Sometimes thought of as the invisible army, private military and security companies (PMSCs) are part of a global, multi-billion-dollar industry. Private military firms are businesses that provide military and security services for their employers and have legal status. This new ‘Privatized Military Industry’ encompasses hundreds of companies, thousands of employees, and billions of dollars in revenue. Whether as proxies or suppliers, such firms have participated in wars in Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and Latin America. According to author Paul R. Verkuil, the private military industry made over $100 billion in annual profits in 2007. That number has likely increased in the following years.
More recently, they have become a key element in U.S. military operations. For US, the ratio of numbers of civilan contracted to support military operations compared to regular military shows upward trend. In 2016, 75 percent of American forces were private contractors. In Iraq it was nearly 1:1.
US is not alone in using private contractors. An investigation by BuzzFeed News has revealed that Middle East Monarchy, United Arab Emirates, hired U.S. mercenaries to assassinate political leaders and religious clerical leaders in war torn Yemen. The U.S. ex-military, elite soldiers were paid by to kill those designated as “terrorists” by the UAE.
There are several reasons offered as to why U.S. government continues to make use of PMSCs. One reason is that the U.S. has major problems meeting their recruitment goals. Their deployment does not require authorisation from Congress. Contractors also don’t count as troops, so they can circumvent government-imposed troop-caps. The government can hire as many contractors as they want. The companies have strong ties with the political establishment. Contractors are even involved in U.S. special ops missions. This is because contractors are essentially untraceable and unaccountable. Most are born in other countries; only 33 percent are registered U.S. citizens.
Nearly every tool necessary to wage war can now be purchased: combat support, including the ability to conduct large-scale operations and surgical strikes; operational support, like training and intelligence gathering; and general support, like transportation services and paramedical assistance.
The privatization of warfare allows startling new capabilities and efficiencies in the ways that war is carried out. The corporations now sell skills and services that until recently only state militaries possessed. Their products range from trained commando teams to strategic advice from generals. Military providers range from those that offer troops for tactical operations; military consultants that supply expert advice and training; and military support companies that sell logistics, intelligence, and engineering. They provide a professional service, namely soldiers who are highly-trained, extremely organized, and are deemed to be some of the “leading military experts in the world.
PMSCs, however, are a problematic industry full of contradictions and inherent issues. They have unclear status under international humanitarian law, a poor human rights record, and the fact that they profit off wars. At the same time, the entrance of the profit motive onto the battlefield raises a series of troubling questions ‘for democracy, for ethics, for management, for human rights, and for national security.
PMSCs have ambivalent status under current international humanitarian law (IHL). The distinction between civilians and combatants, especially in the case of PMCs, is not as clear cut as it seems. To begin, while private contractors are generally considered civilians, they often do not respect the norm of refraining from joining the conflict in a combat role. Classified as combatants is also problematic because they are not formally considered part of the U.S. military, they do not respond to the U.S. chain of command. As such, they do not seem to comply with the requirement of operating under a clear command structure. Therefore, monitoring their action and unsuring accountability becomes a herculean task.
PMSCs have enraged and horrified the world because of alleged misconduct and gross human rights violations. It’s been proven that many contractors are involved in illegal activities. The larger multinational companies sometimes hire local subcontractors. These contractors sometimes aren’t background-checked
On September 2007, some Blackwater contractors allegedly opened fired on civilians in Baghdad, killing seventeen civilians and injuring many others. While Blackwater spokespeople declared the attack was an act of self-defence in retaliation to a car-bombing by an insurgent group, both Iraqi and US investigations confirmed that the guards fired without provocation.
There are also no international laws to regulate private military firms. PMSCs play a role in exacerbating conflicts as they have been known to support opposing sides in a conflict. Similarly, because they are ultimately profit-driven, corporate entities only accountable to their shareholders, they can provide services to both legitimate actors, such as governments, as well as illegitimate actors, namely rebel groups and terrorists.
Thus, in 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution “prohibiting ‘private companies offering international military consultancy and security services’ from intervening in conflicts or being used against governments.” Yet, many countries who currently make ample use of PMSCS, including the U.S., have simply avoided ratifying and adopting either Convention.
The UN working group on the use of mercenaries has suggested that certain military functions, like combat services and interrogation, not be outsourced to private contractors. Its guidelines should be followed. Outsourcing foreign policy goals undermines democratic oversight because contractor activities, including casualties, typically escape public scrutiny. It can also allow states to evade legislative oversight.