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.
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.