Global Order and Security Privatization

By Howe, Herbert | Strategic Forum, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Global Order and Security Privatization


Howe, Herbert, Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Nation-states are losing their monopoly over military might. Private security firms are filling a void by offering military services and security for national governments and non-governmental organizations.

* The ending of the Cold War has raised both the supply of, and often the demand for, private security organizations. The loss of superpower patronage has weakened numerous governments and worldwide military cutbacks are supplying the private market with vast supplies of equipment and trained personnel.

* The rising number of insurgencies and an increase in banditry threaten not just the capabilities of some national militaries to ensure national security and stability, but also the effectiveness of international relief organizations.

* Private security firms may be a threat to global security because they lack accountability, act as strongmen for multinational companies, and may prolong conflicts for greater profits.

* Established private security companies are able to handpick employees on the basis of proven accomplishments and their desire for future contracts encourages them to insist upon proper employee behavior. A few private security firms provide combat soldiers: many more offer specialists in logistics, communications, procurement, intelligence, advising, and training.

* Elimination of "mercenary" behavior is impossible and probably undesirable: private groups can offer some useful services. The international community should establish international regulations which could ensure that private companies assist global security.

The international state system has controlled military might over the past 300 years. Some observers believe that a dramatic growth in private security could challenge this control and eventually may threaten global order with military force that is less accountable/controllable than state militaries. Max Weber maintained that the modern state arose because it "successfully upheld a claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order." A number of established private firms are increasingly shouldering military responsibilities which once belonged to the state. Does this growth threaten global security or could it assist fragile states undergoing dramatic changes in this post-Cold War era?

Recent demand for better security has driven private security's growth. Many governments have lost ground to powerful insurgents, often because the demise of superpower competition lowered foreign support to numerous governments. "Collapsed states" are a post-Cold War phenomenon and governments in Ethiopia, Liberia, Somalia, and Zaire lost significant support when their Cold War patrons withdrew their previous aid and the possibility of military intervention. National militaries, at least in Africa, have often proven incapable of national defense and have sometimes increased state instability.

While state might has declined during the 1990s, insurgent capabilities have often grown. Both the Cold War and its ending saw a flood of equipment and personnel, especially from the former Soviet Bloc and South Africa (fully-assembled AK-47 assault rifles sell for about $15 in some African townships). Children are increasingly used (the various factions in Liberia's civil war from 1990-1996 employed some 6,000 children under 15 years of age, out of a total of some 60,000 fighters). Insurgencies increasingly are robbing or coercing aid organizations for their foreign exchange, communications, and logistics (Somalian thuggery during the early 1990s was a major reason for U.S. and UN military intervention).

Possible options for African state defense include African regional military forces, Western intervention, and the UN. Yet these possibilities either lack strong military capabilities or are unlikely to occur.

Lacking other options, states and businesses, as well as insurgencies and criminal groups, increasingly are employing private security. …

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