Essay: Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)

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  • Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)
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Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) are, as the name suggests, private companies who provide armed combat and security. The armed combatants working in PMSCs are referred to as Private Military Contractors. The idea of a PMSC is not a recent one. They have existed as long as armed battle has existed, the most reliable sources dating back to the 1600’s. Modern PMC’s, however, find their origins in 1965, when a group of British Special Air Service (SAS) veterans, under the leadership of Sir David Stirling, the founder of the SAS and John Woodhouse, a British Army officer credited with helping to reform the SAS, formed a private company who could be contracted for security and military purposes. This organisation was called WatchGuard International.

Following the Cold War PMSCs dramatically grew in size and number. Today, they are widely used in several countries and conflict zones, most extensively by the United States, for assistance in their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rise of these companies was caused by the inability of weak African governments to handle internal conflict.

Simply put, PMSCs provide military support, intelligence, security and logistical assistance to any client (Usually countries and governments) in exchange for money. This assistance is usually in the form of military or police force (Essentially a small militia) used to fight alongside, or train armed forces, provision of bodyguards for key staff members or to secure company premises(usually in hostile areas) or the collection, analysis and exploitation of data via Open Source Intelligence. Organisations who provide intelligence to clients are technically classified as Private Intelligence Agencies (PIAs), however some PMSCs double as PIAs [AEGIS, Pinkerton National]

By far the most pertinent and dangerous aspect of this issue is that, by virtue of being Private organisations, the allegiance of PMSCs does not lie with any nation. They could be contracted by virtually anyone willing to pay the fee, essentially providing military support to the highest bidder. It is important to note that, although PMSCs provide their services to whoever pays the largest amount, they are not permitted to then change allegiances if another client offers a higher amount, due to the contract signed between the initial client and the PMSC.Regardless of the ethics of their contract, one must remember that the primary motive of any Private Organisation is to turn a profit. However, unlike other private companies, the clientele of a PMSC could have huge ramifications as one can be contracted by anyone. As stated earlier, these clients are not necessarily governments.PMSCs can and have been hired by private organisations(so far only PSCs and PIAs) and NGOs in hostile regions(These NGOs have used PMSCs, that is security, intelligence and armed forces)The hypotheticals of the situation, of course, are extremely alarming as PMSCs allow anyone to contract a militia.

The United Nations General Assembly considers PMCs to be mercenaries and prohibits them as seen in the United Nations Mercenary Convention. So far this convention has been ratified by 35 nations, however none of the Permanent members of the Security Council (P5 nations) are signatories to said convention and the United States has rejected the classification of PMSCs as mercenaries.

One should note that the general use of PMSCs is not necessarily unethical and has several advantages. However, the lack of their proper regulation and their unaccountability for violations of international law can and has lead to unethical conduct and unlawful combat. It is now the responsibility of this committee to find a viable method of controlling and regulating the use of PMSCs, in order to curb wars that have continued for years due to the continuous deployment of PMCs, prevent unlawful combat in war zones, reduce the risk of any further warfare and above all, protect human rights.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: 1

Definitions of Key Terms : 3

Mercenary: 4

Private Military Companies: 4

Private Security Companies: 4

Private Logistical Companies : 4

History: 4

Advantages of PMSCs: 5

Disadvantages: 6

Legal Status of PMCs: 7

Customary International Law: 7

Previous Treaties: 7

Definitions of Key Terms :


Mercenaries are individual combatants, fighting in foreign or local conflicts for personal gain. They are known mainly for their use against liberation movements in early post-colonial Africa. They are hired mainly for their apparent military supremacy, as a single mercenary force can theoretically pose a great threat to a newly independent nation.

Private Military Companies:

Private Military Companies are corporate entities providing military services to clients. These clients are usually governments using military force in conflicts. Eg. Aegis Defence Services- British, MPRI – American

Private Security Companies:

Private Security Companies, like PMCs, are corporate entities who provide military services. Unlike PMCs however, they only provide defensive services to individuals and property. They are mainly used by multinational companies in the mining and resource sector. PSCs are separate from PMCs, in that they are unarmed and do not have a military impact on a particular area, however, this distinction does not always hold true as sometimes PSCs are involved in PMC related activities​.

Private Logistical Companies :

These companies unlike PMCs and PSCs do not provide defence services, but perform combat support functions like intelligence gathering and provide logistical support and certain required supplies.


The first PMSCs rose to prominence during the African revolution in the 1960s, when Sir David Stirling and John Woodhouse formed WatchGuard International, the first major PMSC of modern times.

This, then paved the way for numerous other PMSCs in the future, such as US-based AirScan in 1984, Blackwater in 1997, and UK-based Aegis Defence Service in 2002. Currently, PMSCs are active in numerous conflict regions, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan; however PMSCs have had the greatest involvement in Iraq. After the 9/11 attacks on US and the Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Operation Iraqi freedom was initiated in 2003 by the US to support and guide Iraq through its loss of government and authority. In this operation, countries hired major PMSCs including Blackwater, Aegis and numerous others to help control the situation in Iraq, and the PMSCs proved to be an extremely successful and cost efficient way for the countries to provide support to Iraq, without having to be directly involved. These PMSCs subsequently changed the face of security and war, and the private military industry boomed.

Soon, however, problems started arising within Iraq itself, regarding gross human rights violations including murder, sexual harassment, rape, enslavery, kidnapping and more, conducted by PMSCs such as Blackwater, and furthermore, there were claims of illegal extraction of resources by the private companies. The rising claims and complaints against the PMSCs in Iraq reached its pinnacle on 16th September, 2007, when employees of Blackwater killed 17 innocent civilians and wounded 20 others, including women and children in Baghdad, which wo
uld later be known as the Nissour incident. The lack of justice brought to PMSCs for these human rights violations caused an uproar across the world, and called for the signing of the Montreux Document in 2008, which would be the first document that attempted to define how international law applies to PMSCs, when operating in conflict regions around the world.

The question of the role of PMSCs in the world today is somewhat controversial. On the one hand, countries such as US claim that PMSCs are extremely beneficial in terms of peacekeeping within conflict regions; whereas on the other hand there are countries such as Russia and China that see the freedom given​ and lack of legislations restricting PMSCs as a major threat, and condemn the human rights violations conducted by the troop.

Advantages of using PMSCs:

Speed of deployment – the ability to quickly mobilize and deploy large numbers of personnel is particularly important when a plan fails to anticipate problems. The combination of speed and a low political profile make contractors an attractive choice to provide resources for which the administration had failed to plan.

Continuity – the military personnel of a country can be stationed at a particular region for not more than 6 to 12 months and they need to be rotated. On the other hand, contractors are ready to stay for a longer time. Companies offer a significant bonuses​ to the personnel who stay for a long time. Longevity will help the stationed personnel understand the gravity of the situation and will lead to better, quick and effective decision making.

Reduced troop requirements – Military contractors help reduce troop requirements by replacing military personnel. This reduces the amount of military and political resources needed by a country for war.

Reduced military casualties – Contractor deaths weren’t recorded as military deaths. This would not affect support to the army without showing the true death toll in a particular operation. During the US surge in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, 53% of the total deaths were those of contractors.

Cost Savings – They save the amount of capital required by the government to start and handle a particular operation.

Better decision making – most of the PMSCs are lead by former military leaders. The continued stay of the personnel and the experience of the military leaders will help in understanding the political situation and thus help in making quick and effective decisions.


Regulation of contractors – Although contractors serve the countries who pay for their services, there is a change of them going rogue and not following orders of the respective nations.

Loyalty – the biggest problem with PMSCs is that their loyalty cannot be ascertained. PMSCs serve those nations who pay them more since they are driven by monetary motive.

Legal vacuum – PMSCs exist in a legal vacuum. There are no laws present and enforceable regarding PMSCs. Thus there is great risk in employing such companies.

Labor Laws – PMSCs get around the labor laws prevalent in different countries by paying low salaries to their employees from underdeveloped countries and denying them health care benefits.

Accountability barrier -The corporate nature of PMSCs acts as a barrier to their accountability for any possible breach of international law. No international court has jurisdiction over them. There are certain law instruments due to which these organisations are held responsible to some degree of legal status, however, this is not enough to ensure safe conduct and can be greatly improved.

Legality of PMCs:

Customary International Law:

Under this premise, nations have a duty to prohibit the initiation of hostile expeditions by persons within their territory against other nations

States have a duty to protect the rights of other states within their dominion: they are required to use due diligence to prevent the commission of criminal acts against other states or people

According to Article 4 of the Hague Conventions of 1907 on the ‘Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in War on Land’, “corps of combattants cannot be formed nor recruiting agencies opened on the territory of a neutral power against the belligerents.

According to article 6, if persons cross the border to offer services to belligerents, the Neutral power is absolved of responsibility.

Article 17 suggests that the provision could be applicable to mercenaries. This doesn’t mean that the act of mercenarism is illegal. The illegal act is, in fact violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a state. Of course, as a mercenary, one, would most likely end up violating said laws. Therefore international law on mercenaries is closely linked to the concepts of aggression and the principles of non-interference.

States have been extremely negligent in enforcing the international and regional regimes against individual mercenaries. Furthermore, PMCs in over 50 states,

Relevant Treaties:

International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries/ United Nations Mercenary Convention – it is a treaty which aims to control and regulate the activities of mercenaries. The United Nations Mercenary Convention was included as resolution 44/34 of the UNGA. It came into existence in October 2001. It hasn’t been ratified by major nations which includes Japan, India, France, United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom. The biggest problem with this convention is the inability to come to a conclusion on a clear definition of mercenaries because of the contradictory views of different countries.

Montreux Document – It is the most recent attempt to solve the issue regarding regulation of PMSCs in 2008. It was endorsed and supported by 17 countries along with input from civil society organisations. Although it was a better attempt than all previous treaties, it was non-binding, thus parties had no obligation to follow the set of guiding principles it had laid out.

Relevant Countries and Organisations:

United States of America:

The USA is the largest consumer of PMSCs in the world. In the USA, about 20 federal bodies review the working and activities of such private military contractors and they are subject to a complex set of laws. Many of the rules set by the US are recent and respond to the concerns set by the use of such companies by the government in their military operations especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due to multiple terrorist attacks, the use has produced numerous private military companies, such as Academi, Triple Canopy.

2. United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has a large number of PMSCs functioning within the country and beyond its territorial limits. The Minister of Defence and Commonwealth Office have depended on such private contractors for logistics support, military personnel and weaponry. The UK has made tremendous efforts to regulate PMSCs themselves.

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