Given the tumultuous year of events within the field of international relations, the coming year represents one of the most dramatic shifts in the use of United States’ defense contractors since the aftermath of 9/11. In fact, five major shifts of international security policy will warrant new, comprehensive approaches; complete with civilian involvement under federal direction. Each of these changes have the potential benefits of protection and defense of U.S. interests, however, as recent developments have shown, contractors whose behavior falls outside the confines of international law constitute a real risk to global perceptions of the United States. Congress, in particular, will be under increased scrutiny to provide proper oversight, management, and allocation of resources toward contracting defense measures, given the austere economic environment and fierce political climate.

1. New Focus on North Korea

The first, and most recent, of these potential shifts is the death of the North Korean leader, Kim Jung-il on December 17th 2011. Since assuming power in 1994, Kim Jung-il had successfully consolidated the power of his family lineage, the North Korean military, and the prevailing communist party toward his agenda. An agenda which aimed to endow the state with a nuclear arsenal capable of limiting the influence of foreign powers, most notably the United States, in the Korean peninsula. Nonetheless, by pursuing this course of action, Jung-il left the North Korean people impoverished, devoid of alternative ruling authorities, and unable to participate in any type of legitimate economic market.

His successor and son, Kim Jung-un will likely maintain the status quo over the course of the next 12 to 18 months with slight escalations in armed forces exercises; while he vies for political, social, and military power. Nonetheless, the United States government, as a steadfast ally of South Korea, must maintain vigilance over Seoul’s protection. Contractors, filling the unique void of not being members of any armed force, may be called into South Korea to supplement any engagements with the North Koreans. These exchanges, especially those geared toward direct aid, will need to have reasonable standards of protection while not having an official military presence. Though the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Services may be able to handle most security therein—it would not be surprising to see a need for supplemental civilian contracting.

2. Expanding Need for Contractors in Iraq

The second shift, and perhaps the most expected, is the American troop withdrawal from Iraq this past month. Given the enormous scale and scope of the American non-military efforts that are still operating in the area, it would be an enormous mistake to underestimate the need for new security contractors, as well as, trainers, engineers, information technology specialists, and the like. The footprint of U.S. involvement over the past 8 years, though no longer managed in a combat sense, will need to have its most important legacies protected. Legacies including America’s largest embassy, an emerging trade relationship, an investment in petrol resources and the creation of a potential ally within the region.

3. New Centers of Drug Trade Prompting Increased Law Enforcement Operations

One of the security efforts that, from Congressional Committee testimony, may need the added value and expertise of civilians is the counter-narcotic effort in South American and the Caribbean. Very recently, there have been two worrisome developments for the U.S. in relation to the trafficking of illicit drugs; these advancements have been noteworthy enough to demand work within Congressional Committees, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security. The first is the transition of the Dominican Republic from a small, decentralized transit point for drug traffickers to a vast criminal node of trade and ensuing destabilizing vector for local communities.

The second is the inability of Costa Rica, which disbanded its military more than 60 years ago, to combat the continually-pervasive wave of drug-related criminality within its territory. For the same reasons that Costa Rica has been a bastion of tourism (peaceful, access to international waterways, and accommodating to foreigners) international drug syndicates are now using the state for their own nefarious devices. The establishment of these two centers of drug trade is particularly concerning for the U.S. since both countries need assistance in successfully rooting out these community-degrading non-state actors. I believe that contractors, working under the direction of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, will be one of the first complementary steps in any American large-scale law enforcement operations.

4. Cybersecurity Threats Grow

The second to last shift is found in the virtual world of cyber security. Given the reported scale of offensive cyber operations by countries like China and Russia, it isn’t surprising that the U.S. finds itself continually seeking more technical professionals to help secure vast arrays of networks, especially those that may be vulnerable commercially. This electronic platform of information has helped create a more connected world, but also one where crimes can be conducted from anywhere in the world against a variety of targets including individual citizens, corporations, financial markets, and federal organizations. The inherent anonymity of criminal perpetrators, potential for economic catastrophe, and risk to critical infrastructure all create a necessity to defend the realm of internet activity and computer operations. The internet is the basic, common operating environment for all of America’s social, political, economic, and cultural interactions and our security resources have to continue to reach levels where they can meaningfully provide guidance and protection of all networked activity, government and otherwise.

5. Instability in the Middle East

Lastly, as Syria continues to display similar remonstration to those found from Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya earlier this year in the Arab Spring, and the international community observes alleged state security force abuse against those protests, there is a concern that instability may disseminate toward neighboring countries of Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey. Already, Turkey has been accepting refugees from Syria while condemning human rights violations by Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces. As a part of increased alertness, the United States, through its unconditional support for Israel, has an obligation to ensure security. While diplomatic efforts persist in hopes of alleviating this internal strife, contractors may be needed to provide both fixed site security and the flexible protection of important policy-makers and advisors throughout the Levant.

One thing is for certain, it will be an interesting year for all security professionals, but especially those whose efforts will fall under the purview of these expanding markets of defense contracting.

Joseph Popcun, an analyst on contract with the Department of Homeland Security, enjoys following current developments in foreign affairs, national security, and public policy. A Syracuse University graduate, and Syracuse native, he hopes to continue policy work on federal issues of immigration, defense, and international relations.

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