In the Business of (In)Security?
While there is little new in the existence of ‘guns for hire’ or ‘mercenaries’1 for more critically inclined commentators, few predicted the extent to which these (mainly) men would come to supplant the activities of regular military personnel in the contemporary period. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan put this into sharp focus as these occupations involve many tens of thousands of contractors. Drawing on the labor of men from a range of countries including those in the global South (Maclellan 2006), this multibillion-dollar industry has become a key component in the management of confl ict and its aftermath (Holmqvist 2005). A constellation of forces underpin the growth of the private security company (PSC) industry, including the dominance of post-Cold War free markets that have fueled a strong tendency to outsource traditional government functions (Krahmann 2003) and, simultaneously, regular armed forces have been downsized, providing a large number ripe for recruitment by PSCs (Holmqvist 2005). Of particular importance here is the observation that national militaries are increasingly redeployed away from second-line security roles for reasons linked in part to ‘risk transfer militarism’ (Shaw 2002), where body bags can be usefully exorcised from the political equation and the public opinion on which it rests. It has also been noted that ‘massive arms stocks have become available to the open market’ (Singer 2005: 54), which in turn
has the potential to exacerbate intrastate confl ict. Finally, there has been a ‘decline of local state governance,’ fueling greater overall insecurity around borders, markets and central bureaucratic authorities (Singer 2005: 55). As a consequence of these developments, the relative inability for national militaries to respond to insecurity compounds a cycle of instability that stimulates, and is stimulated by, the PSC sector. Companies are involved in a range of tasks, the performance of which has varying potentials to exacerbate host populations’ insecurity (O’Brien 2009). For example, convoy protection duties are often associated with creating insecurity, whereas the close protection of dignitaries, static guarding of civilian and military installations, training of local personnel as part of security sector reform and provision of logistical and support functions to military peacekeeping operations tend not to have attracted such concerns (Singer 2005; Kinsey 2007). At the center of debates on PSCs is the ‘strongly contested commodity of security . . . because providing it may involve the use of force and . . . decisions to kill or let live’ (Leander 2009: 6). In this respect, two key developments turning on how the industry represents itself have contributed towards its increasing normalization. First, that security contractors are framed within the industry as either ‘cowboys,’ ‘rogues’ or ‘professionals.’2 This restatement of the ‘bad apple’ thesis in the fi rst two categories turns on the amputation of social practice from its broader context (Plummer 1983), and as such diverts from the social-structural and cultural-generative characteristics of the private security industry. In this way, escalations of force resulting in the death and injury of members of the host population are frequently argued to be the result of exogenous factors, seemingly unrelated to the subcultures of violence in some parts of the industry within which they arise.3 Second, the industry actively disavows inclusion of the word ‘military,’ and in so doing diverts attention from the militarized activities of some of its armed security contractors (Leander 2009: 11). In sum, the private security sector is framed as a benign response-led industry doing nothing more than meeting ‘the security needs of states, organizations, private businesses and individuals’ that are conceived of as ‘pre-existing and independent from the companies they respond to’ (Leander 2009: 14). Thus, disassociated from the profi t/insecurity nexus, the industry is sold via its ‘solution solving’ pitch as just another ‘client-driven’ service.4 However, it has been argued that the private security industry is energized by the business of armed confl ict as a commodity that, most notably in the case of Iraq:
Chimes perfectly with the current American approach, effectively controlled by commercial interests, notably the oil lobby. Oil-its acquisition and protection-is one of the major themes of this history, whether it is the care of BP in such disparate areas as Columbia, Algeria, Georgia and Pakistan, Shell in Nigeria or American assets elsewhere. (Geraghty 2009: 31)
In the broadest sense, it could be argued that the industry’s role is to protect the hegemonic powers’ various economic and political interests, through co-opting security services ranging from the mundane (static guarding of military and key civilian installations), through to the more spectacularthough less common suppression of insurrection where violent force is used. Seen in this way, private security has a key and growing role in facilitating neoliberalized processes of ‘accumulation through dispossession,’ as the scholar David Harvey might see it. Securing the interests of capital has a long and dark history of violent struggle that has sustained intra-and inter-gender and racial global orders confi gured around the subordination of women, young people and marginal men. The dramatic burgeoning of the private security sector has led commentators to describe it as the new business face of warfare in the contemporary period (Mandel 2002; Avant 2005; Kinsey 2007; Singer 2005), underscoring its signifi cance both now and almost certainly into the future. Thus, the PSC sector should be seen as a critical subject of political inquiry as it engages international relations (IR), domestic politics and national/international legislative systems, alongside concerns of gender within the context of both ethical and moral questions concerning the use of violence.