Private Military Corporations and the future of world peace and security

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As capitalism marches on, private profiteering interests have seen many companies venturing into hitherto unconventional miscellaneous service sectors. One such segment growing at an unprecedented grand-scale is the rise of private military corporations. The immediate post-cold war period among other things witnessed the explicit privatization of violence through usage of private military firms for covert operations, intelligence gathering and combat operations.

While mercenaries or soldiers of fortune have been around for ages, the traditional notion of a mercenary was ‘a soldier willing to sell his military skills to the highest bidder, no matter what the cause’. Today, however, mercenaries are not just individual soldiers of fortune. They are corporations, providing a range of services above and beyond what the traditional mercenary could offer.

Soldiers of private military companies

Soldiers of private military companies

The current complexity is that of Private Military Companies (PMCs) maintaining their own standing Armies, with recruitment, training and maintaining a logistics supplies chain just like any national Army. A contemporary PMC is an army that is controlled by shareholders, and the highest bidder who offers a generous package.

Mercenaries and their usage present a legal headache. In the first place, the definition of a mercenary force has kept changing over the years. The requirement that mercenaries take a direct part in hostilities, as required by the international convention , would exclude individuals acting as foreign military advisers and technicians. Most security firms, Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI) of the US for example, exclude themselves from the definition of mercenary on this basis.

With public support for “official” wars eroding among citizens of many countries, private companies are increasingly being utilized to achieve geopolitical goals. According to a report by the International Peace Research Institute, “private contractors fill the gap between geopolitical goals and public means.”

The unique and rapidly changing global security terrain has given a huge boost to private security contracting. Private Security Contracting is now over $100 billion industry. From 1990-2000, private military contractors were involved in over 80 conflicts, as opposed to only 15 from 1950-89. In 2006 over 100,000 private security contractors worked for the US Government in Iraq, a ten fold increase from the Persian Gulf War some 15 years prior.

Apart from the US, many countries are embracing private security contractors. By 2012, Russia was openly exploring possibly of using private security contractors organized into a standing force to further its interest abroad. UAE paid $529 million to Erik Prince, Blackwater Worldwide’s founder to create an elite guard for the emirate.


Even African Countries haven’t been left behind. In 1995, insurgent rebels were gaining grounds and taking large swaths of Sierra Leone. The country looked set to have fallen. It took Executive Outcomes, a private defence contractor armed with superior artillery and aircrafts to save the situation. At one point Ethiopia hired an entire squadron of fighter jets from Russian Sukhoi Corporation complete with the pilots to launch air strikes on Ethiopian rebels.

Unlike official Armies, private military companies work with utmost impunity. PMC employees may be liable for their actions under international humanitarian or human rights law. Bringing a case against them, however, especially in a state where laws may be weak and ineffective, is a remote possibility. The fact that they are not a state party, makes avoiding obligations under public international law easy. A report from Congress noted a number of private security contractor actions requiring discipline during the Iraq war, many contractor abuses were caused by those working for the State Department and not the military.

While the actions of private security contractors hired by the State Department can be tracked, many PMCs work is deep secrecy. In other cases personnel hired and trained by a PMC can masquerade as a native rebel group. Their clandestine nature of work makes it impossible to hold them accountable for their transgressions.

Holding the companies is hard because, because they can transfer their areas of operations, rename or rebrand or create a new company to continue with the work of a previously discredited company. When blackwater USA became infamous for gunning down 17 Iraqi civilians, and their role in CIA’s death squad they sought to whitewash their name by rebranding as XE Services, then soon thereafter in another corporate restructure, they rebranded as Academi. There are entire websites detailing the dirty work of these companies. DynCorp’s sex-slavery and trafficking horror story in Bosnia last decade. According to two separate whistleblowers, DynCorp people engaged in sex with minors, and had even sold civilians to each other as slaves.

PMCs are increasingly becoming the conduit through which rogue states are orchestrating covert operations without being seen as being directly responsible. Many intelligence agencies were involved in dirty covert operations such as assassination of heads of states and toppling of regimes. Zaire’s Patrice Lumumba, like other leaders got killed in covert operations carried out by states. PMCs are now happily taking on such roles. The growth of PMCs will now make it possible for states to assassinate other world leaders incognito by using privately contracted personnel. Technologies such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as Raven Drones now makes it easy for PMCs to execute such dirty works.

PMCs threaten state sovereignty because they threaten the state’s monopoly on the use of force. A weak state in Africa can’t protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity militarily when confronted by a large private company like ACADEMI or DynCorp.

Private corporations are bound to undermine state authority in a major ways. Owing to the fact that they build and supply weapons as well as supply of other needed materials that enables militaries to fight wars, they profit from when the US goes to war and may be likely to encourage American military action abroad. A key emphasis of the modern military companies is the area of intelligence, which includes everything from information collecting to outright spying. In the wake of the electronics revolution, many firms have developed techniques for information gathering and analysis that only they are able to master and offer as a service. This will lead to “hollowing out of the state” where militaries will get weakened due to reliance on private business organizations to do things such as gathering intelligence.

These companies are getting too powerful that even their clients can’t hold them accountable. The parties that issue the contracts can barely do any monitoring, because the operations contracted to PMCs are carried in foreign land far away from the corporate capitals. The fact that the contracts are so vague as to the point where companies can virtually decide what they want to do has the potential to create serious problems. For example, DynCorp, a PMC contracted to streamline justice systems in Iraq getting involved in doing night raids which result in the deaths of civilians and thus aggravating the local population. The vague contracts allow the companies to “exist in a state of near anarchy and arbitrariness.”

Private corporations are a big threat to democracy solely because they are not accountable to anyone and can do as they please. By not having any accountability, private companies undermine democratic institutions. One of the many roles of government is “to maintain security, which includes democratic control over the use of force.” However, PMCs undermine this because citizens do not have any influence over the services offered by PMCs. For example, “The standards that govern the military, the police, customs officials, and state intelligence agencies do not apply at all to contracts given to PMCs.”

Due to citizens having no control over the actions of private companies, democracy is put on the line because in a democratic society, there is a need for checks and balances on all forms of power. By not having this, PMCs are able to go and do as they please due to having no restrictions. That can only lead to potential problems.

Third world countries will continue to bear the brunt of PMCs. Since PMCs can work for anybody who need their services, governments, NGOs and rebel groups can all hire their services. Lately, private companies have been hired by corporations working to extract natural resources in third world countries such as DRC. In Columbia FARC and ENI have been labeled as terrorist organizations and corporations benefiting from the plunder of resources have hired PMCs t exterminate left-wing movements. On the other hand they are backing the corrupt and incompetent government whose bureaucrats are fleecing the people.

The mayhem, and gross suffering experienced in most trouble hotspots like Democratic Republic of Congo have a signature of mercenaries. The French Foreign legion that was for instance originally set up to protect French colonial interests is still active today. One other company that contributed to the mess in Congo is Executive Outcomes, a South African company with unmatched notoriety.

Generations of Congolese, just like other citizens in other countries have suffered and still suffer in the hands of these mercenary outfits. The situation is pathetic in many mineral rich underdeveloped countries. The array of troubles in DRC is exacerbated by foreign interests in mineral resources, and PMCs are at the core of the problem. All other trouble hotspots like Liberia and Sierra Leone have a signature of PMCs. As the companies expand operations to reap more profits, it’s likely that they will stir more troubles in currently peaceful, but resource rich nations.

The situation is getting worse because of the growing asymmetry of fire-power capability, which pits most of these companies as being better equipped and better trained than national Armies in many poor countries. Many of the top companies like ACADEMI and DynCorp are highly equipped. ACADEMI has yearly revenue in excess of $3 billion.

Mercenaries pose a huge dilemma to many weak and fragile African states. Companies like Triple Canopy, have the kind of experience most Armies do not have. Although its specialty is in security and escort operations, Triple canopy has been involved in some of the toughest missions a mercenary company can undertake. Some have dubbed them the “other army” of United States for their role in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq where the company worked as private contractor. Since they recruit from ex-US Special Forces, companies like Triple Canopy and Defion Internacional have secretly developed the kind of strength that can enable them destabilize any poorly trained, poorly equipped Army in any mineral rich. All they need is a bidder to call them to work.


To keep their revenue streams flowing, they need instabilities in different parts of the world. Since they are hired to serve as private defence contractors in fragile countries such as post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, they generate the biggest revenues in times when the common man is plagued with misery.

In a nutshell PMCs are a threat in multiple levels and thus needs to be dealt with head on. The most pressing is the legal issue. The legality issues of soldiers of private military corporations need to be solved on an international level as they currently occupy a gray area in the legal system. International communities as well as governments of different countries where PMCs work need to set classifications that will make employees of PMCs accountable for their omissions and commissions.

Owachgiu Dennis twitter: @owachgiu


Military Industrial Complex: The real beneficiary of war on terror

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The cost of cross-border warfare under the auspices of global war on terror has continued to soar and exert heavy burdens on national treasuries and tax payers. As the World’s biggest military spender and host to the biggest Military Industrial Complex, the US is a good case study on how companies are profiting off the war on terror. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center marked a turning in point in the resolve to intensify the war on terror. Most of the expensive operations in the renewed war on terror have turned out to be dismal failures.

Mercenaries pose a great threat to African security

Mercenaries pose a great threat to African security

The perceived terrorism threats made it easier for Arms manufacturers and Defence contractors to elicit funding for expensive defence projects that ordinarily would have met objections. Some of the projects have turned out to white elephants. Other huge Research and Development projects have had to be disbanded, after millions of dollars of tax payer’s money had been wasted on them.

The three major arms manufacturers, Lockheed Martin (LMT), Northrop Grumman (NOG) and Raytheon (RTN) have delivered record-shattering returns to their investors, CEOs and investment banks during the past decade and a half. Companies that manufacture fighter jets, Bombers, multirole helicopters and other hardware make a lot of the profits in war times when these assets are in high demand for operations.

The mounting clout and influence of the military-industrial complex in promoting serial wars has earned extraordinary profits to these companies. Morgan Stanley (cited in Barron’s, 6/9/14, p. 19), shows that shares in the major US arms manufacturers have risen 27,699% over the past fifty years versus 6,777% for the broader market. Between 2012 to 2015 alone, Raytheon has returned 124%, Northrup Grumman 114% and Lockheed Martin 149% to their investors. No peaceful economic activity can match the immense profits enjoyed by the military-industrial complex in war times.

The lobbyists are so powerful that even when the Obama administration has elected to reduce the military budget via annual appropriation bill, the same administration is put on pressure to announce emergency supplemental funds to cover the costs of these wars. In other wards what the administration does is purely theatrics and a grand public show to hoodwink the clueless, war-weary public. The arms industry lobbyists and pro-Israel bobby are powerful to the extent that they play a key role in financing campaigns of candidates vying for political positions. The ts to US pressure mounted by the lobbyists make it possible to press for new wars to sustain the Pentagon’s huge budget. It’s interesting to note that these spending are financed using borrowed money.

Any uninterrupted period of peace would significantly reduce the demand for war materials, which would resultantly reduce the margin of profits for these companies. Since these companies need to profit from wars, they and their co-conspirators in intelligence services and lobbyists can go an extra-mile to fabricate intelligence information on how some countries pose serious threats to US national security. It was under a similar consideration that it was alleged that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

With the fabricated lie, they had their day. An attack was launched on Iraq, and the military industrial complex is still reaping off the mess. Iraq mean while is in shambles, and a disintegrated shadow of its former self. Iraqis are suffering, their oil is being pilfered. American tax payers are paying the price, by funding a hopeless operation.

The corporate warlords and lobbyists who clamor to send US troops to back to Iraq and to new wars in Syria and Ukraine, are also in the forefront of a fight to slash funding for the veterans’ medical care. Any increase of funding to cater for welfare of veterans would eat into the budget for acquisition of war materials, ships and aircrafts.

Over the last 20 years (which includes 9/11) average death attributed to terrorism total 162 Americans (Global Terrorism Database). On the other hand, over the same period on average of 685,941 died from heart diseases and 68,827 from pneumonia and flue (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), and 17,213 who died from falls (National Safety Council). Between 2011-2015, terrorism has claimed an average of 4.6 deaths, compared to 12.8 deaths from football, 31.2 from dog attacks, 36.8 in lightening strikes’, and 402.6 who died by drowning in bathtub.

Taking into account the wide range of costs, a survey of expert estimates puts the total cost of anti-terrorism efforts at over $3 trillion since 9/11. The US Military budget has sharply increased and is now $200 billion per year that it was in 2001. After 9/11, the federal Homeland Security and intelligence budget has increased by $65 billion per year. Considering local, state, private sector and opportunity costs, the cost increment goes up to $132 billion per year. A juxtaposition of the various causes of deaths shows that if some of the resources spent in fighting terrorism were committed to fighting some of these preventable diseases, a lot of lives would be saved.

According to Mueller and Stewart, Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security, the amount spent per terrorism victim is on the higher side. Using the conservative figure of $65 billion, it was observed that the spending per terrorism victim was at $400 million, compared to cancer for which only $9,000 was being spent for prevention research per victim. The same pattern holds for major killers like heart disease and strokes for which only $79.6.

Professor John Mueller estimates US would need to thwart at least 1,667 Times Square-style attacks per year (assuming they were all successful) in order for the current expenditures to result in a net benefit. In the decade after 9/11, 45,000 Americans died each year as a result of not having health insurance. On average, every $5 million spent on giving health insurance to people, will result in one saved life. All the 45,000 of those lives could be saved every year by redirecting the $275 billion in post-9/11 budget increases to health insurance coverage for those who lacked it.

It turns out the U.S. spends more money on anti-terrorism efforts than all other crime fighting combined. With the rampant shootings by gunmen, Americans are 100 times more likely to die from homicide than a terrorist attack. Interestingly, the number of Americans killed by Police is the higher than the number of Americans killed by terrorists per year. It would make a lot of sense to finance efforts that would reduce homicide and other causes of preventable loss of lives such as police brutality. With the US experiencing approximately 16,000 homicides per year, it’s hard to make a valid argument that conventional terrorist attacks averaging 162 deaths per year should justify that spectacularly huge expenditures.

While chemical and biological weapons are more dangerous if acquired by terrorists, there is little evidence that terrorists have the potential to attain and deliver them. The Rand Corporation dispels this fear: “the resources and capabilities required to annihilate large numbers of persons—i.e., to achieve a genuinely mass-casualty chemical and biological weapon or nuclear/radiological device—appear, at least for now, to be beyond the reach not only of the vast majority of existent terrorist organizations but also of many established nation-states.”

Glenn L. Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats at the CIA wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post, “[Al Qaeda] has only a handful of individuals capable of planning, organizing and leading a terrorist operation. Al-Qaeda threatens to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, but its capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”

Dirty bombs, another commonly cited threat, which involve a conventional explosive used to disperse radioactive material, does not have a destructive capacity much beyond that of a conventional explosion. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission writes, “Most RDDs would not release enough radiation to kill people or cause severe illness – the conventional explosive itself would be more harmful to individuals than the radioactive material.”

In any case the involvement in the war on terror has lost many lives. Almost 10,000 Americans have been killed in the “war on terror.” And Iraq Body Count reports there were at least 115,000 civilian Iraqi deaths in the Iraq War, based only on documented events. Theoretically the war on terror is meant to keep American citizens from terror. In reality, citizens are themselves becoming victims.

Contrary to the Bill of rights promulgated by America’s founders, the government has appropriated for itself the power to illegally and unconstitutionally spy on innocent citizens. The government also got the power to assassinate citizens without due process of the law. A bill was also passed allowing the military to imprison US citizens indefinitely without due process of the law. Understandably, private contractors get the deal to supply these equipment. The more extensive the spying programme, the more the profits gained from supplying these systems.

So why is terrorism getting all these attention in spite of the fact that there are more other serious issues such as homicides, deaths from preventable sickness? Given the astoundingly diminutive risk of terrorism to American lives, and the fact that most of the responses to it don’t even seem to target the real dangers of this phenomena, it can be easily concluded that terrorism is merely being used as a cover to justify expenditure of billions in purchase of products from the military industrial complex.


Terrorism is a big business for military industrial complex and they are ready use all tricks in the book to make it seem like a big risk worth confronting. The political class has become accomplices of the military industrial complex power lever.

There are in fact cheaper long term solution that could reduce the threats terrorism pose to world peace and security. Options such as Psychological Operations and Students and cultural exchange programmes are in fact cheaper alternatives that can help to control terrorism. Fighting terrorism with bombs and full scale wars is a counterproductive way of fighting terrorism. In any case the violent war on terror has been progressively radicalizing the youth, and turning them into potential recruits to join radical fundamentalist groups. Terrorism is an ideological issue and you can’t bomb out ideas from people’s heads.

The current operations, where even young kids and women are being killed in indiscriminate drone attacks are only radicalizing the people. Waging wars on other countries helps fundamentalist’s propaganda machinery who maintains these attacks are deliberate attacks on Islam as a religion. Instead of reducing terrorists, for every terrorist killed, more young people in Iraq and Afghanistan to join terrorist activities to “revenge on the death of relatives and countrymen killed in action”.

Terrorism as an ideology, can mushroom when people see they are pushed on the wall. Terrorism becomes the only way for a tiny powerless group to violently fight powerful, superior enemies. Terrorists don’t just attack anybody. Theirs is often retaliatory attacks. Why do terrorists attack US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and not any other embassies of other countries? By merely abstaining from messing in the other people’s affairs, the chance of being attacked by terrorist can potentially reduce by a significant margin. That is why countries like Switzerland that do not mess in the affairs of any country are least likely terrorist targets. The cheapest way to keep citizens free from terrorism threats is to refrain from rubbing other people the wrong way.


Statistics on dog attacks and falls from the National Safety Council, Injury Facts 2011 and 2013 Editions

Football related fatality statistics from the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research

Statistics on fatalities from terrorist attacks in the US from the Global Terrorism Database

Statistics on heart disease and the flu from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – National Center for Health Statistics

1,667 Times Square-Style Attacks Every Year,, John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart


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Owachgiu Dennis

The concept of the mercenary is as old as that of the state. Today, however, mercenaries are not just individual soldiers of fortune selling their skills. They are corporations, providing a range of services above and beyond what the traditional mercenary could offer.

Blackwater Training Center

Blackwater Training Center

Private Military Companies (PMCs) provide a wide variety of services previously carried out by national military forces. The industry comprises hundreds of companies operating in more than 50 countries worldwide, and working for governments, international institutions and corporations. They provide combat support, including training and intelligence provision, operational support, strategic planning and consultancy, technical assistance, post-conflict reconstruction and a wide range of security provision [1]. The companies have grown to have the capability of doing virtually every service required in a war zone.


Over the recent years, governments have tended to gradually outsource more of their responsibilities to the private sector, and the military is also beginning to succumb to market forces. PMCs are flourishing in this environment and profiting from the privatization of war. The companies claim they can do the state’s work more effectively, more quickly and more cheaply than the state’s own forces. For example if a country wanted to expand its Airforce Squadron to immediately accomplish military objectives, hiring “ready” experts from PMCs is a quicker option. It would otherwise take years for a nation to train its own pilots to fly new aircrafts.


PMCs came to prominence during the period of Yugoslavia’s collapse, when Western governments were unwilling to intervene directly in the conflict but retained an interest in its outcome. In the former Soviet Union, the war in Chechnya has seen a plethora of PMCs emerge. The real breakthrough for Western governments has been Iraq. The Iraq war was the first conflict fought using PMCs on an unprecedented major scale. Iraq war that employed slightly above 100,000 PMC personnel propelled the industry past the $100 billion mark.


In the contemporary world, PMCs are increasingly taking a leading role in military affairs on behalf of states [2]. More recently, Simon Mann was imprisoned in Zimbabwe in September 2004 for attempting to buy weapons to lead a military coup in Equatorial Guinea.


Silver Shadow, an Israeli PMC has worked in the Republic of the Congo, Angola and Colombia, where they assisted Defence Systems Limited in providing security for BP. In Liberia, Intercon Security personnel guard the US embassy, and have been involved in combat with rebel forces during sieges.


In Saudi Arabia, US PMCs are playing leading roles in protecting the monarchy from unrest [3]. The PMC parent company of Vinnell provided logistics, intelligence and maintenance services to Saudi Airforce until recently. Vinnell itself trains Saudi Air Force, while Booz Allen Hamilton manages the national military staff College. SIAC supports the Navy and Air Defence. O Gara provides protection to the royal family and trains local security forces. In Afghanistan, the task of protecting president Karzai and other leading figures in the Afghan government was contracted to a team of 150-strong DynCorp employees [4].


Tens of thousands of solders demobilized from the Soviet Armed Forces have joined the ranks and files of PMCs. One example is Moscow-based firm Alpha Firm, which was founded by former elite soviet Special Forces units and has now become a subsidiary of British PMC ArmorGroup [5]. In Chechnya, contract soldiers have been found operating alongside national regular forces. In Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kazakhstan, PMC soldiers have been used to defend facilities.


PMCs have also extended their dispositions into training foreign military, police and Special Forces across the world. US PMCs alone undertook training in over 42 countries during the 1990s [6]. DynCorp has trained 32,000 Iraqi recruits in Jordan, and given technical training to the Colombian army. Erinys Iraq (an affiliate of Erinys International), MPRI and ArmorGroup also provide training in Iraq. Levdan, an Israeli PMC, trained the Congo-Brazzaville army,[7] while Vinnell has trained the Saudi palace guard [8].


PMCs are getting more and more engaged in direct combat operations [9]. In 1995, the now defunct South African company Executive Outcomes employed a Battalion sized force of infantry, with the support of attack helicopters and light artillery in order to regain the control of the diamond-rich Kono district of Sierra Leone. The Revolutionary United Front rebels were defeated just as they were approaching the capital [10]. Sandline, also now disbanded, later played a similar role in the conflict [11].


Some firms now openly advertise their role as service providers of combat services. Northbridge Services Group founder Andrew Williams bragged that he could put up a combat-ready brigade on the ground, fully equipped with full logistical support anywhere in the world within three weeks [12]. Meanwhile the President of Blackwater (Now Academi), Garry Jackson is hoping to put together the largest, most professional private Army in the world, ready for active duties in any country [13].

The line between combat and non-combat operations is getting blurred wherever they are operating. The International Charter Inc (ICI) and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE) provided military aviation support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peacekeeping force in Liberia [14].


In April 2004, eight Blackwater commandoes defended the US headquarters in Najaf against an attack by hundreds of Iraqi militia [15]. They used variety of military maneuvers including flying helicopter to resupply fresh ammunitions. Later on that day, three other PMCs – Hart Group, Control Risks and Triple Canopy were also involved in pitched battles in Iraq [16]. These incidents lay bare the fact that in a conflict zone such as Iraq, with the war fought in the heart of cities with unclear distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, it is impossible to distinguish defensive and offensive roles. Precisely, PMC soldiers in Iraq are involved in exchanges of fire with insurgents on a daily basis.


In developing countries, PMCs have provided crucial combat and non-combat assistance to governments in return for a share of profits derived from the use of that force [17]. Such was the case of the now defunct Executive Outcomes, which had a close relationship with the Branch-Heritage Group. After Executive Outcomes secured resource-rich areas on Angola on behalf of the government, a Branch-Heritage subsidiary gained concession over those same resources [18]. A similar situation transpired in Sierra Leone, where another Branch-Heritage subsidiary gained concession in the Kono diamond fields following action by Executive Outcomes to secure them for the government [19].


The increased profits have led to high growth rates of PMCs. Some of the leading PMCs include DynCorp, a subsidiary of Veritas Capital, a private equity investment firm, and employs over 25,000 employees [20]. Blackwater, another huge PMC was founded by multi-millionaire Erik Prince [21] in North Carolina in 1997. Gary Jackson, its president and a former US navy SEAL, has declared his intent to expand into the largest, most professional private army in the world.


Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) was founded in 1987 by retired US military officers. MPRI has 3,000 employees and reputedly more high-ranking military officers per square metre than the Pentagon. It is part of mega-corporation L-3 Communications, whose government services companies (of which MPRI is one) brought in revenues of US$2 billion in 2005. MPRI provided tactical training to the Kosovo Liberation Army in the weeks before the NATO bombing campaign [22].


Vinnell Corporation (USA) is another ground-breaking PMC that was directly involved in US military and intelligence operations in South-East Asia from 1965 to 1975. At the height of the Vietnam War it had more than 5,000 employees in Vietnam, and later trained Saudi forces to protect oil fields [23].


In the aftermath of World War, public opinion has shown an increasing unwillingness to accept the costs of conflict, especially the death and personal loss which are concomitant with full-scale wars. This public resistance to the cost of military operations is often referred to as “Vietnam syndrome”. In spite of the war-weary public, Western governments still have an undiminished penchant for military interventions to further their national interests around the globe.


To overcome this challenge, most governments are increasingly turning to PMCs to take on conflicts that are too costly – in terms of resources or public opinion – to undertake themselves, with the advantage that lines of accountability become increasingly blurred. PMCs help countries to transfer the costs of war to other countries by paying foreign nationals to take the risks. Human costs of casualties and deaths are thus not experienced by the country whose interests the PMCs are executing. According to Daniel Nelson, a former professor of Civil-Military Relations at the US Defence Department’s Marshall European Centre for Security, “Private military corporations become a way to distance themselves and create what we used to call ‘plausible deniability’… It’s disastrous for democracy.”


PMCs are constantly upgrading their capabilities so much that they can do about everything. DynCorp even managed to support the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in their negotiations. Asked by campaign group Corporate Watch why DynCorp was contracted, a US Official answered: “We are not allowed to fund a political party or agenda under United States law, so by using private contractors, we can get around those provisions.” [24]


PMCs also allow governments to circumvent legal obstacles in many other major ways. In 1991, for example, a UN arms embargo prohibited the sale of weapons to, or training of, any warring party in the former Yugoslavia. But a Croatian contract with MPRI effectively allowed the USA to circumvent the embargo.


Even global organizations like the UN are turning to PMC’s. The unwillingness to commit soldiers for UN forces led Kofi Annan to consider using PMCs in Rwandan refugee camps in 1997[25]. PMCs were contracted to support UN operations, for instance, ArmorGroup in Mozambique, Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Australian Forces leading the UN Transitional Administration peacekeeping force in East Timor in 1999 depended on logistics outsourced to PMCs, while the UN employed private intelligence and security firms to assist the peacekeeping force. Even governments in developing countries themselves are now delegating the task of securing life and property to PMCs. [26].


PMCs are turning to be the real career choice for many elite soldiers. The high salaries PMCs are offering in Iraq have reportedly caused record numbers of elite soldiers from the UK and US to retire early from their regular forces [27]. In August 2006, the British army was compelled to increase pay for Special Air Service (SAS) and other special forces personnel by 50% to thwart the rate of defections to PMCs.[28] MPRI has on call more than 12,000 former US military officers, including several four-star generals.


Some PMCs have been bold in seeking to redefine their roles. Blackwater’s vice-chair Cofer Black told a conference in March 2006 that Blackwater was ready to move towards providing private armies, up to battalion size, for use in low-intensity conflicts. He suggested Sudan as a country which might benefit from such a presence [29].


As the PMCs are redefining their roles in what they call “Peace and Stability industry”, there is fear that unregulated PMCS are causing some harm in some of their operations. The UN Special Rapporteur Enrique Ballesteros reported to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2002 that mercenaries were inexorably linked to the illegal diamond trade in Africa [30]. Colombia’s PMC-supported civil war meanwhile has left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and thousands dead in political violence every year.


Previously, Defence Systems Colombia (DSC), a subsidiary of DSL (now ArmorGroup), was implicated in providing detailed intelligence to the notorious XVIth Brigade of the Colombian army, identifying groups opposed to BP’s presence in the region of Casanare. This intelligence has been linked to executions and disappearances [31].

Amidst the growth of PMCs as discussed here above, it’s apparent that some form of regulation is required to streamline their operations and make them accountable for their omissions and commissions. Self-regulation isn’t an option. While wars are the sources of profits for PMCs, war happens to be one of the chief causes of poverty. War can completely undermine a country’s development prospects, destroying schools and hospitals and putting agricultural land out of use for years. Some 80% of the world’s 20 poorest countries have experienced a major war in the past 15 years, and excruciating human suffering continues long after. Nine of the 10 countries with the world’s highest child mortality rates have suffered from conflict in recent years.

Regulation of PMCs would curtail a tendency of some companies instigating wars in mineral-rich poor countries. Mercenaries must not be allowed to threaten peace and security around the world in the name of corporate profit.


[1] War on Want. Corporate mercenaries report.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Holmqvist, Private Security Companies

[7] Singer, Corporate Warriors

[8] TS Millard, Overcoming Post-Colonial Myopia: A Call to Recognize and Regulate

Private Military Companies, in Military Law Review, Vol. 176, June 2003

[9] JK Wither, European Security and Private Military Companies: The Prospects for

Privatized “Battlegroups”, The Quarterly Journal, Partnership for Peace Consortium of

Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes, Vol. 4, No. 2 June 2005.

[10] US State Department Background on Sierra Leone,

[11] BBC Online, “Mercenaries in Africa’s conflicts”, 11 March 2004

[12] J Lovell, Privatized Military Wave of the Future, Firms Say, Reuters, 14 May 2003

[13] Wither, European Security and Private Military Companies,

[14] Singer, Corporate Warriors

[15] D Priest, Private Guards Repel Attack on U.S. Headquarters, Washington Post, 6

April 2004

[16] D Isenberg, A Fistful of Contractors: The Case for a Pragmatic Assessment of Private Military Companies in Iraq, British American Security Information Council Research Report 2004, September 2004

[17] Schreier and Caparini, Privatising Security

[18] Ibid.

[19] Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation, London, The Stationery Office, February 2002

[20] A Barnett, Scandal-hit US firm wins key contract Observer, 13 April 2003

[21] Scahill, Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater

[22] W Masden, Mercenaries in Kosovo: The US connection to the KLA, The Progressive, August 1999

[23] E Schrader, US Companies Hired to Train Foreign Armies Los Angeles Times 14 April 2002

[24] P Chatterjee, Darfur Diplomacy: Enter the Contractors, Corpwatch, 21 October 2004

[25] T Cook, Dogs of War or Tomorrow’s Peacekeepers?: The Role of Mercenaries in the Future Management of Conflict, in Culture Mandala, 2002

[26] Singer, Corporate Warriors

[27] Schreier and Caparini, Privatising Security

[28] M Smith, SAS get 50% pay to halt quitters, Sunday Times, 6 August 2006

[29] U.S. firm offers private armies for low-intensity conflicts, World Tribune, 29 March 2006

[30] Ballesteros, Use of mercenaries as means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination UN Economic and Social Council Report, E/CN.4/2002/20, 10 January 2002

[31] D Whyte, Lethal Regulation: State-Corporate Crime and the United Kingdom Government’s new Mercenaries, Journal of Law and Society,Vol. 30, No. 4, 2003



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