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Definition: PMC from Collins English Dictionary

abbreviation for

1 private military company: a commercial organization whose employees are paid to carry out military or security duties in cooperation with or in the place of regular military formations


Summary Article: Military Forces: Private or Contracted
from Encyclopedia of Transnational Crime and Justice

The private, contracted military industry has played an increased global role in the post-Cold War world in terms of both size and scope. This presence is likely to keep expanding because of its cost-effectiveness and the proliferation of global conflicts, as well as criminal and terrorist activities and the increase in military spending they have engendered. Private, contracted military forces participate in international military conflicts, peacekeeping and nation-building efforts, and security activities across the globe. Critics view the growing role of private, contracted military forces as a threat to national sovereignty and global security, whereas advocates note their cost-effectiveness and their work in ending global conflicts and instability along with the transnational crimes that accompany these phenomena.

Involvement in Conflicts and Peacekeeping Missions

The presence of private, contracted military forces on the world stage has been increasing. The private military industry is a loosely defined group of organizations and mercenary soldiers providing a wide range of both standard and specialized services to a wide range of contractors across the globe, making annual profits in the billions of dollars. Many U.S. private military companies have offshore registrations for tax purposes at the same time that they receive taxpayer-funded government contracts. Well-known private military companies include ArmorGroup, DynCorp, Kroll, Control Risks Group (CRG), Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI), Group 4 Securicor, Vinnell, and Blackwater Worldwide (now known as Academi).

Many private military companies are part of larger military contracting conglomerates that have acquired them through mergers and acquisitions. The industry also features trade groups such as the International Peace Operations Association. Key corporation and industry leaders are often former national military officers and intelligence personnel from countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Israel. Soldiers employed by private military companies are not always recruited from the companies' nations of origin. Many come from the country in which the private military force is operating or are young people from economically disadvantaged countries seeking opportunities abroad.

National governments, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government bodies such as the United Nations (UN), media organizations, government diplomats, and private corporations contract private military forces to aid national military forces in international conflicts and peacekeeping missions or for protection in such areas. Although the contracting of private military companies is a global phenomenon, the United States and Great Britain dominate the global market. Prominent examples include U.S. government contracts to private military companies in Iraq and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) contracts to private military companies in the Balkans.

A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. Blackwater was one of the private contractors employed during the Iraq War to guard officials and installations.

(U.S. Air Force)

Services provided by private contracted military include risk advising, defense planning, the sale of weapons and other military supplies; weapons management; logistics support; training of foreign forces; the use of mercenary soldiers in fighting, peacekeeping, democracy transition, and nation-building missions; prisoner interrogation; espionage and intelligence work; psychological warfare; maritime security; counterterrorism and the guarding of media, diplomats, embassies, and overseas businesses operating in theaters of conflict. Some companies provide a variety of these services, while others specialize in key areas such as intelligence or counterterrorism. Older companies have expanded or adapted their services to meet changing global needs; newer companies have formed in response to global demand.

Private, contracted military are commonly regulated at the national level but lack the clear regulations required of national military forces, and problems can still arise when such entities engage in transnational activities. For example, U.S. government regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) law and the Defense Department's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program allow private military companies to contract themselves out to foreign governments. These private military companies, however, face fewer restrictions when operating internationally than do the regular U.S. armed forces, despite government contracting regulations. Lax regulations open the door for links between private, contracted military forces and transnational crimes such as trafficking, war crimes, and human rights violations.

Regulation and Accountability

Some private, contracted military forces have illicit ties to international criminal enterprises, such as various types of trafficking operations, whereas others aid in the battle against such enterprises. The private military's international recruitment of soldiers and employees has led to criticism of the lack of clear jurisdiction and the exploitation of foreign citizens who assume the risks of operating in conflict areas. Other criticisms include loss of government control and oversight, lack of clearly defined national and international laws governing their usage, and a reduction in the quality of national armed forces as soldiers leave for better-paid opportunities in the private military sector.

The use of private, contracted military forces in international conflicts, peacekeeping, and nation-building missions has also given rise to concerns over their accountability, particularly in the commission of war crimes and human rights violations. Private military companies, like government military forces, are required to follow the Geneva Convention, which defines international laws of armed conflict. National military personnel, however, are much more likely to face prosecution for war crimes than are private, contracted military personnel, given the problems of unclear jurisdiction regarding criminal violations by nationally contracted private forces. The international recruitment of private soldiers compounds these problems.

Autocratic regimes utilize private military forces and mercenary soldiers in the formation of death squads, which terrorize civilian populations in order to maintain the current regime and crush rebellions. Tactics include kidnappings, torture, and murder. Private military companies not directly involved in war crimes or human rights violations may provide training to national military forces that are. The Clinton administration contracted MPRI in 1994 in part to train the Croatian army during conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. The Croatian army was later accused of ethnic cleansing in its campaign against the Serbs. Private military forces have also been directly and indirectly implicated in the overthrow of governments, sometimes the very governments that originally contracted for their services.

Other highly publicized examples of private military companies and links to international criminal activities have centered on the involvement of U.S.-government-contracted forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, operatives of Blackwater Worldwide, one of the private firms contracted by the U.S. government to operate in Iraq, were involved in gunfights that resulted in questionable civilian deaths. Other private companies contracted by the United States, such as CACI and the Titan Corporation, were involved in prisoner abuse scandals in the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

Ties to other transnational crimes have also emerged. Private military forces, like their national counterparts, have been implicated in the plundering and smuggling of art and antiquities and other valuables from the personal homes and museums of areas in which they were operating. Allegations were made claiming that DynCorp, a private military company operating in the Balkans, was tied to an international child pornography ring. Likewise, claims were made that Executive Outcomes, a private military company founded in South Africa and operating in Sierra Leone, was tied to illicit conflict-diamond mining and facilitating the overthrow of the government that had contracted its services.

Globalization has increased the threat of international terrorism while decreasing border security. International terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda target failed states, developing nations, and areas of political instability to establish bases. Their activities, such as the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, have created an increased market for the private military companies involved in security and intelligence. Private military companies have also been contracted in the fight against other sources of international crime, such as drug trafficking and maritime piracy.

See also

Extraordinary Rendition, Military Industries, Military-Political-Industrial Nexus, War Crimes

Further Readings
  • Avant, Deborah D. The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Chesterman, Simon; Lehnardt, Chia. From Mercenaries to Market: The Rise and Regulation of Private Military Companies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Krahmann, Elke. States, Citizens and the Privatization of Security. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • May, Larry. War Crimes and Just War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Ortiz, Carlos. Private Armed Forces and Global Security: A Guide to the Issues. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010.
  • Trevino, Marcella Bush
    Copyright © 2012 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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