The Rise of Private Military Contractors in the 21st Century

Privatization is a globally embraced phenomenon. In the past few decades, it has become the law of the International Political Economy. Privatization is a phenomenon where a particular operation or set of operations are under the control of private individuals or groups. This means that they are not related to the government or the public authority in a major way. It is a phenomenon that has reached almost all the sectors of the international political economy. There are a few such sectors that have argued to be highly contentious when it comes to privatization such as defense, railways, nuclear energy, etc. In this article, we shall inspect the category of private military contractors, starting with a historical perspective; we shall look at their position and relevance in the current international political-economic system.

Until the 16th and 17th century, there existed the concept of mercenaries. A mercenary is defined as a person who is an independent soldier who is hired by a particular party, and who has no allegiance whatsoever with the party and is made to fight against the enemies and at the discretion of his to-be-owner. In order to give a better picture, one can imagine a mercenary as the closest to a sell-sword of Game of Thrones. These mercenaries are nothing but a kind of service-providers, and the kind of service that they provide are wrestling, sword-fighting or other modes of combat. For example, Cyrus the Younger had contracted the Greek Warrior assortment called as the Ten Thousand in order to fight against his own brother and take over the Persian Throne.

The privatization of armies and combat went to a dormant stage in the 18th and the 19th centuries because of the rising importance of the nation-state. However, the 1960s again has seen the return of private military contractors in the form of companies and highly influential private individuals. They are hardly any different from the state-owned and controlled militaries with respect to their combating skills and nature of functioning. However, one of the most important aspects, where they differ, is that the private militaries can be owned by anyone. This could be a state, a non-state actor or an individual and can be used for any purpose, be it good or bad in the eyes of the international realm. Their allegiance is only determined by the amount of money that shall be offered to them. Thus, they carry a huge risk of being misused.

The growth of such companies was caused due to rising independence movements in Africa, wherein the inability of weak governments to handle the internal conflict caused a rise of private military corporations, to help in these conflict regions. These companies are ruthless by nature, not affected by nationalistic sentiment; making them skilled, objective combatants in a war setting. Such companies/entities are classified as private military companies (PMCs), private military firms (PMFs), private security companies (PSCs), or an amalgamation of these terms, which is commonly referred to as Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs). Currently, the primary regions in which the PMSCs operate are Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Gulf of Aden; however western governments are also increasingly hiring private contractors for domestic purposes.

There is hardly any clarity when it comes to international law regarding the use of PMC as they lie in a grey zone between the commercial interests of the war industry and the public state services. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have been openly criticizing them for their lack of accountability in human rights violations. The document that talks about these activities are known as the Montreux Document. It was endorsed in Montreux, Switzerland in September 2008. The document contain recommendations for good state. The document only has 54 participants who have signed the document, including the European Union.

However, this legal document has a number of criticism from skeptics of PMCs. It was made with an attempt to mitigate any grey areas present in international law and to prevent any possible legal vacuum. However, the document does not contain any legally binding clause and only seeks to obligate the countries to adhere to humanitarianism and not promote any human rights violations. It advocates the use of these actors for good purposes and has listed around 70 ‘best practices’.

The debate that lawmakers need to address is of two levels. First, is the presence and the development of the PMC justified with respect to its ethical consideration, secondly is the international realm heading towards a situation where the role of the state is diluted to the extent that the militaries are no longer in their control. It is important to note that private militaries are not a problem in themselves. For that matter, since the United Nations is a non-state, supra-national organization, even the United Nations Peace-keeping forces shall be deemed to fall under the category of ‘private’. However, the difference here is that all the countries that send their military forces are accountable for the forces they contribute. Thus, we need to introspect into this matter and come up with legislation that enforces and binds even the private contractors to the clauses of the international laws.

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