For Blackwater founder Erik Prince ’92, a government-funded military just isn’t going to be enough.
“Sixteen years of war, a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, and we’re losing,” the Hillsdale alumnus said in his lecture in Searle Center on Monday afternoon. “I think as taxpayers and citizens, as parents who send our kids into difficult places, it’s time to rethink what’s been going on.”
To a crowd of more than 300 Center for Constructive Alternatives attendees and students, Prince argued for increased privatization of the military, saying companies like Blackwater, which provide private military services, can reduce the cost and number of lives poured into war.
“We’re wasting a lot of money,” he said. “Conventional approaches have not been working for the last 16 years.”
Prince left the U.S. Naval Academy to attend Hillsdale but returned after his graduation in 1992. He founded Blackwater in 1997 to provide private military contracting services. He later sold the company, now named Academi, amid controversy. Prince also wrote the book “Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.”
In his lecture, Prince spoke to the bloat and ineffectiveness of the military, using the U.S. Navy as an example. He said despite an overabundance of commanding officers, the Navy still struggles with “multiple collisions [between friendly ships], real culture problems, and real readiness issues.”
Transferring the military to the private sector, he argued, could reduce spending and boost innovation.
“Imagine if the Pentagon today tried to build an iPhone,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “Why has there been so much advancement in the tech space? Because it’s the least regulated.”
It would also save lives, he said, since a smaller, private team could work faster than military forces.
Private response teams are not a new concept, according to Prince. Early insurance companies who provided firefighting crews were essentially a contracted response team, as was the Flying Tigers, the volunteer pilot crew from the United States who defended Japan from China during World War II.
“This idea that contractors are a new thing: sorry, but that’s ignorance,” Prince said.
And although privatized military contracting might receive pushback elsewhere, some veterans in attendance reacted positively to Prince’s idea.
“I think most veterans think it’s a good idea,” said freshman Elias McConnell, who served for four years in the Marine Corps before attending Hillsdale College.
Senior John Novak, who served in the Marine Corps for 13 years, said the life-saving aspect of Prince’s proposal particularly interested him.
“I thought it was great, as far as effectiveness and being easier on the American people,” Novak said.
For Prince, it comes down to the power of the free market.
“If you believe in the power of market forces…[If you believe] in the power of the private sector,” Prince said, “you should think about how the private sector can do better in the national security space.”