The Increasing Role of Private Military and Security Companies

TitleThe Increasing Role of Private Military and Security Companies
Publication TypeBook
Subtitle / Series TitleStudy for the European Parliament
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsBailes, AJK, Holmqvist, C
Number of Pages31 pp.
PublisherEuropean Parliament
Accession Number1031

Executive Summary:
In recent years, private military companies (PMCs) and private security companies (PSCs) have been increasingly employed by large and active military nations for tasks both at home and abroad: generally as a cost-cutting measure, but also to eke out overstretched state resources. A wide range of services are involved, up to and including combat support and post-conflict training and reconstruction. The industry is highly transnational and is rapidly growing in value.
Both 'strong' and 'weaker' governments can have problems in getting the right private services at the right time and price, and enforcing quality control. However, there is widespread concern about possible abuses by PMC/PSC personnel and the difficulty of bringing them to justice. In reality, many provisions of international humanitarian, human rights, armaments-related, and criminal law do apply to PMC/PSC personnel, and/or to their employers. The challenge lies in obtaining evidence, identifying the precise status and responsibility of individuals concerned, and getting action taken in a responsible jurisdiction.
Added difficulties arise for democratic oversight by parliaments (and NGOs) so long as little directly tailored legislation on PMCs/PSCs has been adopted, either at national or international level, and governments have not defined their executive duties of supervision.
In principle, any corporate actor whose actions affect security can be handled by measures of prohibition, regulation, ad hoc executive control, self- and 'soft' regulation. In the case of PMCs/PSCs, few states have attempted direct legislation, and none with convincing effects. A Swiss- and ICRC-sponsored international dialogue has yet to reach conclusions and the UN is hampered by operating in the context of ineffective earlier measures on 'mercenaries'. Lately, business associations in the UK and US have seized the initiative in pushing ideas for oversight and quality control.
The EU might wish to address the issue, either because of concern over possible abuses by PMCs/PSCs operating out of EU territory, or in view of the potential efficiency of this device for common defence and security aims - or both.
This points to two routes for possible EU action. While the defence sector as such is exempt from Treaty rules, several EU measures in 'restraint' mode already apply to the export of various specialized private services. More explicit and comprehensive controls could be created by building on these, or by a separate CFSP Common Position. In terms of standards and efficiency, elements of an EU acquis already exist regarding the operation of PSCs within EU territory. Further standards and 'best practice' for the use of PMCs/PSCs, including for military operational tasks, could be developed, notably in the framework of ESDP and/or by the European Defence Agency. The EU could also seek to inspire and support action by other states and institutional groupings.
The European Parliament could contribute by promoting more debate and study (in partnership also with NGOs), calling for specific legislative measures or other policy decisions in the EU framework, and pressing especially for the inclusion of proper elements of democratic oversight. It can also engage with other players and in potentially useful fora for international action, from the UN downwards.
This study was requested by the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defence.

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