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Join Transparency International Defence and Security online or in person at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Washington for an event on Checking the Rise of Shadow Armies.

We are convening a workshop to galvanise international support for anti-corruption standards for PMSCs.

The event will be chaired by Transparency International co-founder Peter Conze, with full joining details in the links below.

 

https://iaccseries.org/20th-iacc/plan-your-trip/registration/

Flyer – The Shadow Army Unchecked (2480 × 1748 px) (1748 × 2480 px)

Relevant Links

Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) are a growing presence globally. They act as ‘shadow armies’, operating without transparency and free from legal accountability for their actions in conflict zones around the world.

Since the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the industry has expanded from an estimated value of US$100 billion in 2003 to US$224 billion in 2020.

Such is the power PMSCs wield, there is an urgent need for United Nations members states to collectively commit to regulate, investigate and prosecute misconduct by these firms.

It is against this backdrop that Transparency International Defence and Security is bringing policymakers together at a hybrid event, open for registration now, to highlight this issue and catalyse change.

Many of the largest PMSCs were founded in the United States and Europe. But sophisticated PMSCs are increasingly being established in a variety of countries ranging from Australia to China, India to Israel, and Turkey to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Russian Wagner Group is operating in many African countries and the network’s grip on matters of national security is tightening.

PMSCs are not merely providing ‘bodies’ and direct combat services. They sell services such as intelligence, surveillance and cyber security. This expansion in services has elevated corruption and conflict risks in many countries with critically weak protection to guard against defence and security sector corruption.

Required response

In response to these trends, a United Nations Intergovernmental Working Group on PMSCs is debating an international framework to regulate their activities.

Currently the internationally supported but non-binding Montreux Document encourages countries to refrain from hiring PMSCs that have a record of engaging in bribery and corruption, among other crimes. While it is a step in the right direction, it lacks teeth.

Some countries, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand are also exploring new regulations and laws at national level.

These are positive moves. However, until international and national legislation is formally agreed upon, the kind of law-breaking carried out by PMSCs such as land grabs facilitated through corruption and violence against civilians,  documented in our latest research paper, will continue.

In Washington this month Transparency International Defence and Security will be convening a workshop to galvanise international support for anti-corruption standards for PMSCs. Chaired by Transparency International co-founder Peter Conze, the event is being held as part of the influential International Anti-Corruption Conference.

We will be making the case for the UN to establish:

  • Clear complaint mechanisms and standards to protect whistle blowers
  • A requirement of reporting on beneficial ownership of PMSCs and subcontracting by PMSCs
  • Increased transparency of contracts and enhanced reporting on exports of PMSC services to enable external oversight and accountability, including procurement and transfers of weapons and equipment in line with arms control requirements
  • Heightened oversight at the higher level of states institutions. For example, the State and Defense Department should establish accessible whistleblowing channels and regularly monitor their use, at a minimum

As the event is being held in Washington, we will also share a roadmap for progressing US legislation, highlighting the need for:

  • The definition of defence services to be expanded to include combat activities and potentially intelligence services, so that US companies and individuals must obtain US government authorisation (or a licence) to export such services
  • More detailed reporting to Congress on defence service exports, including listing the specific types of authorised defence service and associated dollar value for each country
  • Enhanced policy guidance for the State Department to assess the risks of corruption before approving a contract or license for PMSC services abroad

It’s time for PMSCs to be brought out of the shadows. Join us.

In response to the review of the UK’s aid investment in Afghanistan published this week by the UK Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“This review adds to the now sky-high pile of evidence that corruption was central to the tragic downfall of the country. Corruption within the security services was particularly damaging, undermining the cohesion and operational capacity of the army and police. Arms and equipment were stolen, and sold to the Taliban.

“Following the downfall of Kabul last year, Khalid Payenda, Afghanistan’s former finance minister, said that most Afghan troops on the payroll had in fact been ‘ghost’ soldiers, made up by corrupt officials who exploited the system for money. The operational capability of soldiers who did not actually exist had proven to be, unsurprisingly, limited.

“ICAI’s new report highlights that the UK provided over £400 million in aid over just six years to fund the Afghan security services, including paying the salaries of the Afghan National Police who acted primarily as a paramilitary force engaged in counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban. We will never know how much of this £400 million was stolen, how much indirectly funded the Taliban, or how much it contributed to the overestimation of the Afghan security forces’ operational capability which led to such devastating consequences for the Afghan government, its NATO partners, and the Afghan people. But anyone who cares about global peace and security must learn the lessons from Afghanistan.”

press@transparency.org.uk
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

In response to reports the United Kingdom’s new National Security Bill could offer ministers immunity from enabling torture abroad, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“If the UK wants to maintain its leadership role advocating for integrity in military institutions worldwide it must maintain the same stringent accountability standards in its operations abroad as at home. Cases of wrongdoing and malpractice must be investigated and prosecuted through formal processes, without undue political influence.”

In response to reports Sweden plans to bring forward a commitment to spending two per cent of its GDP on defence, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“As NATO countries increase their defence spending in response to the war in Ukraine, Transparency International is calling for equal commitment to strengthening oversight of defence procurement. While Transparency International’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) found corruption risk in Sweden’s defence sector to be only moderate, oversight of defence procurement remains limited and issues around industry influence remain unresolved. As Sweden prepares to join the NATO, these vulnerabilities must be addressed in order to build democratic resilience and safeguard both resources and lives.”

press@transparency.org.uk
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

By Dr Jelena Aparac, the UN’s Independent Expert on its Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries and Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International Defence and Security.

The Russian network Wagner, which has spawned shadowy mercenary groups operating in conflict zones around the word, has just opened its first headquarters in Saint Petersburg.

From the battlefields of Ukraine to the ongoing conflicts in South Sudan and the war in Yemen, private military security companies and their corporate partners are flourishing from conflict. Despite the deadly force they fuel, these firms remain subject to scant regulation and accountability.

Next week [December 1 – December 2], the United Nations will stage talks on the dangers posed by the Wagner network and other private military and security companies. Governments recognised and began talking about the need to better regulate the activities of non-state security outfits back in 2008. Well over a decade on, they’re still talking.

In that time, the industry has grown to be worth US$224 billion. That figure is expected to double by 2030. New groups are proliferating, seizing on opportunities to make money from conflict hotspots.

Russian contractors, subject this summer to gold smuggling investigations in Sudan. Wagner, perhaps the world’s most notorious network operating in this sector – often through elusive and locally-registered companies that use an alphabet soup of opaque brand names – has meanwhile been accused of murdering civilians in Central African Republic, in Libya, and more recently in Ukraine.

Latest research from Transparency International Defence and Security underscores the myriad threats that leaving this growing sector unregulated pose on a global level.

Contractors are expanding their sales of surveillance, armed security and military training to many countries around the world, often including nations that have critically weak protections against defence sector corruption.

This growing industry, while sometimes providing necessary or benign support to the keeping of security and safeguarding of rights, has the potential to infringe international law, and insufficient oversight and regulation risks personnel engaging in corrupt conduct or human rights abuses.

Recent reports point to firms perpetrating suspected war crimes in Mozambique. In Libya and Yemen, claims have been made that groups are engaging in cyber-attacks against political opponents, human rights activists, and journalists, and almost always linked to the exploitation of natural resources.

As firms seek to expand opportunities, they are increasingly taking on activities in new areas, such as security around border controls and for mining industries. These often require technical and logistical support, opening the door to bribes to politically connected sub-contractors.

This outsourcing of one of the primary responsibilities of the state, the provision of security, is worrying. And efforts to respond to the risks are falling flat.

Initiatives such as the publication of the Montreux Document, which outlines the theoretical and non-legally binding responsibilities of states, have proven out of step with the risks posed, largely due to the non-binding nature. Similarly, the industry’s Code of Conduct only encourages voluntary standards to be upheld by the companies it audits and certifies.

With the ever-accelerating rise of Wagner, the time to move from words to the establishment of robust international rules and regulation that provide transparency and accountability for victims around the globe has surely arrived.

In response to the UK withdrawing its entire force from Mali and France ending Operation Barkhane, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“The exit of British and French troops from Mali leaves a fresh vacuum for private military and security companies (PMSCs), in a country that has been devastated by a decade of violence. Transparency International’s Government Defence Integrity index indicates that oversight and regulation of these private actors is rare or non-existent within Mali. The United Nations, EU and regional organisations must urgently establish binding regulations governing PMSCs.”

press@transparency.org.uk
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

Responding to reports related to Wagner interference in the US mid-term elections, Transparency International Defence and Security Director Josie Stewart said:

“Russian private military security contractors (PMSCs) are critical to the geopolitical goals of the Kremlin. Beyond providing frontline force, logistical support and targeted surveillance, groups such as these from Russia and around the world are now expanding their services to cyber and disinformation warfare. The lack of a clear legal architecture provides a licence to PMSCs around the world to take further steps in this direction. As set out in our report Hidden Costs – US Private Military and Security Companies and the Risks of Corruption and Conflict, there is a pressing need to regulate, investigate and where necessary prosecute these private military and security companies, ensuring they are always held accountable for their actions.”

 

press@transparency.org.uk
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

 

Michael Ofori-Mensah, Head of Research at Transparency International Defence and Security, describes some of the dangers documented in our latest research paper.

Unaccountable private military and security companies continue to pursue partnerships that in recent years have led indirectly to the assassination of presidents and journalists, land grabs in conflict zones, and even suspected war crimes.

From Haiti to Saudi Arabia to Nigeria, US-based organisations – the firms that dominate the market – have found themselves associated with a string of tragedies, all while their sector has grown ever-more lucrative.

Transparency International Defence and Security’s latest research – Hidden Costs: US private military and security companies and the risks of corruption and conflict – catalogues the harm playing out internationally as countries increasingly seek to outsource national security concerns to soldiers of fortune.

Hidden costs from the trade in national security

While the US and other governments have left the national security industry to grow and operate without proper regulation, the risks of conflict being exploited for monetary gain are growing all the time.

Hidden Costs documents how the former CEO of one major US private military and security company was convicted – following a guilty plea – of bribing Nigerian officials for a US$6bn land grab in the long-plundered Niger Delta.

Our research also highlights that the Saudi operatives responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s savage murder received combat training from the US security company Tier One Group.

Arguably most damning are the accounts from Haiti, where the country’s president was killed last year by a squad of mercenaries thought to have been trained in the US and Colombia.

Pressing priority

Many governments around the world argue that critical security capability gaps are being filled quickly and with relatively minimal costs through the growing practise of outsourcing.

Spurred on by the US government’s normalisation of the trade, US firms are growing both their services and the number of fragile countries in which they operate.

The private military and security sector has swelled to be worth US$224 billion. That figure is expected to double by 2030.

The value of US services exported is predicted to grow to more than $80 billion in the near future, but the industry and the challenge faced is global.

The risks of corruption and conflict in the pursuit of profits are plain.

These risks are as old as time. But their modern manifestations in warzones must not be left to spill over. The 20-year war in Afghanistan cultivated dynamics that threaten further damage, more than a decade after governments first expressed their concerns.

Required response

International rules and robust regulation are urgently needed. We need measures that ensure mandatory reporting of private military and security company activities. The Montreux Document lacks teeth, operating as it does as guidance that is not legally binding. Code of conduct standards must also become mandatory for accreditation, rather than purely voluntary.

Most private military and security firms are registered in the US. So Transparency International Defence and Security is also calling on Congress to take a leading role in pushing through meaningful reforms under its jurisdiction. There is an opportunity arriving in September, when draft legislation faces review.

Policymakers have long been aware of the corruption risks and the related threats to peace and prosperity posed by this sector. The time for action is well overdue. No more Hidden Costs.

Work is underway to shape policies necessary for the prevention of further coups in Mali, following two recent military takeovers of the west African nation.

Mali has been operating under what leaders have described as a period of “transitional” military governance since August 2020, with elections repeatedly delayed.

Transparency International is embarking on a new project aimed at establishing policies that would prevent future coups being carried out and see corruption threats mitigated in the nation’s defence and security sector, assessed as “high risk” through our Government Defence Integrity Index.

The initiative supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund aims to empower ordinary Malians and their civil society organisations to “exercise oversight” and engage with government representatives and defence institutions in reforming defence governance.

Legislative foundations will be laid in preparation for the resumption of parliamentary work following a two year hiatus that has seen female representation in positions of political influence shrink to zero.

‘Power to convene’

The project will be delivered through a partnership between Transparency International’s national chapter — CRI 2002 — and TI-UK.

Working together we combine national level civil society legitimacy, contextual understanding and power to convene with global expertise in corruption in the defence sector.

We will partner with local journalists and with a civil society network — the CSO Forum created under the previous UNDEF project — while expanding the project’s reach to all 10 of the country’s regions.

We will present policy recommendations to the National Transition Council (NTC), with whom we are already engaged, to integrate into legislation once the National Assembly resumes.

Three-pronged approach

Our approach is underpinned by three activities:

  • In-depth research into the role that corruption can play in facilitating military coups. The paper we produce will identify policy recommendations to anticipate and prevent future coups in Mali. It will also signpost risks to other countries facing similar challenges.
  • Analysis of the defence sector’s performance during the COVID-19 emergency. Our briefing will focus on the impact of corruption during emergencies and how it undermines the country’s capacity to respond to disasters. The analysis will include policy recommendations that can inform disaster risk reduction (DRR) interventions.
  • An advocacy program for CSOs to facilitate engagement with the National Transition Council and defence institutions. This will encourage integration of policy recommendations into legislation.