Private contractors can provide immediate relief to a conflict-torn region, but run the risk of damaging the very fabric of the international state system in the long run.
As President Barack Obama’s time in the White House draws to a close, critics and supporters alike are trying to condense his often disjointed foreign policy maneuvers into a coherent doctrine. A major facet of this Obama doctrine – perhaps more fundamental than his use of drones, his reservations about leaning on long-established alliances, and his ‘pivot’ away from the Middle East and to Asia – has been a much-touted disdain for hawkish intervention and consequently, his own ‘light footprint’ in the soils of conflict.
As part of this policy, effective from 2011, Obama has committed to pulling back troops from conflict zones, primarily Iraq and Afghanistan. In the latter, for example, the US has instituted a rollback to 9,800 troops from 99,000 in June 2011, exactly five years ago, with plans to cut boots on the ground to 5,500 in early 2017.
What these statistics fail to illustrate, however, is the sharp rise in private military company (PMC) personnel contracted by the US to fight or provide other military support functions in conflict zones, a move that has been key to facilitating troop recall without compromising on-ground objectives. As Foreign Policy noted last month, there are about three times as many contractors as US troops in Afghanistan, clocking in at 28,626. In Iraq today, 7,773 contractors supplement a US military contingent of 4,087. And these numbers don’t even include any contractors hired by the CIA or its sister intelligence agencies.
Once flourishing businesses in the ancient and medieval worlds, and integral to the security strategies of everyone from country lords to kings (and sometimes even the papacy), private military services began to steadily peter out as the world transitioned to the Westphalian state system, with standing public armies. As modern nation-states arose or crystallized, especially from the 18th century onwards, each state needed a monopoly on violence and the legitimate use of force – an imperative that operates even today – and so state militarisation grew rapidly and mercenaries receded into the shadows, notwithstanding the occasional Hollywood outing. But the end of the Cold War – which left in its wake an abundance of unemployed but trained military personnel and thousands of soldiers without a war to fight – opened the door to the emergence of independent, private, military enterprises.
Since the last decade of the 20th century, the world has become well-acquainted with PMCs, or privately held corporate firms that commodify and sell direct combat (mercenary), training, or logistical services; it is not only the United States that has witnessed and participated in their resurgence. They gained traction after the UN peacekeeping failures in Somalia and Rwanda in the 1990s and the success of Executive Outcomes, a PMC, in Angola and Sierra Leone.
PMCs as peacekeeping forces
In the past year alone, the United Arab Emirates hired hundreds of Latin American mercenaries – mainly Colombian – to fight the Iran-backed Houthis in the proxy war in Yemen, and Nigeria employed STTEP International, a company of South African mercenaries, which has fought and contained Boko Haram to moderate success, something the Nigerian military had been unable to do for years. It’s no surprise that countries are gravitating towards PMCs; they act as force multipliers at a fraction of the economic and political cost of conventional armed forces. Nations get additional troops – usually, since the market is so exclusive, with above-average expertise and specialization – without having to spend on training and recruitment, and labor laws often ensure that they can get away with providing abysmal disability compensation and death benefits, such as in the US. More significant is the political benefit the use of PMCs can provide. In cases where the country is not directly threatened – such as in every contemporary instance of US aggression – it can pursue objectives without facing a domestic backlash over the loss of citizens in combat.
This is especially true when the mission is an ostensibly humanitarian purpose. Fulfilling perceived moral responsibilities to besieged people of the world with the minimal loss of domestic life infuses the country with a one-two jolt of national pride and faith in the competence of its leadership. The fact that contractors sign up voluntarily for the mission at hand, as opposed to soldiers who must go where they are assigned once they join the military, makes their deployment or death an easier pill to swallow, and policymakers are saved from losing political clout at home.
In light of all this, why are PMCs not regularly used for peacekeeping functions? Private contractors are the best – and often the only – option in especially dangerous situations where countries are unwilling to send their own troops but where action must be taken to save lives. Furthermore, contractors who hail from or around the conflict zone have an invaluable knowledge of its geography, key players, and customs, which can reduce dependence on local militias with political agendas and often deep-rooted ethnic and religious rivalries of their own, and end the disastrously myopic tactic of choosing the lesser regional evil.
Despite these apparent benefits, there has been a decisive push against the normalization of PMC use; in 1998, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan famously declared that “the world may not be ready to privatize peace”, which seems to ring true in most diplomatic and academic circles today.
Critics have plenty of reason to be skeptical about using PMCs. Contractors such as DynCorp have been notorious for often flouting international law, allegedly illegally purchasing weapons, trafficking women as sex slaves, raping, pillaging, and even murdering civilians. In 2014, a US jury convicted four employees of Blackwater, another PMC, for the 2007 massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nasour Square. However, while there is no question PMCs are hugely potent loose cannons, held in check only by the gossamer leash of self-regulation (which has proven inadequate), they are here to stay. The market – now estimated to be somewhere between $100 billion and $400 billion a year – is growing; it’s not only states that are looking to hire them.
Sean McFate, the associate professor at the National Defense University in Washington and a former DynCorp employee, writes, “If money can buy firepower, then large corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals could become a new kind of superpower. New mercenaries will emerge to meet this demand, offering more lethal services unhindered by laws of war.” Already, warlords in Afghanistan and Somalia are creating contracting firms that keep local fighters on the payroll.
Regulating the genie
The only thing that can be done to make PMCs ethically useable forces is the institution of binding external regulation. They must be subject to proper surveillance– as any public armed force would be– and international law.
While treaty laws do prohibit some forms of mercenary behavior, there are currently no international rules against the use of non-mercenary (non-combat) PMCs – only an international norm that is increasingly wearing thin while problems of accountability persist.
Given the diverse composition of contracting firms, the processes for holding them accountable for either kind of activity are fragmented at best, and so contractors are largely ungoverned. Nations such as the US have laws that seek to hold contractors accountable for war crimes or human rights violations, but these cases are complicated by the jurisdictional issue of nationality, and the ability of a particular state to prosecute and punish citizens of another. In its most basic form, PMC regulation should resolve this issue by ensuring that the country in which the company is registered has the power to charge and try employees, even if they are non-citizens. Of course, the historical unwillingness of many states to relinquish control of the fate of their citizens may cause many to view this endeavor as a utopian one, which is entirely possible. But with the private military service industry already– and unfortunately– at a point of no return, efforts to curb its destructive potential must push forward with vehemence even in the face of cavalier dismissal.
Apart from an international regulatory treaty signed by a majority of the world’s nations, which many states will not be party to because it could curtail both operational use and plausible deniability on their part, there are three regulatory options that should – and could – be adopted. First, PMCs could be re-conceptualised as institutionalized agencies – or at least, partially so– in the country in which they are registered, bringing them under the stringent purview of international institutional law. Second, behavioral conditions and stipulations should be included in contracts signed with the PMCs, with clearly outlined monetary or legal repercussions if they fail to adhere to these stipulations. Third, basic market restrictions should be imposed; if a PMC takes on clients with non-peacekeeping or humanitarian aims, the company entity should be charged under the law of the country in which it’s domiciled, and subsequently disbanded.
PMCs vs. UN peacekeeping forces
After regulation, PMCs would effectively be the same as public or legitimized coalition armies such as the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces (UNPKF), which have also committed atrocities and, at least in theory, have faced appropriate legal consequences. And so, there is no reason for PMCs to be excluded from the business, so to speak, of peacekeeping. In fact, PMCs may well come to partially replace UN peacekeepers, definitely not because they are some form of panacea for an ailing world, but because they are more efficient than the UNPKF.
A 2006 Oxford Development Studies paper illustrates how the overall costs of a late-90s Executive Outcomes mission in Sierra Leone, launched after a failed UN peacekeeping one, were far less than the UN’s, with the former receiving $25 million in addition to diamond and bauxite mining concessions, and the latter costing a whopping $1.283 billion. Despite the fact that EO managed to get the job done in about a third of the time that UNPKFs were on the ground – the second major facet of its efficiency – costs per month for EO and UNPKF ($1.19 million and $19.4 million respectively), show that the PMC was far more cost effective. Case in point: currently, the UNPKF budget for a single fiscal year amounts to $8.27 billion. PMCs also deploy faster and so eliminate any wastage of time that a sluggish bureaucracy might create. According to a 2011 study, EO started its missions in both Angola and Sierra Leone just a month after signing the contract, whereas the UNPKF took between three months and a year.
Consequences for India and the world
India and Pakistan are two of the largest current contributors to UN peacekeeping operations, with India being historically the largest, contributing 180,000 soldiers since its inception. As of August 2014, India had 8,108 personnel serving on the force, behind only Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are fiscal reasons for India’s contribution: UN peacekeepers receive compensation of $1,332 per month, but their countries decide their wages, and so the surplus is taken to line the treasury or augment military budgets. Soldiers can also be taken off the government’s payroll while serving in the UN, which allows India to keep almost 10,000 troops standing with no cost incurred. India also gets the additional benefits of its troops being trained in ways that local assignments would not afford them, and they are exposed to conflict-management strategies that can be applied back home.
More importantly at the global scale, however, India secures significant diplomatic perks as a direct result of its UNPKF contributions. In India’s mushrooming quest to become a global superpower, peacekeeping efforts boost its international image; sending troops to fight the good war lends the luster of samaritan-rescue involvement and a sense of macro-responsibility to a country that largely stays out of dominant international discourse on conflicts and interventions. To be sure, it’s a subtle advantage established only after decades of proven commitment, but in international affairs perception is half the game.
Building on this perception of credibility and clout, peacekeeping missions have served as conduits for New Delhi to establish economic and diplomatic ties with developing African nations. “This seems particularly important to India,” wrote defense analyst David Axe in The Diplomat, “at least as far as Congo is concerned.” Congo has an abundance of mineral resources, a large proportion of which are traded with China for infrastructural investment, and then refined and sold by the Chinese to other nations. The presence of Indian troops from 2003 in Congo helped New Delhi break into its mineral market and by 2008, says Axe: “Kinshasa and New Delhi were discussing greatly strengthened economic ties. In January of that year, Congo agreed to partner with India in the mining of copper, cobalt and industrial diamonds.” The then-Congolese foreign minister acknowledged the catalyst for the partnership when he praised Indian peacekeeping forces at an economic meet, saying that they had “not only engaged in peacekeeping but also carried out significant humanitarian work for the Congolese.”
If the importance of national-patchwork UNPKF troops were reduced in favor of PMCs, India would stand to lose all or most of these strategic advantages, a loss that would not be offset by revenue from taxing PMCs, as none exist in India.
The wider use of PMCs as peacekeeping forces would prove detrimental not only for independent nations that don’t have any, but also for the international system at large. It will, without a doubt, damage the hard-won multilateralism of the present international system, accepted and practiced mostly because countries need co-operation on resources to accomplish large-scale objectives, be they humanitarian or military. Economic support is solicited to fund armies and coalitions are formed to fight enemies – there is perhaps no major modern conflict that does not use a coalition force – and all of this betters alliances and state-to-state relations on a wide range of topics, primarily economic. PMCs will rob states of this opportunity entirely, and an increased reliance on themselves and the private sector will isolate nations from globalized processes.
Unless explicitly and legally made humanitarian tools to the exclusion of all else, with clear and strict guidelines of what constitutes a humanitarian action, PMCs will continue to be used as aggressive forces under interventionist pretexts. Multilateralism will also not be able to act as a check on violence; as PMCs make it easier to engage enemies, aggression around the world will increase. Security foresight and prognosis – especially for smaller, evenly matched states – will be nearly impossible, because PMCs are wildcards that can be contracted by any side, and so keep the balance of power in an unprecedented state of flux.
There is also the danger that PMCs will become instruments of neo-colonialism. Most major PMCs are concentrated in and contracted by the western world, mainly the US and the UK, affording them even greater power to interfere in the affairs of less developed countries with impunity. This is just one of the many ethical issues that the use of PMCs creates; however, market forces have created PMCs and for better or for worse, there is no stuffing this genie back in the bottle. Private military contractors are not going anywhere. It’s now up to the international community to regulate them so the consequences of their use are less sinister and more controllable.
Author: TANYA ROHATGI
How To Become a Private Military Contractor
I have been contracting since 2005. I have worked for multiple companies over the years. I see all kinds of posts on this page regarding jobs…. the who, what, when, and where. So I am going to give you some advice.
First of all, you are not going to get a job by writing comments on social media. Period…end of story! You have to get off your ass and apply apply apply. In 2004 as a soldier, I wrote down every company name I came across while deployed. After I got home I immediately applied to all of them. I mean all of them. Over 40 companies got an application from the ole Edmiester. It took time and persistence. You are not going to land a job and deploy the next day. Those days are long gone unless you have the background and connections. If this is your first time trying to get on the contract you are not “in-the-know”. It is going to take you 6 months to a year to complete the process.
Look at the job description and include lines from it on your resume. Some companies have programs to search out keywords or phrases. This could mean the difference between an actual person looking at your resume or a program filing it in the bin.
If you do not have a resume filled out and ready to go you need to stop what you are doing and get it done. Nobody wants to hear from you if you don’t even have step one accomplished. Have all your DD214’s and verifiable documentation on hand. Not….oh let me find it or let me write my old unit and try and get it etc…. You are applying for a professional job. Act like a professional!
Read the damn requirements for the position you want to apply for. They are there for a reason. When you apply for a job you are not qualified for you to waste a recruiters time. They can get thousands of applications a day. They do not want to waste time on guys that don’t meet the “MINIMUM” requirements. It might just a black ball you from applying for a different job later on.
Keep track of every email and communication between you and the recruiter. They are going to lose half your shit. So plan ahead and be organized. Stay in constant communication with your recruiter. Email him at least every week and get an update on your application. If he asks for documents get them to him immediately.
Be prepared to spend money on medical exams etc. Some companies need medical forms from doctors. Some pay for it some do not. Plan ahead and set some money aside to do this if required.
Be ready to go to a training course at a moments notice. This might happen rather quickly or it might take 6 months to a year. Plan ahead and save some money. Have a valid drivers license and a “CLEAN RECORD”. Why is this so damn difficult?
Do not apply for a DOD or DOS contract if you have a DUI or a felony. This is going to get you denied. If you fucked up early in life now is when you kick yourself in the ass. If you are not a US citizen stop trying to get DOD and DOS jobs. You do not meet the requirements. You have to have a secret clearance for almost every one of these jobs be a DOS secret or DOD secret. I am sorry my foreign brothers but they cannot allow people to do close protection work for diplomats without a clearance.
If you are a foreign brother looking for contracts get your SIA license. Put out some money and enroll in a course. Seems every job out there requires this these days. Get ahead of other applicants and get the certificate. It will move you to the front of the line.
If you are on the border between meeting requirements and not meeting the requirements spend some money and take some close protection courses. You are not going to gain experience sitting at home writing comments on social media. Get off your ass and DO SOMETHING!
If you cannot gain experience from working then gain experience training. Many of the courses will help you with employment afterward. Stop asking for leads when you have done nothing to find leads yourself. You are a nobody in the land of social media. Nobody is going to miracle a job to you. You have to get hungry and go find it. You have to grab it by the balls and make it happen.
For US citizens here are a list of companies to check out:
- Triple Canopy
- Aegis/Garda World
Create a LinkedIn account and in the search block type in: Triple Canopy recruiter, Garda recruiter and so on! Magically they will appear. Send them an invite or a message. The rest is on you!
- Triple Canopy- dropped pay and needs lots of guys
- SOC- currently pretty solid with their numbers (needs SL’s)
- IDS- dropped pay and needs guys
- Garda- new hire pay dropped but will increase after 1 year BOG. Need guys.
Hope all of this helps and keeps a few of you from embarrassing yourselves! Remember this, guys… everyone from Shift Leaders to recruiters read these posts on these pages. Contracting is a very small world and your reputation will follow you around!
This post was written by Eddie Mullins, an experienced security professional with a lot of real-life experience on those jobs.
Road rules for gunslingers: How military contractors use their vehicles to fight
The Chevy Tahoe leaves a white, chalky trail of dust as it careens towards Shoot House 2. There are four heavily armed men wearing body armor seated inside the SUV, wielding automatic rifles, 9mm pistols, and a shotgun. These weapons are loaded – and not with blanks.
The driver directs the vehicle off the dirt road and skids to a halt in front of the building. Even before the doors open, the tactics that will decide the gunfight ahead are already being implemented. The driver parks the vehicle with the rear facing the targeted building, so the team inside can dismount facing the door they mean to breach. This position also protects the driver in case the team loses the element of surprise and needs to retreat in a hurry.
Three men pop out of the Tahoe, each wearing body armor, and helmets. The rear opens and the last members of the team leap out: a dog handler and security canine on a leash. The men knock down the door and loose the dog to latch onto a man inside wearing a padded suit. The team sweeps the building, storming each room quickly. The pistols cough, and paper targets sport fresh holes. The concrete mix used to construct the walls of the building absorbs bullets. The operators flow from room to room while covering each other’s blind spots, popping off shots in a controlled dance of fire and maneuver.
A mix of auto journalists and company staff observe the exercise from a catwalk above the roofless, one story building. Chevy brought us here to reinforce the link between its SUVs and toughest clients: military operators who use the rigs on overseas missions.
Although a small percentage of total Tahoe sales go to these customers, the luster of Special Operations can help sell vehicles to domestic law enforcement, who need proven vehicles. The general public is also not immune to military chic: Some tinted windows, black steel wheels and footage of live-fire demonstrations should also help sales.
It’s also a rare opportunity to discuss the relationship between special operations troops and the automobiles they use in combat. This is the place where advice isn’t based on a movie or video game.
The range and the talent are courtesy of TigerSwan International, a security firm that trains police, US military and civilians on tactical gunfighting. Part of the training they do here centers on smooth exits from vehicles to get to gunfights, as well as times they must shoot from moving cars and trucks. “What people get here is real-life experience, to see what is fact versus fiction,” says Jim Reese, co-founder of TigerSwan. “Most of what they think they know is total B.S.”
Reese is a retired Delta Force operator. He founded TigerSwan in 2005 to “provide business intelligence, crisis management and global stability services to governments and businesses.” The firm recently made headlines when documents leaked that identified them as part of the security brought in to guard the Dakota Access Pipeline against protesters. They perform risk analysis, protect company executives, and help design secure facilities in risky places.
Supporters call them contractors. Detractors call them mercenaries. Both sides agree: the firm is staffed with shooters with experience on elite military teams. The gunmen at this event are all former members of Delta Force, an elite unit formed to conduct counterterrorism missions.
Chevy hired TigerSwan to host this demo on its sprawling training range, located 17 miles from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The Range Complex, as the company calls it, is spread over 1,900 acres, plenty of room for the intensive combat exercises conducted here. The practice spaces encompass just 100 acres; the rest of the area is needed to make sure that errant bullets land harmlessly, outside of what’s called the Surface Danger Zone.
“Your vehicle can be the most lethal weapon on the battlefield, if it’s used the right way.”
Not many Hollywood myths survive for very long when discussing the best uses of vehicles in shootouts with professionals. For example, ducking behind a car for cover during a gunfight is a bad idea. “Most vehicles don’t make good pieces of cover,” Reese says. “Bullets go right through.”
He is in a good position to know: As an operator with Delta, which they call “The Unit,” Reese once caught a bullet in the wrist while driving his commander through Baghdad.
Training is another word for experience. It’s not a good idea to try something for the first time when lives are at stake. For example, training here includes the best way to drive a car away from a roadside ambush by gunmen. The first priority is to get away, to nullify the advantage the attackers gained by choosing the location. And that usually means driving forward. To do this safely means shooting out of the car’s windshield, to hit or scare the gunmen outside.
This is easier than it sounds. The ideal way to shoot out a front windshield is to make a hole with a few quick rounds, and then poke the barrel of the firearm through the hole to shoot back in earnest. But how many shots will it take to make that hole? Is the glass tempered? What’s the best body position inside a car to fire accurately?
Like anything, being a badass car gunman requires training so that your body acts without hesitation. “Practice, practice, practice,” Reese says. “Your vehicle can be the most lethal weapon on the battlefield, if it’s used the right way.”
Another lesson from the special ops world: Those behind the wheel don’t shoot. “The driver is the driver,” Reese sums up. They are responsible for watching everything ahead of the vehicle, scanning for upcoming threats and leery of any chokepoints. Others in the vehicle have their own sectors, areas they constantly watch for trouble. They call this “putting your head on a swivel.”
The hired guns of TigerSwan have been deployed across the world and have been subjected to nearly every threat to a vehicle you can imagine: roadside bombs, gunmen posted under overpasses, suicide bombers, motorcycle drive-bys. “They usually don’t even slow down,” says Rick, an operator with extensive experience in cartel-infested parts of South America, of motorcycle gunmen there. (Former operators ask that only their first names be used.)
Despite all of Chevy’s happy talk of delivering battle-ready SUVs, the first thing Delta Force does is tailor the vehicle for the conditions on the ground. That could mean using “bolt on” kits, supplied by third-party vendors. These vendors sometimes work with vehicle makers to ensure their solutions, like extra armor or weapons stations, will be easy to install.
Other enhancements are improvised on the spot. Two popular SUV mods in war zones emerge during separate conversations. One is cutting a hole in the roof to create a firing position. Rick says he first saw this in Beruit, where gunners wanted views above the tops of other vehicles. Others add that this became common in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. Delta operators even figured out a way to mount a heavy .50-caliber machine gun on top of the vehicle. Another popular modification: putting a seat in the rear, facing directly behind the SUV. This takes care of one of the few blind spots.
Eddie is a 23-year Army veteran with 17 years of service in Delta, and a recipient of two Bronze Stars and multiple Purple Hearts. He says any vehicle they receive in the field gets modified immediately. “We’ll do the tires, brakes, lights, everything,” he says. “In Afghanistan, we once replaced an SUV engine, and put in a diesel. Easier to get fuel.”
Special Operations troops such as Delta, the Navy SEALs, and the Air Force Special Tactics Squadron, are known for their specialized vehicles. But oftentimes it makes more sense to blend in, and that means using indigenous vehicles to get around. In some parts of the world that means pickup trucks, but in others the black SUV is common. “In Iraq, at first, these would stick out,” says Antek, who has 15 years of Delta experience. “But after a while they were common.”
After the sun sets, a handful of Z71 Midnight Edition Tahoes arrive. They’re marketed to look mean: a black mesh grill, dark painted DuraTrac tires and black bowties. The cross rails have an odd strip across the top, faintly glowing red. This is a reflector that glows like hot metal under night vision goggles, which amplifies what little light exists.
The TigerSwan operators load into Tahoe Z71s and drive into the night on a “ghost ride,” headlights extinguished and wearing night-vision headsets. In the lenses, the lightless dirt road is bathed in a green hue. Every insect becomes a brilliantly lit orb. Antek drives quickly but in control, gently drifting across turns and weaving in between heavy equipment and farm buildings.
He’s shot from moving vehicles before, at targets who shoot back. He has practical advice: Try not to do it unless you have a heavy machine gun mounted on the vehicle. “You won’t hit anything with a rifle or pistol, if you’ve got any speed,” he says.
The ghost ride, shoot house, and time on the gun ranges at the event are not very instructive when it comes to the merits of Chevy’s SUVs for this kind of work. They are popular, sold worldwide and common in US and foreign police units. But the real lesson is in the relationship between elite warriors and the mounts they ride.
“Of course we pay close attention to the vehicles we ride in,” Antek says. “They can save your life when you need them.”
This article originally appeared at Auto Blog. The author of the article is Joe Poppalardo.
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