You might think that the term Private Military Company or PMC for short is just a fancy way of saying mercenary. You might also think that Private Military Companies play only a marginal role in modern combat. You might think that private military companies are primarily used by dictators, fledgling states and by private companies looking to secure their interests in potentially hostile and unsafe countries. You might just be wrong.
The truth is that private military companies have become increasingly prevalent in modern combat operations with a huge number of competing companies providing everything from combat logistics operations to actual fighting troops and equipment. These companies generally operate out of “Western” locations and are making billions of dollars and pounds of revenue from combat operations in a variety of locations around the world.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan where over 20,000 security operatives from companies including Dyncorp, Blackwater and Vinnel took part in combat operations undertaking a wide number of roles from direct combat to catering.
The role of private military combatants poses an interesting problem for modern warfare and has created a realm of combat where combatants are bound by contractual obligations and not military law. The key benefits of outsourcing fighting and logistics is that it means that a country does not have to pay as much for a standing army, it does not have to have a constant supply of certain resources (for example the US military laundry is handled exclusively by an outside contractor in Iraq) and it can deploy specialised teams to safeguard key installations and conduct delicate operations. This actually means that the cost of running wars is significantly reduced by using private military companies. This minimisation of warfare costs is one of the key reasons that private military companies have seen a huge boom in business during the last two decades.
However, many people have questioned the legality and morality of using private military companies in combat as the jurisdiction and law governing them is questionable. This has been highlighted in a number of high profile cases where private military personnel have opened fire on Iraqi civilians and suffered no consequences (most notably Blackwater). These and other cases mean that it is easy to question whether it is morally correct to deploy these forces at all in theatres of combat. The military is supposed to have strict combat laws and a clear hierarchy of punishment for anyone found breaking these rules. PMC’s are privately owned and operated and they are self-regulating meaning they enforce their own standards and rules. This means that they can effectively bypass the usual rules of combat – something that many of us find troubling.
Perhaps more worrying is the problem of allowing third party companies to be involved in warfare. Whilst private military companies are bound by the laws of the country they operate in many have voiced concerns that on the battlefields this control is susceptible to re-interpretation. Secondly many are voicing concerns that adding profit to combat is a potential problem given that these companies will always be in a position where they are trying to make money rather than fulfil humanitarian or political objectives.
However, providing proper care is taken these concerns should be avoidable. For everyday military personnel these companies are also offering a much more lucrative means of furthering a military career. Given the relatively low wages most soldiers face and the additions of military kit insurance and long periods away it is unsurprising that more and more military personnel are turning to private military companies as their careers progress – given they can earn ten times the amount they usually would.