Port Security Privatization: Can Private Security Protect the United States?

by Gregory J. Townsend

The efforts of Dubai to purchase an American port raised an issue that has been dormant in American politics for quite some time, despite the paranoid climate created by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Many U.S. citizens were angry at the potential loss of direct control over a large American port. The debate over privatization of port activity is actually not a new one. The first port was privatized in the United Kingdom in 1983 when England sold approximately 49 percent of its British Ports to private industry.[1] The United Kingdom has since made a profit of nearly 121 billion U.S. dollars, and the United States turning a profit of about 1 trillion dollars. It was believed that the privatization process would take the burden off of the public spending sector of state governments as well as increase the efficiency and productivity within the individual ports. It seemed like a win-win situation; the government was able to allocate otherwise unavailable funds for other projects, and private port industries boomed.
[1] Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). “Chapter 3: The Port Industry.” Free Trade Zone and Port Hinterland Development. United Nations Publication, New York, 2005, pp. 27-45.

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