During times where they are not needed, this would be a waste of resources. Instead, a PMC is there when the military needs it, and when the mission is over, the military no longer has to spend resources to maintain their personnel.
Another benefit, although this is also the source of many ethical challenges as will be discussed later, is a PMC's ability to operate more freely than a state's military. As an example, there are strict rules that the American military must operate within, while trying to achieve a mission's objectives. These rules stem from both national and international sources. The ever-present media, as well as governing body watchdogs, mean that even one toe over the line is quickly fodder for an international scandal that can endanger the entire mission. This oftentimes restricts the military's ability to operate at maximum efficacy. However, by using a PMC, their personnel can take advantage of some of the grayer areas of these rules, to the best of their mission's advantage. Along similar lines, PMCs are able to better maintain secrecy.
When one thinks of military secrecy, images of blacked-out files with "Top Secret" stamped on them come to mind. However, the reality is that much of what the military does is open for the world to see, once plans are put into action. The recent Iraq War took a quantum leap in military transparency, with the number of embedded reporters it allowed in the field. These media members were allowed to report, oftentimes live, whatever they had observed. Certain information, such as troop location, obviously was withheld to keep the troops protected; however, the actual actions of the soldiers and their maneuvers were reported with stark accuracy and detail. This set up of embedded reporters was to facilitate the public's desire to know exactly what was going on. Military actions had to be tempered with the knowledge that the entire world was watching. As private corporations, PMCs don't have to be this open. Although the world may demand that the militaries they pay for show how their tax dollars are being spent, PMCs do not have this same obligation. This secrecy can become very important when gathering intelligence as well.
The modern war on terrorism, as Avant (2004) notes, is highly dependent on accurate intelligence. PMCs are especially skilled at providing intelligence services, even in situations where the means to the end is somewhat ethically debatable, such as prison interrogation. PMCs are often able to infiltrate key groups to gather information, or use borderline methods of obtaining information. Even tasks that normally don't appear to be technically difficult, become so in the face of conflict.
PMCs are skilled in what are normal, everyday tasks that evolve into dangerous duties during conflicts. Avant (2004) uses the Iraq conflict to demonstrate this concept. He uses truck driving as a duty that is rather simple during times of peace. However, this task becomes integral to military success when, during conflict, that truck is delivering fuel to troops, in combat zones. Language interpretation too may seem mundane, but in the midst of a war a skilled interpreter or translator can be a matter of life and death.
Although there are valid concerns about contractor accountability, many governments, including the United States, establish regulations that control security contractors. The United States uses Federal Acquisition Regulations, along with Department of Defense rules, to govern the contracts they have with PMCs. PMCs can be fired from their contract, which Avant (2004) notes is motivation to hold them accountable for their actions. Market accountability too has an effect in ensuring PMCs conduct themselves ethically. As an example, GSG refused to train Sierra Leone troops for fear that this would give them a reputation for being mercenaries (Faite, 2004). In fact, humanitarian groups favor the use of PMCs.
It is true that there is an economic interest, for PMCs, in prolonging conflict, as Avant (2004) notes. However, rarely have PMCs been accused of facilitating conflict simply to ensure the continued use of their services. Instead, many human rights organizations understand that PMCs actually hasten the solutions to conflict by intervening much more quickly than forces from other countries would be willing to do so otherwise. Fitzsimmons (2006) believes that the use of PMCs in Darfur is one such area where they can do humanitarian good. Noting that PMCs could engage and defeat insurgents, Fitzsimmons states that with their commitment to mission success and with a sufficiently robust force, the area could be secured so that humanitarian relief could be brought in.
Disadvantages of Using PMCs
Despite the benefits of using PMCs to assist state military forces, there are disadvantages to their use that continue to be a concern for opponents of these private security forces. One of the primary concerns, for the use of PMCs, is their ability to work outside of international and national laws that govern military forces, which is compounded by their questionable accountability. PMCs are sometimes subject to the laws in the country they are operating within and sometimes only subject to the laws of their home country. Most fall outside the control of the 1989 U.N. Convention of Mercenaries. This legal confusion creates a gray area that PMCs often use to the advantage of their clients. Governments have been known to use PMCs in order to avoid accountability (Avant, 2004).
With thousands of PMCs contractors operating in places like Iraq, Jordan (2009) notes that many are undertaking activities that were traditionally reserved for the U.S. Armed Forces. Jordan states, "A gap in the laws of armed conflict has allowed PMCs to operate free from any true measure of criminal liability" (p. 310). Avant (2004) again uses America as an example of how this occurs.
The legislative branch of the American government has to approve the military budget. This means that congress has to OK any direct military spending. However, the executive branch of the American government hires contractors, and congress has only limited access to information regarding contracts. With this system, the President can evade some of the restrictions on American actions and limit the amount of influence congress has on foreign policy. This allows PMCs to facilitate foreign policy by proxy, according to Avant (2004). Yet, there's a significant negative effect to not holding PMCs accountable that must be taking into consideration.
Jordan (2009) gives three reasons when PMCs need to be held accountable. First, there is the integrity of the U.S. Armed Forces. If there is no accountability with PMCs it can damage relations with the host country and create a more hostile environment. Second, there is an overall lack of military training and discipline in PMCs. Third, accountability must be in place to ensure PMCs are complying with the appropriate rules during combat and contingency operations. The use of PMCs also allows the government that has hired the PMC to alter the situation, but from a distance, giving them plausible deniability.
This plausible deniability came into play in 1994 when the United States contracted with Military Professional Resources International to advise and train the Croatian government. This allowed the country to receive the advantages of having American military assistance, but via a private corporation. A similar relationship can be found in many of the nations the United Kingdom has commercial interests, with the British government using private contractors to provide military assistance, but at an arm's length. In fact, the more powerful country often loans the country needing assistance the money to pay for the PMCs. This occurred in 1986, when the British government loaned Mozambique money to hire Defense Systems Limited to train soldiers that would in turn protect British-owned tea and sugar estates from rebels (Avant, 2004). In addition to this concern, there is the expense of using PMCs.
According to Avant (2004), studies on outsourcing and privatization have surmised that there are two conditions that have to be met for the private sector to be a more efficient resource than the government. These two conditions are a competitive market and the flexibility of the contractor to fulfill their contract. However, governments often forego competitiveness. Instead, they would rather rely on receiving a price from a singular contractor who they feel is reliable. In fact, Clark (2009) specifically states that Blackwater contracts in Iraq were in violation of the U.S. procurement system's three basic principles: integrity, transparency, and competition. This was also the case, as noted by Avant, when Kellogg, Brown & Root won a no-bid contract, in 2003, to rebuild Iraqi oil fields. Cost effectiveness, while a contract is in effect, is not a reason to employ PMCs. Contractors often make multiple times the amount of active-duty soldiers, with Avant citing some making $20,000 per month. However, one has to remember that the military has…