Essay: Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)

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  • Subject area(s): Politics essays
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  • Published on: January 22, 2019
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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.

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