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Private companies that provide military services worldwide are flourishing, especially
in Africa. Widespread conflict means that firms prepared to provide explosives
disposal, robust security for resource extraction operations and even protection for
humanitarian NGO operations are finding lucrative contracts. The same conflicts may
also provide opportunities for companies prepared to do combat operations on behalf
of states, international or regional organizations. However, widespread international
bias against those companies means that their potential for peacekeeping, peace
enforcement and humanitarian rescue could very well remain tragically untapped.
This bias stems from a number of factors, including their perception as “mercenaries”,
the concern that they threaten the traditional authority of the state, and the ideological
belief that they are a key factor in the worldwide growth of multinational
corporations. Ironically, not using legitimate private firms will probably lead to a
resurgence of uncontrollable individual freelance mercenaries who will flock to
satisfy the profitable demand for military expertise, but who have far less regard for
the legitimacy of their clients.
In terms of organized private companies, this article will differentiate between Private
Security Companies (PSCs) and Private Military Companies (PMCs). Both PSCs and
PMCs provide military services and generally operate in regions or countries
experiencing armed conflict. While the definitions are still very much debated, for
the purposes of this article “PSC” will refer to companies that provide passive
security in high-risk conflict environments – predominately to private companies.
“PMC” will refer to companies that provide more active services such as military
training or offensive combat operations, generally to individual states or international
organizations such as the United Nations (UN). There is obviously some blurring
between the two terms, and a number of companies offer services that fit into both
categories, but it is helpful to think of PSCs as passive defensive/protective
companies with private clients and PMCs as more active military companies that cater
to state contracts.