Guest Chair: Dr. Glen Kitteringham – Security Consultant, Educator and Research Criminologist (Canada)

Dr. Declan Garrett – Director of Security Institute of Ireland (Ireland)
Oana-Mihaela Mihalache – Defence and Security Consultant at Sopra Steria Next (France)
Maria Nebolsina – Research Fellow at Center for Euro-Atlantic Security of International Studies Institute (Russia)
Adam White – Senior Lecturer in Criminology at University of Sheffield (UK)

Key points

Dr Declan Garrett suggested that today’s topic posed a difficult question to answer. His view was that the perception of private military companies and the terminology used in relation to them, does not reflect typical notions of the regulated private security sector. However, he noted that some tasks and some terminology is similar, which combined with private military companies being a relatively closed world has led to confusion. Declan makes some notable points in relation to the relative levels of regulation, accountability and training in both private security and private military companies and questions whether there is adequate protection and support in place for private military company employees entering dangerous environments.

Oana-Mihaela Mihalache summarised how the private military companies sector has evolved, with what were differentiating characteristics becoming more merged over time with characteristics of the private security sector. She notes a number of challenges in ensuring adequate control is in place, not least the ethical questions raised by the work of private military companies and public perceptions of their activities. Oana highlighted the importance of high level discussion to progress towards a clear definition and regulations at an international level. She also acknowledged the reality that while some companies offer only one or the other, some offer both security and military services adding further challenges in differentiating the two.

Maria Nebolsina noted that while there are a wealth of definitions attempting to define private military companies, some of these such as the UN draft convention both unites and separates private military and private security companies. Being active in war zones and peace keeping, operating in conflict and dangerous environments, and the use of mercenaries are considered. You will hear Maria highlight that generally countries have a local understanding of the difference between the two, but that at an international level the situation is less clear. Maria highlights the limitations of conventions as being general in nature. She notes clarity is needed on what services can and can not be outsourced and suggests that all countries agreeing that weapons of mass destruction can not be outsourced would be a starting point that would likely attract widespread support.

Adam White observed that there are key distinctions between private military companies and the private security sector such as where they operate, who runs them and who works for them, but that it is also possible to challenge those characteristics and he gives examples of some of the similarities that can be found. Adam expressed doubt as to whether a neat distinction between the two was possible, albeit there is merit in attempting to do so. He suggested that alternative terminology such as private policing and private soldiering offers a clearer distinction, but this is still of limited use since markets do not conform to such categorisations. Reflecting on the issue of accountability Adam highlighted the relative difficulties of monitoring compliance with regulations in hostile environments suggesting it may not be possible to regulate the private military sector to the same level as the private security sector.

The guest chair Glen Kitteringham in closing the session and reflecting on the discussion among the panellists concluded that there are three key issues emerging that are worthy of consideration moving forward – establishing a clear definition, the levels of training required and the appropriate levels of accountability.

Charlotte Howell
9th September 2020

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