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Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity

49 Pages Posted: 1 May 2011 Last revised: 10 Apr 2012

Steven L. Schooner

George Washington University - Law School

Collin D. Swan

Office of Suspension and Debarment, The World Bank; George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: April 2012

Abstract

Once the nation commits to engage in heavy, sustained military action abroad, particularly including the deployment of ground forces, political support is scrupulously observed and dissected. One of the most graphic factors influencing that support is the number of military soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice on the nation’s behalf. In the modern era, most studies suggest that the public considers the potential and actual casualties in U.S. wars to be an important factor, and an inverse relationship exists between the number of military deaths and public support. Economists have dubbed this the "casualty sensitivity" effect.

This article asserts that this stark and monolithic metric requires re-examination in light of a little-known phenomenon: on the modern battlefield, contractor personnel are dying at rates similar to - and at times in excess of - soldiers. The increased risk to contractors’ health and well-being logically follows the expanded role of contractors in modern governance and defense. For the most part, this "substitution" has taken place outside of the cognizance of the public and, potentially, Congress. This article explains the phenomenon, identifies some of the challenges and complexities associated with quantifying and qualifying the real price of combat in a modern outsourced military, and encourages greater transparency so that the public can more meaningfully participate in "the great American experiment."

Keywords: contractor fatalities, casualty sensitivity, public support for military operations, Defense Base Act, government contracts, public procurement, outsourcing, contracting out, Iraq, Afghanistan, transparency, accountability, private security

JEL Classification: H11, H56, H57, J28, K12, K23, L33

Suggested Citation

Schooner, Steven L. and Swan, Collin D., Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity (April 2012). Journal of National Security Law & Policy, 2012; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 555; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 555. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1826242

Steven Schooner (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-3037 (Phone)
202-994-5614 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.gwu.edu/Faculty/profile.aspx?id=1740%20

Collin Swan

Office of Suspension and Debarment, The World Bank

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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