02/16/2011 05:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ovem Lupo Commitere

It's time for a look at another academic article. This time it's one that PMSC advocates and trade associations are going to love. The paper is "How to Avoid State Regulation: The Power of Private Military and Security Companies" It was written by Andrea Schneiker and was published in February 2010. Ms. Schneiker was also the co-author of another PMSC paper I wrote about last November.

While the paper title is suggestive it is not strictly accurate. She is not arguing there should not be state regulation of PMSC, though that might make various PMSC supporters very happy indeed. But she does note that comprehensive state regulation of PMSC is still missing. Therefore, since, forms of private self-regulation and public-private co-regulation of PMSCs are gaining in acceptance and, unsurprisingly, the lobbying activities of PMSCs favor the implementation of self- and co-regulation over state regulation, PMSCs should use their discursive power to frame themselves not only as legitimate security actors but also as legitimate standard setters.

Not being an academic myself, it sounds like she is proposing, as they say in Latin, 'Ovem lupo commitere' ('To set a wolf to guard sheep.'). But let's not prejudge. Here is what she writes.

This paper asks why comprehensive state regulation of PMSCs is still missing and why, instead, the participation of PMSCs in the rule-setting and implementation process, especially in private self-regulation or public-private co-regulation, is increasing. While absent state regulation is generally attributed to a lacking political will, this paper argues that the companies' power helps prevent stricter state regulation. International relations theorists argue that the political power of business actors depends on the perception of business as a legitimate actor (Fuchs 2005). This paper claims, that in the case of PMSCs, the link between power and legitimacy is at least reciprocal if it is not to be reversed. It argues that the discursive power of PMSCs allows them to frame themselves as legitimate actors. Since this frame is more and more accepted by political actors, PMSCs gain in political authority. Even though it is not possible to establish a causal link between the discourse of PMSCs and the adopted or missing regulation, the paper argues that the increasing political authority of PMSCs favors forms of private self- and public-private co-regulation over state regulation.

I'd say that she is correct in saying PMSC, or at least their leading advocates, are gaining in political authority. How do they do that?

First, there is, of course, the traditional way, as every other industry does, which is bribery; oops, I mean making political donations to express their Supreme Court sanctified First Amendment right to free speech. If Exxon and Microsoft can do it so can DynCorp or KBR.

Second, they can also participate in standard-setting processes that can be considered a form of structural power because it derives from the given political structures. At the same time, it influences these structures. Some PMSC associations took part in different standard-setting processes like the Sarajevo Process, the Swiss Initiative and the Swiss sponsored approach to establish a global code of conduct for PMSCs.

In the U.S., the President of the IPOA and representatives of different PMSCs already testified before different Committees of the U.S. Congress dealing with the oversight over the U.S. contracting process in Iraq (Basto Castro 2006: 16; Cherneva 2007: 6). Besides, some of the bills that were introduced in Congress in order to strengthen the regulation of PMSCs were elaborated in consultation with PMSCs (Cameron 2009: 136).

Third, there is the not inconsiderable PMSC public relations efforts. Not only do they attend conferences they also host them. "Their financial, organisational and human resources (instrumental power) also allow them to hold conferences themselves, of which some are attended for example by former dignitaries," is exactly what happens at the annual IPOA (renamed ISOA) summit.

Another way to exert power is through publications. IPOA publishes a bi-monthly journal, the Journal of International Peace Operations (JIPO), although in the strict academic sense of the word it is not a journal.

According to the IPOA, the latter is "the world's only publication devoted to the study of the private sector's role in peace and stability operations" (IPOA 2009b) and "has a combined print and online circulation of more than 16,000 copies, and is read by senior executives, government policymakers, and practitioners in the field of peace operations" (IPOA 2009). Whether this is true or not cannot be proved here, but the fact that the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs has a link to the Journal on its website shows that the Journal is taken up by policy-makers (EDA 2010).

And if that doesn't work one can always criticize the critics. Schneiker writes, "A representative of the IPOA for example deplores that "the general rule for many journalists is to trash the peace and stability operations industry no matter what." According to the IPOA, this is due to the fact that these people "lack a fundamental understanding of exactly what it is that the industry does."

I confess to having mixed feelings about this. It is certainly true as PMSC advocates claim that many people writing on the subject seek to stuff PMSC into pre-formed mercenary pigeonholes without even bothering to do any cursory research on the subject. On the other hand, many PMSC advocates do nothing more than trot out clichés about their work, such as how they are always more cost effective than their public sector counterparts, without ever backing it up with a single empirically proven, methodologically rigorous analysis, comparing apples to apples, it is understandable why PMSC critics might be dismissive of industry claims.

Fourth, in the best tradition of Orwell's 1984, there is always rebranding. The very fact that today the formerly named PMSC trade association, the International Peace Operations Association, now the International Stability Operations Association, is just one tiny example. I mean, who, aside from anarchists, can be against stability? Here is how Schneiker describes it. Pardon the long quote but it describes a really quite amazing and ultimately successful process of rebranding an entire business sector.

After Sandline was involved in scandals in Papua New Guinea (1997), where its activities brought down the government (Singer 2003: 195), and in Sierra Leone (1998), where it was accused of having violated the UN arms embargo (Shearer 1998: 77f.), the executives of the company wanted to rebrand its image (Campbell 2002).
Therefore, the expression private military company was taken up by Sandline and Tim Spicer, a former British army officer, who was not only the most popular figure involved in the above mentioned scandals but also "the public face of a campaign that sold political elites and the media on the concept of the 'private military company'" (Campbell 2002). In an interview in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Spicer explains that "Sandline is a private military company. We are not mercenaries." (Spicer 1999: 165) Between 1998 and 1999, Sandline International published "white papers" on the regulation of these companies and launched a website, while Spicer published his autobiography, wrote an open letter to newspapers and members of Parliament and delivered speeches at conferences in which the expression private military company was repeatedly employed (Campbell 2002). In 2001, "after a string of sympathetic articles in the U.K press, the PMC concept was so well established that it did not occur to the British Foreign Office to use any other term" (Campbell 2002) in its Green Paper on "Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation" (UK Government 2002). In the U.S. it took nearly one more year until the term was adopted
(Campbell 2002).
The adoption of the term private military company was not only a success because it replaced the term mercenary, but because this adoption was accompanied by the acceptance of an opposition between "the old-style (and bad) 'dogs of war' with the new-style (and good) private military companies, or PMCs, of the 1990s and beyond" (Campbell 2002). This dichotomy is also highlighted by the President of the IPOA:

it is important to differentiate PMCs from freelance mercenaries: PMCs behave like normal companies. Their primary motivation is long-term profit, and they are constrained by domestic and international laws. Freelance mercenaries are motivated by short-term profit or adventure. They are often stateless and show little regard for rule of law. (Brooks 2000, see also Brooks 2002; Christopher 2006: 9)

But the expression private military company still stressed the military character of the companies' activities and did not differentiate them completely from mercenaries.
Consequently, representatives of the industry started to use the term private security company. This does not mean that the term private military company has vanished, but companies' representatives nowadays generally deny that their company is a PMC and refer to private military companies as the "marginalized other". This is also done to distinguish companies from one another. Consequently, the British Association calls itself "British Association of Private Security Companies" (BAPSC) because

In contrast to many US firms, for instance, most British as well as other European private security providers refrain from services at the frontline of hostilities in conflict-zones. The British government therefore refers to them as private security companies (PSCs) rather than private military companies (PMCs) [...]. The term PSC better expresses the wide range of services companies are offering, but its use also has to do with cultural reservations as to the term PMC. (Bearpark & Schulz 2009: 240)

However, nowadays the IPOA does no longer speak of PMCs neither but uses the
most euphemistic expression so far to describe its member companies, speaking of the "subset" (IPOA 2006: 5).
Hence, representatives of the IPOA and the BAPSC subsequently named elements
that are "out of frame" (aggression, force, offensive action, adventure, law-braking activities) and that are attributed with the marginalized other (first mercenaries, nowadays private military companies). At the same time, they named elements that are "in frame" (protection, defensive action, respect of laws) and that are attributed to legitimate companies (first private military companies, nowadays private security companies or companies of the peace and stability operations industry).
Overall, a lot of politicians and academics in western countries today mainly speak of
private security companies (Avant 2005; Bundesregierung 2008) or of private military and security companies respectively private security and military companies (EDA 2009, FCO 2009; Jäger & Kümmel 2007; Schweizerischer Bundesrat 2005). Only a few scholars and politicians use the expression mercenaries (Musah & 'Fayode Kayemi 2000), that can be found especially within the south-african context (Roux 2008, see as well Gumedze 2008). The use of the term mercenary by journalists and academics is denounced by the President of the IPOA as a sign of ignorance, based on "unfounded myths, inaccuracies and unfair assumptions" (Brooks 2002; see as well Brooks 2003). He further states that the term mercenary is

a derogatory term. It really has no relevance and any journalist who uses it is really showing they're more about the form than reality. It's an emotional appeal. ...And actually for academics it's the same thing. You see a lot of papers and proposals, things like that--they always use the mercenary word.
It's a quick way to get some attention. (Brooks 2009a; see as well Messner 2006)

Another option is to denigrate the alternatives, as in using regular military forces. Considering that a PMC trade association like ISOA is headed by people who have never been in the military it is more than a little ironic to see them put themselves forward as experts on military deficiencies but let's not dwell on that.

Now, in fairness, there are lots of reasons why military forces can't and shouldn't be used for the sorts of things PMCs can be hired for, but state forces are generally more capable than PMCs. But, naturally, if state forces can't be used then, in the best "who you gonna call?" Ghostbusters tradition the only alternative is to send PMCs.

Schneiker puts it this way

The picture that PMSCs paint of the world is one of "turmoil, uprisings, terrorism and crime" (EUBSA 2010). The company Meyer Global Security, for example, identifies an "ever increasing range of threats" (Meyer 2009) and according to the company Security Support Solutions, risks and threats are "ever-present and growing" (Security Support Solutions 2009). But according to PMSCs, states and their militaries are no longer capable of providing sufficient security for their citizens. By contrast, PMSCs present themselves as superior to regular security forces and hence declare that they "can tailor any requirement, in any environment to meet the needs of those who require our services" (Tactical Solutions International 2009), and are "able to support and achieve [their] clients' objectives in any corner of the world" (SOC 2009), "even in the most hazardous situations" (G4S 2009).
On this basis, PMSCs explain their solution: sending PMSCs. First of all, the IPOA claims that PMSCs are able to fill the void created by uncapable state security forces and are the more effective solution for ending conflicts: "[t]he private sector offers realistic and less expensive answers to many dilemmas facing peace operations and empowers policy makers with new tools and more effective peacekeepers" (Brooks 2006: 4). The Peace Operations Institute (POI) has even published a report, entitled "Reframing the Defense Outsourcing Debate" (Weinberger & Cullen 2007), that should prove the cost-effectiveness of privatizing security. In this context, PMSCs base their legitimacy discourse on claims of effectivity and efficiency. But scholars are sceptic about this claim of the industry and doubt whether private actors are a cheaper alternative to state forces because of lacking empirical data (Wulf 2005: 190-196). In fact, reports of U.S. government organs show that the privatization of security related issues in some cases leads to fraud, waste and abuse (USGAO 2000; 2006; SIGIR 2007).

The bottom line is that PMC have largely succeeded in reframing themselves.

PMSCs employ mainly four framing strategies. First, they succeeded in promoting the terms private security company and peace and stability operations industry to name their businesses. Second, they blame state militaries for their incapacity to protect citizens from the security threats emanating from crime, war, and terrorism and for their unwillingness to solve ongoing conflicts in strategically less important regions of the world. At the same time, PMSCs promote both their almost infinite capabilities to protect people and their willingness to intervene in conflicts in order to stop the killing. Thereby, PMSCs present themselves not only as the more effective alternative to state security forces but also as morally superior. Third, PMSCs align their frames to overall accepted frames of (1) privatization, (2) peace and stability and (3) accountability and regulation. This frame alignment shall increase the resonance of the PMSCs' legitimacy frame. The fourth framing strategy of PMSCs is to seek alliances with powerful actors. They for example highlight that they work for governments or even the UN because the fact that these actors hire PMSCs shall give evidence of the PMSCs' legitimacy.