IntroductionPMCs – private military companies that operate in various zones of conflict. They provide military skills in verticals such as combat operations, planning, intelligence gathering, operational support, logistics, training, and procurement and maintenance of arms and equipment. PSCs offer security and protection of personnel and property, including humanitarian and industrial assets.

The decrease in the amount of armed forces throughout the world after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the increase in new conflicts, demand for military manpower and expertise, was the cause of the rapid growth of PMCs and PSCs in the 1990s. Western security strategies, after the cold-war called for a restructuring and of armed forces. Following the trend of “outsourcing,” many military organizations gave up their non-core enterprises, such as the infrastructural defense and the protection of individuals, leaving them to be taken care by PMCs and PSCs.The huge number of PMC and PSC employees – when totalled, outnumber UK’s troops – contracted during the Bush administration, multinational corporations and even non-governmental organizations in Iraq has started discussions over their status under international humanitarian law as outlined in the Geneva Conventions. This debate is very  significant, as the status of the PMCs defines their rights, obligations and accountabilities.Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions differentiates between people who actively participate in armed conflicts, combatants, and civilians, those who do not. But, what constitutes “active participation” and can a weapon-carrying person still be called as a civilian? Or, is a PMC employee actually a mercenary?Academics, politicians, non-governmental organizations and the judiciary have debated over these definitions given by the Geneva Conventions and not succeeded to come up with clear resolutions about the status of PMC employees. Even though majority are generally classified as civilians, since they are not part of the actual armed conflict, they increasingly take control of military tasks, such as the protection of civil authority buildings and politicians.

In doing so, PMC and PSC employees become partially-legitimate military targets, losing their civilian status when actively engaging in hostilities.The ambiguity of the these statuses of the PMC employees often blurs the line between civilians and combatants in international humanitarian law, thereby initiating situations that may lead to a greater disdain of the laws of war. History of PMCs/PMSsThe incomplete presence of centralized control created a situation suitable for the private soldier. While initially many soldiers hired themselves out as freelancers (the origin of the modern business term), sooner or later, either the money ran out or that part of the war came to an end.

In either case, the soldiers were left unemployed. Having no homes or ways to feed themselves, many of these soldiers formed “Companies”. These were organizations birthed to facilitate their employment as a group and  provide sustenance and protection. They would travel together as a company in search of employment opportunities, usually in the form of new campaigns to fight, and feed themselves along the way by blackmailing towns and villages.Thus, skilled personnel as employees and unstable states as clients were present for the private military industry (PMI). As a result, PMCs filled the gaps caused by the Cold War. Private military or security companies were used extensively by countries, organizations, global corporations, NGOs and groups since the end of the Cold War. Every multilateral peace mission that was conducted by the UN since 1990s included PMCs.

Moreover, the states that outsourced these services ranged from strong ones like the U.S. to states such as Sierra Leone. Annual revenues of the industry boomed from $55.6 billion dollars in 1990 to over $100 billion in 2003. And it would be about $200 billion dollars in 2010 based on the financial calculations of the industry.By the end of the Cold War, an increasing number of third world countries were left without reliable and effective support in terms of their military, creating serious deficiencies in their defense systems.

Most powerful western countries decreased their defense budget, and thus tons of weaponry started appearing on markets worldwide. Since these illegal markets were involved in this change, sophisticated weapons were made readily available for almost anyone who had the necessary financial means to obtain them. In parallel with this transformation, few western countries changed their approach towards their armies, security services and outsourced some activities. Baby steps were already taken during the Vietnam War in the 70s by using civilian transportations to provide troops to the field and military contractors to provide various equipment. Later, by searching for competitive solutions on the market, outsourcing became a flexible and cost effective solution for most powerful countries.

There are three main recognizable reasons of the increased activity of Private Military Firms, which are the following: Changed international security situation after the Cold War;More liberal international trading methods and policies;Outsourced classic State roles in various fields, including privatization. International LawThe Hague Conventions of 1907While the Hague Conventions have not directly talked about mercenaries, but the Hague Convention V talks about the implications of their activities. Article 4 states that groups of combatants are not to be created, nor is recruiting to be initiated on the territory of a neutral state to assist in conflict.

Article 5 gives a direct responsibility to the neutral state to guarantee that the acts to which Article 4 refers do not take place in its land. The effect of Article 17 is that an individual who acts in favour of a belligerent by taking up arms as a mercenary or private military contractor cannot avail himself of his neutrality. Nevertheless, the same article states that such an individual is still entitled to the protection afforded to nationals of belligerent states.The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the 1977 Additional ProtocolsThe Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are the base of International Humanitarian Law, the body of law that manages the conduct of armed conflict and aims to decrease its after-effects. They specifically protect non-combatants(civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer part of the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and POWs. The Conventions and their Protocols call for precautions to be taken to prevent or put an end to all breaches. They contain strict rules to handle with what are known as “grave breaches”.

Those responsible for these breaches must be found, tried or extradited, whatever country they belong to.


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