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Role of private security companies

Exploring the evidence

We looked at Sierra Leone’s civil war, which began in 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front invaded the country from neighbouring Liberia.

Our analysis shows that at no time during the conflict were rival private military and security companies operating simultaneously in the country. For example, the Gurkha Security Guards was contracted in early 1994. But it quickly exited when rebels ambushed and killed their leader. After the company had left, Executive Outcomes was contracted to thwart the Revolutionary United Front threat. In the data, presence in the same year is inaccurately treated as competition.

We also found that when multiple groups were contracted simultaneously, their repertoire of services didn’t overlap. In other words, they weren’t competing with one another because their services were complementary. From our perspective this increased their ability to execute their mission effectively.

For instance, Executive Outcomes owned and operated a number of subsidiaries, including groups like LifeGuard Management and Ibis Air. It used these groups to carry out specialised services such as mine security and air transport. These were pivotal in providing Executive Outcomes the best opportunity to regain territory from the Revolutionary United Front while training the Sierra Leone military.

But the simultaneous presence of each of the companies is not indicative of competition.

We also found that although hiring the companies shifted the balance of power in the government’s favour by 1996, the conflict wouldn’t end completely until 2002.

Our qualitative assessment highlighted that, instead of the companies helping to bring the conflict to an end, the same data could actually indicate that they simply managed its intensity.

This analysis underscores the need to really come to grips with the concept of effectiveness of private military and security companies. It also suggests that more work needs to be done on uncovering insights on contract terms and conditions, however aspirational a task.

Conclusions

We are not suggesting that private military and security companies should be avoided. They have proven to be useful alternatives for organisations such as the UN and the World Food Programme. Rather, our analysis points to the need to fully understand the intricacies of their interactions – not only with the entities that contract them, but with one another.

This is particularly important in Africa. Foreign investment by both Russia and China is likely to see an increase in private military and security companies hired to protect their investments.

This might increase security in the region. But depending on the terms of the contracts and the clients these organisations are accountable to, it may not be in the best interests of the states where they operate.

In addition, a more complete understanding of the roles undertaken by private military and security companies during conflict is necessary to fully understand their effects on conflict dynamics, including duration.

Recent work has moved in this direction with event datasets like the Private Security Event Database. This provides information on where these companies operate, their clients and the services they provide. Though real time information on contracts and events is likely to prove difficult to get, using historical datasets like this can increase our understanding of their influence.

For governments, the expanding list of services in an increasingly globalised market allows for greater opportunity to fill real or perceived gaps in security. In certain cases, private military and security companies may be used to insulate a regime from collapse.

Regardless of the reasons, the interactions between the companies and the influence they have on conflict and stability will continue to be important.

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Jonathan Powell is Associate professor, University of Central Florida, Christopher Michael Faulkner is visiting Assistant Professor in International Studies; 2018-2019 Minerva-USIP Peace and Security Scholar, Centre College, and Joshua Lambert is Ph.D Candidate in Security Studies, University of Central Florida.

Source: The Conversation

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