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Private military and security companies: A call for better regulation

This year the anti-corruption organization Transparency International will be attending the Munich Security Conference to call for better regulation of private military and security companies (PMSCs) in the context of military conflicts.

In a study published today, Transparency Germany demanded that the awarding of contracts to PMSCs and the imposition of international quality standards be made more transparent. What were until recently regarded as responsibilities of the government are now being delegated to private service providers. With this shift it is becoming increasingly difficult to attribute responsibility. A lack of transparency creates opportunities for corruption—the more so because most military interventions now occur in countries where corruption is rampant.

For this reason, it is necessary to define the government’s core military responsibilities and to stop the outsourcing of those responsibilities to private companies. In addition, appropriate registration and licensing systems must be established to ensure that contracts with private actors are fulfilled in a professional manner and in accordance with international law.

Given that companies involved in international affairs are not subject to international law, the governments of countries that participate in military interventions are required by certain agreements to ensure that PMSCs comply with international humanitarian law. Countries must not be allowed to shirk these obligations by hiring private service providers.

Private Actors Are the Rule in Theaters of Operations

In the realm of national and international security, the use of PMSCs has been increasing significantly. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, a combined total of more than 250,000 employees of such companies have been deployed. The total value of the private security industry worldwide has been estimated to be as much as $200 billion US.

To this day, countries continue to claim that core military responsibilities are not outsourced to PMSCs. However, in most cases, there is no official definition of what constitutes “core military responsibilities”—hence, many of the contracts awarded to PMSCs are only vaguely defined. It is in this “grey area” where Transparency Germany sees a need for action. Employees of private companies are increasingly assuming responsibilities that may involve their direct participation in combat operations.

In Germany, there has been a recent change in the way the term “core military responsibilities” is interpreted in practice, that is, in theaters of operations in international military interventions. In 2004 and 2005, the Bundeswehr had as a matter of principle rejected the possibility of outsourcing its responsibilities in the areas of protection, repair, maintenance, and logistics. But, by the time Germany had become involved in the war in Afghanistan, the German government was outsourcing these responsibilities routinely. According to Peter Conze, a member of the board of Transparency Germany, “This is where clarification is needed—the German government must define clearly who may be commissioned to do what.”

Considerable Responsibility, Few Rules

In 2007, the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq by Blackwater, a private American military contractor, attracted widespread media attention. The incident itself, as well as its aftermath, revealed the risks involved when governments, international organizations, and private clients hire the services of a PMSC. At the time of the incident, demands were made for the comprehensive regulation of such practices. Since then, however, little progress has actually been made on this front.

The deployment of PMSCs has become a staple of military operations, and many countries and international operations are likely to rely on the expertise of these companies in the foreseeable future. Consequently, better regulation is needed. According to Conze, “Governments should introduce rules that are binding on international actors, to ensure appropriate selection and monitoring of military and security companies and effective sanctioning of violations, among other things.”

Governments and international organizations that hire PMSCs are thus being called upon to introduce quality standards and implement transparent tendering processes. Whether the clients are governments or international organizations, they bear a responsibility to uphold the integrity of national and international criminal justice systems and to ensure that violations by PMSCs or their employees are punished in accordance with the law of the respective countries in which such companies are based.

In addition, national registration and licensing systems are needed that will provide clear and transparent standards with regard to security screening and training of PMSC personnel.

Background Information

This year, Transparency International will be attending the Munich Security Conference for the third time. Beginning with a panel discussion to be held on February 13, 2016, a series of lectures and workshops will take place that focus specifically on PMSCs. The presentation of a policy paper entitled “Capacity Gained—Accountability Lost? Establishing a Better Political and Regulatory Framework” is expected to encourage continued debate about the relationship between corruption and stability, a debate that Transparency International initiated with its study “Corruption as a Threat to Stability and Peace,” which was presented at the 2014 Conference.

Transparency Germany would like to thank the Robert Bosch Foundation for providing the funding that has made these studies possible.

POLICY PAPER on Private Military and Security Companies: “Capacity Gained—Accountability Lost? Establishing a Better Political and Regulatory Framework: ” (PDF, 209 kB)

For any press enquiries please contact

Peter Conze, Board Member
Dr. Anna-Maija Mertens, Managing Director
Transparency International Germany e. V.
Telephone: +49-(0)30-549898-0
E-mail: [email protected]