The Privatization of Violence and Security
There is a long and well-established tradition of using civilians to support defense and security policies. Prior to 1858, for example, the British East India Company used its 200,000-strong private army to impose ‘company rule’ over vast tracts of the Indian sub-continent. However, what differentiates the historical use of civilians from today’s private military and security contractors (PMSCs) is the extent to which states are increasingly outsourcing operations that were once the sole responsibility of traditional armed forces.
Indeed, the outsourcing of military activities to PMSCs began to increase after the end of the Cold War. Statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service suggest that over 5,000 American civilian personnel were deployed during the Second Gulf War (1990-1991). Since then, the number of private contractors deployed in support of post-conflict operations has dramatically increased. It has been estimated, for example, that by 2009 there were 74,000 civilian contractors operating in Afghanistan. (The number of uniformed personnel at the time was 55,000.) The ratio of civilian contractors to regular armed forces, however, is not significant just in and of itself – it also reflects the gradual expansion of services provided by PMSCs. Civilian personnel have increasingly assumed responsibility for the protection of supply chains and staff training, to name but two examples.
Accordingly, the privatization of defense and security has become a highly lucrative business. For example, in 2005 the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security seemingly spent $390 billion on services provided by PMSCs. Our partners at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) subsequently and additionally estimated that the value of US logistics contracts over the coming decade (2010-2020) could reach $150 billion. Indeed, such figures suggest that the private defense and security industry is thriving even against the backdrop of declining defense expenditures among the majority of Western states.
Now, while arguments are regularly made that private contractors offer cost-effective and valuable support to supposedly less bloated militaries, relying on them has led to controversy, as illustrated by the incident in 2007 when contractors from Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqis in the process. (The contractors later claimed that the convoy they were guarding had come under attack from either direct or indirect fire, a claim that was later refuted by an Iraqi government inquiry.)
Such incidents have not only led to outright criticism of the use of civilian personnel to support military operations, they have also raised concerns over the transparency and accountability of PMSCs when they are actually assigned specific tasks. And despite attempts to regulate the industry, questions remain not only over whether the privatization of security is cost-effective, but also whether it is ethically sound. In order to cast greater light on these debates, we begin this week by hearing both sides of the PMSC debate. On Wednesday and Thursday we then test the validity of the pro-con arguments, first by looking at the industry’s performance in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. Finally, we conclude the week by looking at the growing efforts to regulate and monitor the activities of private military and security companies more effectively on the international level.
27 Aug 2012 / Special Feature
In an era of smaller defense budgets, more civilian and private contractors are doing the work once done by regular armed forces. Regardless if this is good or bad, Maxim Worcester argues, the fact that governments are increasingly regulating PSC activities tells us they are here to stay. More on «Civilian and Private Security Contractors – Yes, They’re Here to Stay»
28 Aug 2012 / Special Feature
Concerns over their cost effectiveness and strategic value make the deployment of PMSCs a risky proposition. More worryingly, argues David Isenberg, is that they may permit governments to circumnavigate democratic debates over the necessity of sending armed forces into battle. More on «Negative Views of Civilian and Private Security Contractors»
29 Aug 2012 / Special Feature
The extensive deployment of Private Military and Security Contractors (PMSCs) in Iraq has not been without its fair share of controversy. In today’s multimedia feature we look at the problems associated with using PMSCs there and elsewhere. More on «Iraq: A Turning Point for Private Security»
30 Aug 2012 / Special Feature
One argument for relying on contractors in military operations is that they are more cost-effective than regular armed forces. Yet, as Anna Leander demonstrates, a number of ‘cost effective’ private security companies hardly endeared themselves to those they served in Afghanistan. More on «Cost Before Hearts and Minds – Private Security in Afghanistan»
31 Aug 2012 / Special Feature
As private military contractors grow in importance, critics want the industry to develop a code of ethics that upholds corporate responsibility and accountability. The Diplomatic Courier’s Whitney Grespin analyzes one such effort – the International Code for Private Security Service Providers. More on «An Act of Faith: Building the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers »