The United States has utilized mercenaries in the War on Terror to ensure the success of many missions. While the input of private contractors is immense, there are adverse views on private military forces stemming from scandals and questionable regulations of such companies (Lubin, 2021). Since the modern approach to warfare organizations has shifted towards the market-governed relationship, it is impossible to imagine the United States without private security and military companies (PSMCs). Their role as protectors, trainers, and scouts provides an immense boost to the country’s security. However, merely outsourcing all such activities is impossible without adjustments to the laws governing PSMCs’ actions. Accountability and responsibility must be held to the highest standard within this industry, as peoples’ lives directly depend on PSMCs’ competencies.
Nowadays, the role of private security and military companies (PSMCs) is immense in modern warfare. The United States has employed these organizations numerous times during the War on Terror. However, the results show mixed outcomes, where successes may be overshadowed by major scandals. However, it is counterproductive to consider this approach to be a complete failure, and outsourcing military activities must remain a viable option. Many countries, including Russia, the members of NATO, and the United Arab Emirates, are utilizing private contractors (Cusumano & Kinsey, 2021). The growing need to provide a secure space for millions of people across the globe made the United States expand its reach and increased the pressure on the U.S. Army. Such a method of outsourcing warfare does come with issues linked to the activities of PSMCs and the regulations that govern their behavior and legitimacy of actions. It is essential to regulate said forces, yet it is also vital to keep them available for the country, as they provide a significant boost to the U.S. homeland security. This paper will discuss the benefits, disadvantages, and the necessity of the usage of PSMCs in the War on Terror.
Benefits of PSMCs
The vast majority of countries have a standing army, yet not every army has the size and strength necessary to deal with the conflicts of the globalized world. There was a significant downsizing of the U.S. Army after the Cold War had finished, although the new threat in the form of terrorist organizations had just begun to rise (Ranito, 2019). PSMCs gives an opportunity to cover armies’ weak spots. The role of such organizations is to assist governments in converting wealth into military power (Cusumano & Kinsey, 2021). It is paramount for the United States to be able to hire mercenaries due to the increased number of targets requiring military interventions, as the threat of global terrorism continues to exist. Moreover, PSMCs may serve as a proxy that may give a country an opportunity to participate in an armed conflict without directly involving its forces to keep certain liabilities outside of the picture (Cusumano & Kinsey, 2021). At this point, regulations must be made to outline a proper etiquette for such missions.
The contractor parties participated in the war in Afghanistan alongside the U.S. forces, and their contribution cannot be overestimated. The inability of the Taliban to gain more power over the past decade is greatly attributed to the involvement of the private sector (Cusumano & Kinsey, 2021). In fact, there is already a strong link between the current U.S. army forces and PSMCs. Many mercenaries are American veterans who did not find a place in society after coming back from war and decided to make a career as a part of a private force (McFate, 2019). Their expertise is what gives these companies a significant advantage over increased funding of the U.S. Army forces.
Another vital part of the PSMCs activities is less apparent. These organizations perform tasks for international companies in the field of counterterrorism, as regular armies are not suitable for that role (Hlouchova, 2020). PSMCs can perform security services outside of the traditional scope of standing army forces. Private contractors provide safety to their clients’ assets in both real-life and virtual environments (Hlouchova, 2020). Nowadays, private security firms are an inseparable part of many major corporations’ structures.
Disadvantages of PSMCs
Despite the immense help private military organizations provide, there are numerous counterarguments against using PSMCs in modern warfare, especially abroad. Mercenaries were absent on many battlefields in the past century, with the only encounter renowned for their participation being the Congo War, where they committed many atrocities (Ranito, 2019). This negative reputation has been further confirmed in the 2000s in the War on Terror. Lubin (2021) states that the actions of Blackwater – a private military organization infamous for killing Iraqi civilians – have “uncensored the global shape of homeland security” and revealed the critical flaws in PSMCs’ regulations (p. 65). Their crimes made it clear that there must be a clear line between protecting a home country and waging war, causing many hostilities between Arab countries and the United States.
The actions of PSMCs have been a target of criticism for decades, with many of their crimes occurring abroad. The borders between military actions against domestic threats have been blurred in recent years, turning homeland security’s attention to foreign battlefields (Lubin, 2021). This notion makes it challenging to address flaws in regulating PSMCs once they move abroad adequately. There are blind spots in the actions of PSMCs that lead to negative encounters where private contractors cannot be prosecuted for their crimes because of the lack of evidence (Cusumano & Kinsey, 2021). Moreover, eradicating said issues with transparency is challenging due to the nature of PSMCs. These outstanding issues impose a heavy penalty on any military or security operations where PSMCs are involved.
There is also a rejection of PSMCs in society stemming from the past flawed attempts to integrate these organizations into public affairs. As a result, the stigma on the term ‘mercenary’ in the military context remains highly negative, as the private companies’ reputation took many hits due to the major scandals caused by a selected few individuals (McFate, 2019). It is essential to fix their reputation as upholders of peace and order rather than the groups of tolerated thugs. After the Bush administration’s attempts to mitigate a significant hit to the U.S. international standing due to the allegations of torture, the views on PSMCs’ crimes only worsened (Abel, 2018). It must be clear to the general public that there is no ‘free pass’ for violence given to private contractors.
The Role of PSMCs in Private Security
The usage of the same PSMCs that participate in the War on Terror in private security makes the topic even more complicated. The growing percentage of said organizations conducting other law enforcement activities puts them legally in the same position as governmental structures, yet these actors are not reflected in the law constructively (Hlouchova, 2020). The usage of private violence in armed conflicts is clear, yet the role of the same military organizations in civic engagement makes their reputation a critical point in disputes. Private contractors can do much more than assist armies since their restrictions on interventions are not governed by similar constraints. PSMCs members transfer their knowledge, protect individuals, locations, and objects, and perform reconnaissance tasks.
In truth, PSMCs protect firms’ interests in the same way they assist governmental organizations. Terrorist threats may be apolitical yet still cause a loss of life at the same scale, which makes military organizations a viable option for protecting both democratic principles and specific assets (Hlouchova, 2020). It might appear that such a view sets a dangerous precedent that can open the path to violent confrontations. Lubin (2021) argues that such an approach “makes indistinguishable the counterinsurgency violence aimed at terrorists and the counterinsurgency policing of everyone” (p. 67). PSMCs that are not governed by sufficiently adequate commanders may indeed pose a threat, yet it can be negated with proper policies set in place.
It is also vital to note that the increased investments into homeland security, including private contractors, have led to significant improvements in public safety. While there were major terrorist attacks after 9/11, the United States did not suffer a catastrophe of a similar scale due to its counterterrorism activities (Brands & O’Hanlon, 2021). The expertise of the well-trained private armies led to a newly emerged market, which efficiently counters violent extremists. The private-public relationship has a prominent role in counterterrorism activities, and the infrastructure that PSMCs protect can become a target of terrorist attacks just as likely as governmental buildings (Hlouchova, 2020). Due to such a wide array of applications, the scope of permissible activities and the requirements for memberships in PSMCs considers skill sets outside of traditional military operations.
Reasons for Changes in Regulations
As of now, mercenaries may be met with questionable reactions by the governments of countries where they operate, including on home and foreign grounds. The operations undertaken by mercenaries may also be covert, in which transparency is understandably suppressed (McFate, 2019). This factor causes the most conflicts, yet such activities are not entirely lawless. These missions do not imply a lack of accountability, as there are official business practices governing the actions of PSMCs, including the ISO 28007 and 18788 standards (McFate, 2019). As can be seen in the examples of military scandals involving mercenaries, these measures are not sufficient.
While there are benefits of utilizing private contractors, it is necessary for the United States to respond to the valid criticism related to PSMCs’ questionable position in the law. In order to become fully integrated into the homeland security sector, PSMCs’ role must become more focused on the tasks with clearly outlined borders. Hlouchova (2020) argues that these organizations must become “an extended hand” of the governmental structures they respond to and turn nearly indistinguishable in their responsibilities and accountabilities (p. 156). This change is drastic yet essential for PSMCs to operate within the borders of U.S. law.
Despite the fact that such a change may negate a portion of the benefits private contractors provide, their regulations are vital in creating a functioning addition to the U.S. Army. As of now, mercenaries are renowned for fighting via unconventional methods, sometimes even ignoring the rules of an armed conflict and making loud headlines for newspapers across the globe (McFate, 2019). Such an approach only adds hostility to armed conflicts, leading to escalations that may result in higher losses among United States soldiers.
As of now, there are numerous oversights in legislative practices related to managing PSMCs in the United States. The most critical one appears to be the fact that the new regulations come as a response to adverse incidents involving PSMCs (Ranito, 2019). This issue may be deemed as the primary reason behind the negative publicity drawn to private contractors during the War on Terror. Such a reactionary approach to policy making is detrimental to the United States.
Contractors must not possess the same level of authority in issuing critical decisions. The information available to private military companies should never exceed what is known to the CIA, despite the implications of the shared knowledge (Abel, 2018). This measure must be taken as soon as possible to prevent further incidents where the truth is difficult to uncover due to the lack of facts. Such situations must also be viewed in the light of the claims made by countries where PSMCs operate.
The recent changes to PSMCs regulations are also questionable in their intentions. The standards of overt operations are seen as promoting a marketing value of said companies rather than ensuring that ethical behavior is upheld at all times (McFate, 2019). It is essential to understand that PSMCs are not just businesses but also legally responsible entities with heightened accountability under the law. At the same time, many clients of PSMCs, even when utilizing their services for private security, are not interested in transparency (McFate, 2019). Such practices must be changed at their core, with the U.S. government taking the lead in private data versus homeland security matters.
Judging from past experience, it is essential to create a new set of regulations that will make outsourcing private security and military activities acceptable. First of all, there must be a clear connection between contractors and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, private military organizations participating in a conflict on the U.S. side must be held accountable for their actions in the same manner as the U.S. troops are. Lastly, PSMCs that provide private security for non-governmental clients must openly disclose their activities to the necessary departments for assessment of the legality of such operations.
In conclusion, private security companies provide significant assistance to the security of the United States. Outsourcing the War on Terror led the country on a path that was not well-defined in the law, which led to numerous scandals and post-factum regulations. However, such an approach is not feasible, as it promotes unethical behavior among private contractors and significantly undermines their reputation. At the same time, the armies across the globe get privatized at a rapid pace due to the global war on terrorism expanding to all countries threatened by political and apolitical criminal organizations. There are apparent benefits in using PSMCs as a part of homeland security, as their activities can be tailored to their client’s preferences. Despite this advantage, PSMCs’ operations tend to be non-transparent, which significantly harms their reputation and legal standing, both within the United States and on the international scene. New regulations on PSMCs’ boundaries, behavior, transparency, accountability, and communication can create an environment that will guarantee that outsourcing security and military operations are a viable path forward.
Abel, R. L. (2018). Law’s wars: The fate of the rule of law in the U.S.’ War on Terror’. Cambridge University Press.
Brands, H., & O’Hanlon, M. (2021). The War on Terror has not yet failed: A net assessment after 20 years. Survival, 63(4), 33-54.
Cusumano, E., & Kinsey, C. (2021). Advancing private security studies: Introduction to the special issue. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 33(1-2), 1-21.
Hlouchova, I. (2020). Countering terrorism in the shadows: The role of private security and military companies. Security and Defence Quarterly, 31(4), 155-169.
Lubin, A. (2021). Neverending War on Terror. University Of California Press.
McFate, S. (2019). Mercenaries and war: Understanding private armies today. The College of International Security Affairs.
Ranito, J. J. (2019). Regulating U.S. private security contractors. Springer.