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Military Contractors, the New Peacekeepers of the 21st Century?

Over the last 20+ years, military and security functions, previously considered inherently state functions, have been contracted to private sectors. Increased involvement of these actors in conflicts signals a privatization of violence that has exponentially grown, becoming a distinct and increasingly relevant phenomenon in defense and security policy. Typically these contractors are ex-military who are lured by sizeable paychecks.

Although theoretically accountable under international and domestic laws, they are unregulated, unchecked, free from criminal and civil accountability, and are licensed to kill and get away with it. Political and institutional expediency affords them immunity and impunity to pretty much do as they please and be handsomely paid for it.

Over the years, with such an evolution of security, most governments agree to privatize conflicts. Military contractors can be used to help intervene in dangerous situations where countries are unwilling to provide troops and resources.

The deployment of military contractors in itself can serve as a deterrent to conflicts, and they increase the military resource of a country without the burden of recruitment or training them. Almost all of the world’s heavy conflict zones suffer from a catastrophic rupture, both in society and institutional framework, which cannot be fixed with cross border advice and zero security on the ground.

At the same time, private agencies are fuelled by monetary gains and thus may not have the best interests of their governments at heart thereby eliminating all accountability. This also exempts the governments from regulating and ensuring the quality of these agencies. The use of military contractors also undermines the democratic peace process and government accountability in using force and waging war. While these contractors may be helpful in resolving conflicts in the short-term, they are not viable solutions because they do nothing to actually solve the problem in the long-term, which is the key to any durable peace in the restoration of legitimacy. Reliance on a private firm means that an integral part of a nation’s strategic success is vulnerable to changes in market costs and incentives.

One of the most infamous cases of contractors running amuck is Blackwater. Blackwater contractors opened fire on a seemingly peaceful civilian crowd on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq, when a routine personal security drive was clearing way for US State Department officials for a high profile meeting, resulting in 17 casualties and 20 injuries. At the time Blackwater claimed an initial attack on the convoy, which led to this retaliation. However, investigations by at least three different agencies held that Blackwater was at fault. Blackwater license to operate in Iraq was revoked.

This and other incidents points to one question: are military contractors a necessary evil? Much of the answer lies in the governments employing the use of contractors. To avoid their use, governments have to be willing to pay and equip their own troops better.