11/30/2010 11:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When the U.S., U.K. and France All Do It

It is not popular to say but private military and security contractors don't just do work in war zones. Although you don't hear a lot about it in public, private military and security contractors are frequently involved in the unglamorous but extremely important work of security sector reform (SSR).

In the past, PMSC, to the extent that PMSC have been considered in the context of SSR they have largely been seen as bodies to be regulated alongside public security forces so as to ensure the effectiveness, political accountability and legal liability of both the statutory and the non-statutory providers of the use of force.

But increasingly they are also actors that are increasingly involved in the direct provision of military assistance and security sector reform.

This is the subject of the latest academic paper to cross my cyber transom. It is Outsourcing military training: the role of security networks in foreign military assistance by Eugenio Cusumano, a PhD student at the European University Institute.

Although the use of PMSC by the U.S. government to help train foreign military forces has been well known for many years -- think of the involvements of MPRI on behalf of Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s, or the recruiting, vetting, training and fielding of the Liberian armed forces that was completely outsourced to contractors working for the private military firms Dyncorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers, hired by the State Department - it has spread to other countries also, with varying degrees of acceptance.

According to Cusumano:

While the British Ministry of Defence has so far proved wary to outsource foreign military training, the British Department for International Development (DFID) has made an extensive use of private security contractors, both to protect its personnel and assets overseas and to help foreign governments to reform their security institutions. Finally, France too has witnessed an embryonic form of privatization, as many types of military assistance, including training, are provided by the Défense Conseil International, a private enterprise in which the government is the concurring shareholder.

None of this is insidious or the result of University of Chicago style economics spread on the point of a bayonet. On the contrary, it reflects trends that have been apparent for many years.

The involvement of non-state actors in SSR is hardly unique. On the contrary, international security as a whole is characterized by a shift from government to governance. The notion of security network precisely refers to the fact that, in addition to states, we can today observe a growing number of international institutions and private actors, ranging from non-governmental organisations to private military and security companies, involved both in the planning and the implementation of security policies. As a consequence of the greater number and types of actors involved, international security is characterized by a shift towards a market-based allocation of services, public-private partnerships and networked rather than exclusively hierarchical forms of coordination.
As of 2006, more than the 90% of the members of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), the greatest private military and security industry group, were reportedly offering training services and SSR services.

Of course, while the use of PMSC for foreign military training has spread to other countries it is the United States, as you would expect, that has vastly expanded its use. While the use of PMSC to train foreign military forces is not altogether new, as the U.S. used Booz Allen to develop a program to train South Vietnamese officers in the late sixties and the U.S .firm Vinnell trained the Saudi Arabian National Guard in 1975, it was only with the Clinton administration, however, that the use of private contractors hired directly by US agencies to provide foreign military assistance became a widespread practice.

US firms like MPRI, Cubic, Ronco, Nothrop Grumann, were used to provide military technical support to OECD armed forces and special operation forces and military assistance and SSR to South American states such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, former Yugoslavian states such as Bosnia and Croatia and various Eastern European countries, whose admission to NATO had been made conditional to the restructuring of their military forces according to Western standards.

In Great Britain the record is a bit more mixed.

While British PMSCs have been hired by many foreign states, they do not work directly for the British Ministry of Defense to provide foreign military training. Indeed, while some report the participation of contractors to British military assistance training team, their role has been sporadic and limited to support functions. The reluctance of the British MoD to outsource foreign military assistance to the private sector is noteworthy: private firms are playing a crucial role in training and supporting the British army, but they are given only a very limited role in foreign military training. This may be associated with British military culture, which sees training as a crucial part of their job as well as the previous involvement of British citizens in military ventures, which makes the British Defence establishment particularly wary of directly using military contractors in the developing world.

While the British MoD has made a very limited use of private contractors in the provision of SSR, this is not the case for another British governmental agency, the Department for International Development. Among the first Western governmental agencies to acknowledge the importance of security sector reform for development, the British DFID has later on been involved in various SSR programmes. While the DFID has repeatedly emphasized the important of security sector reform in its public statements, it ought to be mentioned that to date only little of its budget is actually spent on upholding security forces assistance programs: as of 2005, only £5 million of DFID £4.6 billion budget was spent on SSR. In spite of the low percentage of its budget dedicated to SSR, the DFID relies heavily on the private sector in the implementation of its policies. Indeed, not only DFID is using private security contractors for the protection of its personnel and assets abroad and to run demining programmes: it has also hired private consultants and trainers to implement some of its police reform programmes. In Jamaica, for instance, DFID contracted a management consulting company, Atos, to assist the reform of the Jamaican police force. The programme encompassed both management and technical assistance, that is police officers training. This type of assistance was carried out by former British policemen, who brought expertise in community-based policing, crime investigation and professional standards.

France has retained a more state-centric approach, and has been much more wary to privatize any type of military of security functions. Still, a small pool of PMSCs such as Secopex, Barril Group and SAS, largely made of former Gendarmes and French Army Officials, also provide among their services military and police training and advice.

The clearest evidence of the embryonic penetration of market logic within the French military training and advice sector is the Defense Conseil International. Establish to push forward French arms exports, the DCI is however involved in the transfer of military expertise as well, and present itself as "a specialist of military formation, advice and assistance" and a supplier of military equipment and instructors. Although its traditional core activities consist of pushing forward major French armament exports, the company has gradually developed new areas of expertise: training, consulting and assistance in both defence and domestic security sectors. DCI is a private company in which the French government is the concurring shareholder with 49.9% of the group's shares. The company currently has 700 employees, often with a military background, and permanent offices in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Malaysia. As a mixed enterprise open to the participation of private shareholders, which allocates military services on a for-profit basis, DCI is considered as a "form of privatization of French military cooperation".