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.
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 challenged 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.
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.
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.