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Privatized coercion: from mercenarism to private military companies

De Baripedia


Generally speaking, the question of privatization is something that systematically revolves around the notion of the State. Privatisation is a central issue in our contemporary societies and is part of our daily lives. For a long time, when we talked about security, we had the impression that this was the last bastion of the exclusive monopoly of the State, it was easier to liberalize the telecommunications sector than the field of violence. For a long time, the monopoly on violence has been fundamental to the structuring of Western states. One of the fundamental reasons why we have functional states in the West is because we have had the mechanism that Tilly calls "war making - state making" where the monopoly of violence has allowed state building. Erosion of the monopoly through privatisation is central. Talking about the privatization of violence, the erosion of the state monopoly on the management of violence is something that was not given until recently. Today, this question must be approached through the prism of questioning this monopoly with a view to practices and private companies.

When we talk about security professionals, we intuitively have people who work for public sectors in mind. We have the impression that we are talking about public actors, but before putting security operators and actors in perspective, security has always been not necessarily only public, where the actors have not been directly representative of a public service as is the case, for example, of private detectives. Since the 1970s, the presence of these actors in our societies has accelerated. There is a wide variety of tasks that are not necessarily interrelated.

The term private military and security companies (PSME) is the term most affected by the regulatory issues of private security companies. There is a wide variety of private military companies (PMCs). David Shearer suggests a way to classify them by distinguishing practices:

  • advice;
  • logistics: for example, we will only deal with canteens at military bases;
  • Operational: this remains rather marginal.

The distinction between logistics and operations is not necessarily clear. In Iraq, in 2003, being a truck driver could be an activity that very often involved fighting. Things are not at all clear, the lines are getting blurred.

Our primary focus will be on the "operational PMCs" involved in external military operations of a rather military nature, ranging from peace operations to NATO operations and US military interventions. We will be interested in a wide range of clients ranging from NGOs to international organizations, private companies, the military themselves and foreign affairs officers to secure embassies. In the logistics dimension, currently in Afghanistan, there are employees of private companies working directly for ministries. This is a rather opaque area, but the State retains a right of scrutiny.

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One of the first modern operational PMCs is the Executive Outcomes, which was a South African company. Executive Outcomes was created in the early 1990s by former South African special forces involved in the border conflict with Namibia and linked to the survival of the apartheid regime, which created the firm with their expertise. Their field of action was mainly in Angola, securing platforms and participating directly in fighting. Where we see that their activities are not only those of operational combatants and that the Angolan government cannot pay in terms of money and has paid with mining rights. It should be noted that Executive Outcomes was part of a larger consortium that included mining. These are new opportunities for former military personnel through the private sector.

This type of private company is representative of the phenomenon that emerged in the early 1990s with former military personnel engaging in mercenary-like practices. When it is the market that regulates the use of violence, we are in different practices compared to monopolistic practices of classical physical violence?

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The involvement of CACI and TITAN in the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 gives an idea of the extent and variety of PMC activities. Two of the people involved in this scandal were working for private companies raising the fact that the practice of torture can be outsourced to private companies. The legal framework behind the deployment of these private companies and one of the security stakes.

Speeches on Private Military Companies (PMCs) and their limitations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The transnationalist discourse[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Behind this discourse is the image of the erosion of the state and the end of the state monopoly on legitimate violence. The importance of this issue is reflected in the role that the state is supposed to play. Does the advent, multiplication and success of these private companies put an end to the state monopoly on legitimate violence? In The Rise and Decline of the State published in 1999, Martin van Creveld estimates that until the 1970s, the idea of a legitimate monopoly was more or less functional and that this monopoly is now disappearing in favour of market logic. Already, in light of what we have seen from a historical point of view, Weber's monopoly is not a total truth formula either, being a fiction and even a recent phenomenon.

This erosion is doubtful because the main customer of these companies is the states, especially the American state. Not only are the United States the primary customer of these companies, but also the major employees of the companies are former military or police officers who have themselves been trained in state armies. Contrary to what Martin van Creveld postulates, we are not at the end of the state monopoly, but we are instead dealing with changes to the monopoly.

In order to deepen this complexity of the stakes surrounding the privatization of military coercion put forward by the transnationalist thesis which aims to minimize the role of the State, we will examine three dimensions of the privatization of military coercion and the role that this raises in relation to the State:

  1. The ownership of coercive resources: the question is whether they are public or private. The answer is that we are faced with privatization because any private security company uses its own resources.
  2. Armed forces and weapons allocation: that is to say who will decide on the allocation of certain weapons and the deployment of armed forces if we are in a privatization logic. The question is whether this privatization is economic in a market logic or is it by authorization. There's a mixture of the two. Unlike the first question, there may be cases where ownership is public, but the allocation is economic. With the program lend and lease in the 1940s, the U.S. government made a loan in the form of military equipment to Britain and the USSR. It is not just anyone who decides, and there is also a political logic. As far as the allocation is concerned, we are in a mixture of economic logic by authorization involving the mediation of a law enforcement agency at a given time.
  3. This is the basis for decision-making about the use of force: even if the state will set rules, on the ground things are not going to be really clear about the rules of engagement. We enter a fuzzy terrain where we do not know how actors that we do not necessarily control are going to have room for manoeuvre. Companies, unlike states, have their own rules of operation with their own directives raising other problems. On the very central issue of the use of force, with the PMCs we enter a grey zone creating spaces where they can make decisions more freely than the military because the chains of command are distended.

The question that arises is the regulation of PMCs. War in general was a means of regulating violence. In a private logic where the market is supposed to impose its rules, the question of regulation is quite representative of this vagueness. There are two types of process, on the one hand:

  • agreements between States, these States impose binding regulations and legal frameworks to regulate the framework in which these companies operate. An interesting initiative is the Montreux process. Since 2008, this process has been the culmination of discussions initiated in Switzerland with the ICRC, including 17 states that have agreed to regulate these activities and, in particular, to ensure that they comply with humanitarian law. At the same time, this Montreux process aims to establish a code of conduct to develop "good practices". In a logic of market logic, we are in a change of rationality, entering into a logic of self-regulation as is the case with fair trade. This refers to the social responsibility of players, which calls for the ethical dimension of market regulation. Most of the States associated with the Montreux Process, which aims both to have non-binding international regulation and to develop a code of conduct, are not inclined to address this issue within the framework of the UN.
  • companies are not opposed to this self-regulatory logic. An International Stability Operations Association treaty is a grouping of private military companies that aims to establish a code of good conduct with the idea of presenting private military companies for one day meeting the standards of UN peacekeeping operations, particularly in the 1990s.

The Realist interpretation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The advantage of the realistic approach is to have anhistorical analyses that quickly address the issue of PMCs as a state-supported phenomenon that can be seen as a "high politics" instrument. Behind these companies, there are States that have decided to entrust these missions to private companies. In international relations, non-state actors are not very interesting for realists, since private actors have never had any influence on political decisions and remain proxies for the State. This thesis applies not only to PMCs, but also to terrorist movements, i. e. a state must be found behind any group.

Realistic interpretation has limitations since, by disqualifying private or state actors, one cannot see the impact they might have on decision-making themselves, while many cases call into question the reading of MMPs that do not call into question the very functioning of the state. The realistic thesis is not able to see how much influence private military companies can have on the lobbying mechanism. We have actors who will move from one to the other and who will influence decision-making or even the development of operations by this indistinction. There is also a revolving-doors phenomenon where the distinction between private and public actors is not clear, with some people going back and forth between bureaucracies, governments and private companies.

Causes and consequences[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We are going to discuss some of the elements that have already been mentioned. We will look in more detail at the question of replacing a public, inter-state logic articulated around the monopoly of the legitimate violence of the State by asking ourselves the question of the economic causes. Do we really have a security market that was set up after the end of the Cold War and it is extremely reductive to see this because there is a political logic behind it? We must remember the economic functioning.

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As far as supply is concerned, there are certain phenomena which may lead us to believe that there is the emergence of a real supply with a reduction in the armies with the end of the Cold War. There is a shift from conscription armies to professional armies and the idea that we will now reap the dividends of peace and therefore there are fewer soldiers. There are a lot of military offers coming out of it, with military personnel no longer working or available for a private security market.

source : Science Po[7]

Just because there is less money and fewer armies does not mean that there are no new challenges. The end of the Cold War led to the multiplication of infra-state conflicts with a demand for intervention. The UN and NATO will be much more active in the end of the Cold War in terms of intervention and there is still a strong demand for troops. There is a Somali syndrome, which means that during the intervention in Somalia, there was a multinational intervention and UN investment with a high demand for international troops, but also with Rwanda and Bosnia, which meant that some Western states did not necessarily want their soldiers to die in peacekeeping operations. In terms of demand, there is also the fact that Western countries do not necessarily want to join peacekeeping operations in the 1990s. Beginning in the 1990s, a demand arose from the disaffection of Western countries for peacekeeping operations. Today, the overwhelming majority of the troops involved in peacekeeping operations come from India and Bangladesh. There is also a cost logic behind this logic, since these soldiers also cost less.

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There is a real demand with the multiplication of African conflicts and Koffi Annan questioned the UN's ability to mobilize resources.

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A paradox emerges. As much as European countries' military spending has fallen, in terms of the world's largest military budget, the US budget since the end of the Cold War has risen exponentially and steadily.

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The U.S. military did not grow up, but are exploded budgeta with private military companies. In 1991, the share of private contactors was 1%, in 2003 10% and in 2009, the number of private companies was higher than the number of US troops in Iraq. The budget is increasing, but the number of troops deployed on the ground is not increasing.

Now, we have to think about other causes because it is not just the post-Cold War and peace dividend logic that made it necessary to call on private contactors because we had fewer soldiers. By making fictional politics, we can see that at the time, with the path we were heading towards, the idea was to say to ourselves that in order to settle the solutions at the global level, we need inclusive multilateral solutions. There were optimistic theories of a more just world where multilateral decision-making translated into the development of multilateral institutions. This is not only through the United Nations, but also through the OSCE, the European Union, which will conduct crisis management operations from 2003 onwards. The idea of multilateralism has been very much at the forefront and was seen as a credible option. One could have imagined that the consequences of 9/11 in terms of the international community could have been studied within the framework of a multilateral intervention.

What could explain why governments will increasingly resort to private companies? In the operation of many states, this began in Britain and the United States in the 1970s, and a new way of managing the state was developed, which found that bureaucracies were too slow, cumbersome, and not effective enough to have a dynamic society. This is called[New Public Management]]. There was a widespread idea that tasks would be outsourced or assigned to private actors that would allow for more efficient bureaucracy. The U.S. military will make use of many subcontractors especially for logistics. Another factor is that the professionalization of armies has taken people away from them to perform subordinate tasks. This is a neoliberal turn of events that aims to reduce the size of the state and even the armies have been affected by this phenomenon. It is important to put that in perspective.

In short, it allows us to question the market argument which is a circular argument since it is said that it is the market logic that will generate the market, it is a presupposed rationality that we will apply to a phenomenon. Finally, the cause of the market explanation is totally circular. There are practical questions, but there is clearly a more political will to move towards more neoliberal public policies. This phenomenon is linked to the transformation of the State into a logic of redeployment and different functioning. The American state remains important even though the decision-making process has changed.

The SMPs are part of a legal no-mans's land in Iraq with Order 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The employees of these companies were not subject to Iraqi law, it is an extremely grey area. Since 2007, employees of these companies have been subject to the United States Unified Military Justice Code. In Afghanistan, former President Karzai wanted to regulate the presence of private military companies by making them subject to Afghan law. The reaction of these companies was to threaten the merger to break their contract because this clause was not included. There is no taking over of local judicial systems, their status is weak because they are not military. Despite the fact that they were tried to be associated with a military code, de facto, this highlights the fact that there was very little control and no punishment for abuse.

SMPs in Practice: The Effects of the Relationship Between Politics and Security Professionals[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

How does this phenomenon of privatization affect relations between the different actors and professions involved? Continuity between state and private actors must be discussed in a network analysis. These networks are cross-sectional beyond the private - public distinction. These networks do not unilaterally weaken state actors, but they certainly transform power relations within states.

Politicians and ministerial bureaucracies[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

With regard to the transformation of practices, we will look at a series of practical cases of how the arrival of PMCs will transform the relationship between certain actors.

In 2003, during the intervention in Iraq, there was a disagreement within the Pentagon between civilians and the military, namely the issue of neo-conservatives and military privatization in the context of military opposition to military operations abroad. The military was not very enthusiastic about the war in Iraq. A 2002 report said that the military felt that sending troops to Iraq was not complicated, but in terms of management it was very complicated when the neo-conservatives were in favour of intervention. In this type of opposition, with the advent of PMC actor, how does this lead to a transformation. The fact that PMCs are a viable solution is going to make it give more options for civilians, making the military less important. Civil bureaucracy had more options.

One case is the way politicians bypass their allies with the example of counter-narcotics in Afghanistan. The call for a private company has bypassed a traditional allied political issue. What privatization can change is also to bypass the parliamentary opposition. Plan Colombia was part of the continuity against drug trafficking in Colombia. The multi-phased plan aimed to tackle drug cultivation, which weakened the guerrillas on the ground by eradicating coca cultivation. Congress was not "for" fearing that an escalation operation would be launched. The Clinton administration has made extensive use of private companies, particularly to eradicate coca cultivation.

One way of describing the relationship between departmental bureaucracies and the MPS is the principle of "plausible denial". In 2007, the "Nissour Square shooting" took place. Black Water employees who were supposed to protect a diplomatic convoy and were forced to shoot into the crowd killing about 20 people. The plausible denial is that the U.S. secretary of state at the time could not plausibly say that he did not really control these people, that even though they gave them instructions, shooting in the crowd was not the total responsibility of the Americans. It remains unclear how this company interprets the American directives. The term "plausible denial" is often used to illustrate the room for manoeuvre that can be left by appealing to military societies.

Military and intelligence services[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Their work has been largely transformed by private companies. For the military, there is the obvious advantage of focusing on the essential missions of the army. The advantage of delegation to PMCs for the military is that they can focus on core missions in a limited troop-staffing context, which increases the tooth-to-tail ratio. For the military, there is an advantage that in an army relatively small in number of men, if the less glorious tasks are left to private companies, one focuses more on the essential aspects of the milestone activity.

But the military sometimes loses certain prerogatives because many things have been outsourced. Leaving some prerogatives aside means that the military can also lose quite significant prerogatives. The fact that the resources available are private means that, within the bureaucracy, other aspects dedicated to the military will benefit private companies. Today, the CIA does not need to use military means to make a targeted strike in Afghanistan that reduces military prerogatives. The military has less control over logistical aspects, leaving more room for manoeuvre for other actors.

Local elite[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The increasing presence of PMCs within the State redefines and reacts with the relations with politics. The interest of PMCs for local elites in war-torn developing countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq may be purely economic. In Afghanistan, PMCs represent a purely economic interest for local elites. To pay some militias on the spot and give them the screen to be PMCs, eventually having an influence in the local game. If the regime wants to have an Afghan state-owned public security apparatus, many militias can see the PMCs as subversive forces. We see how the privatization of security can have an impact on the very process of state building and the acquisition of a state monopoly on its territory. The Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) reportedly failed to disarm these militias, removing them from the equation of state building in Afghanistan after 2001.

Conclusion[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There is a logic of symbiosis between the State and war entrepreneurs. Instead, there is a transformation within the State without necessarily calling into question the State itself, since no logic escapes the State. The sociohistorical perspective makes it possible to see that privatization is not something new, that in the 19th century there was a kind of parenthesis with a state influencing the exercise of the monopoly of violence, even if one could say that this monopoly was never total. We are now perhaps witnessing the end of this parenthesis, we would see a return. Why a return of the phenomenon? A distinction should be made between stronger and weaker states, i. e. not all states are equal in the privatization of the monopoly of violence. Privatisation, if it is made possible and comes mainly from the northern state, there would be an imperial reason behind it, it would be less serious for a northern state to privatise part of its security apparatus, because it can afford it. It is possible for some States and privatization has consequences in other States.

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