It has been nearly two decades since the international community first focused significant attention on the private military firm (PMF) as an important actor in conflict. In that time, there has been considerable churn in the PMF world. How then have the players and the market evolved during the past two decades and what might the future hold for the private military firm?
Privatizing the Battlefield: Contractors, Law and War
Since their emergence in the post-Cold War period, but especially over the past decade, private military contractors have become the focus of increasing attention. In that time, both the market for security contractors and the operational environment they work in have evolved, with implications for their future. Meanwhile, efforts to use international and national law to regulate their use have run up against stubborn obstacles. And for the U.S. military, the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan have clarified the need for, and the dangers of, security contractors.
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The first private military contractors (PMCs) emerged in the decade after the Cold War. The advent of the global war on terrorism, and particularly the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, marked another milestone in the growing use of PMCs since the Cold War. However, parallel efforts to regulate the use of PMCs have been uneven, with some advances but also many regressions and transgressions.
Although the United States has been using private contractors in one way or another since the founding of the country, it is the experience of the past decade that has focused attention on private military and security contractors (PMSCs) to unprecedented levels. As a result of their use in Iraq and Afghanistan, we now have a rich source of information on contractors that allows us to draw some tentative conclusions as to their impact and proper role.