Private Military Companies (PMC) Part I

By | October 21, 2021

Many of today’s conflicts have a number of actors with different motives. In addition to states and intergovernmental organizations, we find everything from criminal warlords to civilian aid organizations. One type of player that has come into particular focus in recent times is private military companies (PMC). During the war in Iraq, there have been many negative press reports linking private military companies to fighting, assault and killing of Iraqi civilians.

  • What are private military companies?
  • How do they operate?
  • How do private military companies differ from other conflict actors?
  • What challenges does the modern emergence of private military firms pose?

2: What is PMC?

According to foodezine, PMCs are organizations that offer the same type of services as states’ national military forces. They also often have equipment, organization and operational patterns based on military technique and tactics. Such actors are organized as enterprises (private companies), and it is therefore natural to refer to them as companies. The main motive for these companies and their employees is to make money. It is common to place the PMCs in categories, depending on the type of services they provide:

  • Military support functions. These are services that are mainly about supporting military field operations, most often logistics. It includes everything from catering, transport and maintenance all the way to the “front”.
  • Military consulting services. This involves everything from advising on military issues, training and education of military personnel, to actual participation in the planning and implementation of operations.
  • Military combat units. This involves participation in direct combat actions. Either with entire combined combat units (battalion battle group / brigade), or with experts integrated into regular forces (weapons service, pilots, etc.).
  • Armed security. These are companies that primarily have a defensive role, but that operate with the same tactics and equipment as combat units. These also often come into skirmishes with parties in the conflict.

Many PMCs operate across these categories. That is, they can take on contracts that cover the entire spectrum , and then often in context as a “package solution”. For example, a company that transports supplies can also provide its own security force to escort such transports and to keep watch at warehouses.

3: Developments

It is nothing new or historically unique that private companies solve military tasks. A quick historical review shows that hiring outsiders to fight in wars is as old as war itself. The use of professional mercenaries has in fact long been the dominant form of armed force in Europe from the late Middle Ages to the Napoleonic Wars.

With the development of the modern state and the emergence of mass armies based on conscription , the population, state power and defense were linked in a trinity that made the mercenary armies superfluous.

After a period of almost 200 years in which private military actors only to a very modest degree left their mark on the conflict picture, we see from the beginning of the 1990s a strong growth in the industry. This development is often linked to the end of the Cold War and the effects it had on the security situation both locally and internationally. We then got newer development features such as:

  • Downsizing : Military forces were greatly downsized in many countries. This freed up a large number of personnel with military expertise, who now became available to the private market.
  • Increased number of conflicts : The stabilizing lid that the rivalry between the two superpowers maintained was removed, and latent conflicts flared up again. There was therefore a sharp increase in the global level of conflict until the mid-1990s.
  • State collapse : Many regimes proved very vulnerable to insurgency when the support of one of the superpowers disappeared. Internal conflicts with state collapse as a result therefore marked the worldview at the turn of the 2000s.
  • Increased optimism in the UN : A general optimism regarding the possibilities for resolving conflicts, resulted in the UN engaging in a number of internal conflicts in the early 1990s. However, it turned out that the ability to build effective military forces was not in line with the will, and tasks were therefore transferred to regional actors, including NATO.
  • Increased commitment to NATO and the United States : In order to complete the tasks, it became necessary to put aside so-called logistical functions (catering, transport…), guarding bases, support for military training and education for private companies. In this way, they managed to maintain their fighting power despite a reduction in the military organizations.
  • Discontinuation of public services : The trend of discontinuing public services to private individuals is in line with the neoliberal idea of ​​market-driven efficiency that was fully established in the public sector in the 1980s, often known as New Public Management (NPM). The fall of the wall and the end of the Cold War provided the military policy conditions for the defense sector to be covered by NPM reforms as well.
  • Increased globalization : The values ​​of the global market cross states, conflicts and national interests and therefore increasingly require protection against various threats. Private companies (transnational companies, industrial companies, etc.) that operate in conflict-ridden areas can to a small extent rely on support from the security apparatus of their parent nation. Both political and capacity factors can underlie this. In order to protect their values ​​and properties, private companies will therefore have to buy security / protection in the market.
  • International terrorism: The attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 and the ensuing war on terror illustrated the vulnerability of the West and confirmed the need for an increased focus on security.

Private Military Companies 1