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Response to Max Hastings's PMC piece in Aug. 2 comment Print

August 3, 2006 originally published here

As an analyst who has researched and written on private military contractors (PMC) since the mid-1990s I mostly applaud Max Hastings Aug. 2 comment.

He recognizes that the private military and security sector is an industry which is with us for the foreseeable future. Given the now decades long push for privatization of government functions that has been sweeping much of the world, the emergence of PMCs, with the advantage of hindsight, was inevitable. In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defense has contracted for commercial sector support under its CONDO (Contractors on Deployed Operations) policy and "public private partnership" programs.

Rather than indulge in mindless blather about corporate mercenaries serious observers need to grapple with the issue and debate which measures are most effective in securing the fullest transparency, oversight, and accountability of the industry.

George Orwell once wrote, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." Admittedly, he was talking about regular military personnel but the principle is the same. Over the past two decades, in countries ranging from Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and many others, we have seen people gain security as a result of the work of various private military and security contractors.

Here in the United States it has just been announced that the Pentagon is poised to shift as much as $100 million to the State Department for an effort to hire private contractors charged with enhancing the counterterrorism capabilities of foreign militaries in 14 nations across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

But Hastings was wrong to write that American contractors display increasing reluctance to employ British ex-soldiers rather than their own. This is very much an international industry. Private security companies increasingly focus on who is the most qualified, not the prospective employee's nationality. If that were the case firms like Blackwater would not have hired soldiers from Chile, for example

It is worth remembering that because it is a global industry there is a curious inversion of the old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Since most of the truly profitable contracts are issued by Western governments and companies any firm that wins the contract has to take great pains to live up to the strictures of that contract. Companies issue contracts that are usually written to comply with laws that are far more stringent in terms of use of force and respect for human rights than those issued by companies or governments in developing nations. Thus, security contractors are significantly influenced and driven by their clients.

Hopefully, as companies interconnect and dialog with each other in the future a general standard will be established that all can and will adhere to. This has long been a goal of trade groups like the International Peace Operations Association in the USA. In fact, there are currently numerous trade associations in existence, many of which exist to regulate and promote standards for security countries in their respective countries. A relatively new one is the Private Security Company Association of Iraq (PSCAI). Its website states, "It was formed and maintained to discuss and address matters of mutual interest and concern to the industry conducting operations in Iraq.

The PSCAI seeks to work closely with the Iraqi Government and foster a relationship of trust and understanding. "

We have published several reports on this, which are available on our website. I hope people will now begin the difficult but necessary job of debating, without prejudice or preconception, on how to best utilize and regulate PMCs.


David Isenberg, Senior Analyst
British American Security Information Council 110 Maryland Ave, NE, Suite
205 Washington, DC 20002


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