone Survivor, more candidates die in training than do active duty SEALs in combat. [77]It takes a very special person to even consider joining up with the SEALs, but the problem is, there just simply don’t seem to be enough special people to accomplish the missions which are placed on the nation’s special warfare community. There is a real need for a larger presence on the ground, which given the direction of the American military back towards an isolationist point, doesn’t exist in the numbers needed either.

Considering this, if the military is getting smaller and smaller, focusing more of its efforts into the actions of very small, very elite units, and those units are the primary source for private military contractors, it lends one to really consider the threat the PMCs have on the standing military. For the last 7o years, the US military has been the go-to force for international peacekeeping and creating security, protecting international sea lanes, and ensuring that diplomatic efforts stay open. In that time, and despite the constant “If it Bleeds, It Leads” sensationalist news to the contrary, the world has become a pretty awesome place. There are fewer violent deaths, fewer deaths from disease, fewer wars, and increased wealth across the globe. Look at this graph. It’s a nice graph. Do yourself a solid and realize that Coca-cola and the Kardashians didn’t cause this. Globalization did, and globalization doesn’t happen without someone ensuring everyone playing the game is playing by a minimum acceptable set of behaviors.

That job of “globo-cop”, in the words of Ian Morris in his book War – What is it Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots, has traditionally fallen on the Americans. Now considering that the world’s current state of relative peace is reliant on a strong force to serve as its backbone [78], what happens when the backbone of world order is weakened, or removed altogether?

When that backbone, in this case the US military, is suffering from attrition both in the form of budgetary cutbacks in a belief that it can get by with replacing thinking soldiers with more advanced, but ultimately fewer remote controlled or autonomous systems [79], as it continues to pull back it’s overseas holdings [80] and is constantly being cannibalized by the United States’ own State Department, CIA, and numerous multinational corporations to provide for their own security needs, where does that put the rest of the world?

Focusing on the PMCs, when the highest order performers, in this case the Special Forces operators, no longer provide the kind of support often needed of people with their skillsets, but instead act as a force of protection for VIPs, they are not fulfilling their true potential or carrying the burden the world needs of them. They babysit high value targets rather than killing terrorists and dethroning evil regimes. Instead of getting things done and making peace, they simply serve as a force ensuring peace for those they work for. I want to be clear, I have nothing but respect for these men, and everyone should feel free to enjoy life and pursue happiness, but one has to ask if this path the United States is setting itself on will make for a very, very ugly world twenty years down the line when the best of the best simply aren’t where the world needs them anymore.

Quite frankly, this story is already starting to play itself out. Military .com posted a review of the United States Army where an industry think tank warned the service was “weak” and incapable of performing the necessary role of sustained conflict in two theaters.  [81]Add to this a recent Gallop Poll asking asking if Americans still had faith in their military. The results weren’t good. [82]

The answer is increasingly ‘no,’ according to a new Gallup poll. Last year the number of Americans who thought they were protected by the world’s strongest military was 59 percent, but this year that number has dropped to 49 percent – the lowest figure in the 23 years Gallup has recorded the trend.

While polls are only polls, it does point to a very disturbing trend. People are losing respect for the United States military, and when the world’s most important enforcer of global security is no longer respected, one has to wonder what the next twenty years are going to look like. Quite frankly, the United States will be fine. We won’t see any existential threats to our way of life any time soon, but the rest of the world may not be so lucky without us. The Middle East, as I have made abundantly clear, is only getting worse as the United States continues to remove itself from the region. Their conflicts are spreading through North Africa and now into Europe and India. Russia is starting to pick up the slack, for better or worse, but their track record for making the world a better place within their shadow is abysmal at best. Perhaps China? Since they have shown little ever to provide security to any foreign counterparts in spite of their massive military, I don’t see security happening outside of the private sites they lease from host countries. Also considering their increasing internal struggles to balance unnatural growth expectations with a workforce growing more demanding every year, and older at the same rate, I doubt they will ever be able to truly challenge American hegemony in the next century. So if no one is capable of ensuring the kind of peace we have grown to expect up to today, what can we expect of tomorrow?

I’m not one to usually give into pessimistic fears, but if you want to start getting scared, I wouldn’t blame you. The next twenty years are going to get a lot more volatile, and in many places very dangerous. Those who will fare the best will be those who can accept the danger and create a plan to mitigate it.

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