It seems that the private military industry has become a prime target of negative media reporting and that many so-called “specialist journalists” have taken to writing (mainly negatively) about the PMCs that litter the industry.
Whereas one can certainly question the motives and agendas of these “specialists”, it is equally true that a lot of the negative reporting can be placed before the doors of the PMCs themselves. One reads of drunken parties, drug taking, wild shootings, ill discipline and more – can one then really blame the media for reporting on this type of hooliganism masquerading as professionals? I don’t think so.
Added to this is a complete inability of some of these PMCs to deliver the service they were contracted to deliver. However, when I refer to PMCs, I refer to professional, competent and experienced private military companies and not the host of “wannabes”, con-artists and clowns trying to masquerade as PMCs. But fortunately many of these “wannabes” are exposing themselves as nothing other than incompetent buffoons – and this includes some of the “big name” companies. Indeed, it seems as though many in the PowerPoint Brigade believe in the adage “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull...”.
PMCs that act professionally and are more than just “briefcase” or “PowerPoint” companies can play a very important role in assisting governments engaged in conflicts. Furthermore, these PMCs can provide much needed protection and support to real humanitarian groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). In both Angola and Sierra Leone, EO helped the WFP get much needed supplies through to the locals although they were not willing to admit to that. When such organisations the lack moral fibre to admit that they received assistance from a private company that is something they have to live with.
The local population are the true victims of all of the conflicts we are witnessing today. Whether they are victims of excessive criminal activity, rebel actions or government retaliation against the rebels, or even the impotence of so-called peacekeepers, the fact is that much desperately needed aid is denied to them.
The role of the private sector in armed conflict is nothing new. Private contractors have been engaged in numerous wars in a variety of roles. Indeed, if one looks at the human agent, he/she is nothing other than a private contractor working for a government intelligence agency.
It is a fact of life that PMCs are here to stay. Instead of the constant barrage of articles aimed at vilifying PMCs, thought should rather be given to how PMCs can and ought to be used and what positive role they can play in resolving conflicts and in support of humanitarian operations.
The following are just some examples of the roles PMCs can play:
• In some instances, they can end conflicts faster and cheaper than some standing armies
• Establish a foundation for peacekeeping operations
• Project influence of the host government
• Act as an advance party to other forces
• Assist with insider knowledge of a country
• Project and ensure stability
• Safeguard foreign investments/assets in a conflict zone
• Provide protection to humanitarian groups
• Provide protection to the locals caught up in the conflict
• Provide support to the armed forces on and off the battlefield
• Assist governments with strategy and doctrine development
• Provide training in specialist fields
• Advice on tactics and deployments
• Intelligence gathering operations in high-risk areas
• Deniable operations
• Counter Terrorist operations
• Counter Piracy operations
• Countering crime and narco-terrorism
• Reconnaissance of targets
• Logistical support
• Medical support
• Protection of national key points and so forth.
I am not in any way advocating that PMCs even try to take over the role of the Armed Forces. But, given the loss of experienced manpower that leave the military, the armed forces can find a ready pool of trained soldiers to assist and support them without maintaining a large standing force at massive cost to the taxpayers. But then, the taxpayers will expect the PMCs to act in a disciplined and professional manner and in no way bring embarrassment to their government.
There have been numerous arguments for and against this approach but when governments find themselves under siege and their calls for assistance fall on deaf ears, a dedicated and professional PMC can make the different between the survival of the government or its collapse.