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The neo-colonial booming industry of private mercenaries

Those who profit from human misery

In the 15 years since the declaration of a ‘war on terror’ and the invasions of first Afghanistan and then Iraq, the world has witnessed an enormous proliferation of private military and security companies (PMSCs) seeking to profit from instability and conflict. Hundreds of companies have been established in the past few years alone, and there now exists a vast private industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Sadly, rather than introducing binding regulation of the industry, the British government has decided to allow the mercenaries to regulate themselves.

Report by waronwant.org

Key Points:

  • The UK is an important hub for the PMSC industry. At the height of the occupation, around 60 British companies operated in Iraq. Now there are hundreds of British PMSCs operating in areas of conflict around the globe, working to secure government and corporate presence against a range of ‘threats’.

  • At the heart of the industry is a revolving door between PMSCs, military, intelligence and corporate worlds, with the interests of these sectors closely intertwined.

  • The British PMSC industry took off with the occupation of Iraq and the resulting unrest. The Director General of the British Association of Private Security Companies, Andy Bearpark, has made clear: “In Iraq in 2003 and 2004 money was basically free. That meant contracts were being let for ridiculous amounts of money – millions and millions of dollars of contracts being pumped into the industry. The industry exploded in terms of the volume of business on the back of Iraq.

  • The US and Iraqi governments are not the only players that continue to pay for the services of UK PMSCs in Iraq. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has awarded contracts to PMSCs in conflict zones with a combined value of around £50 million each year. This includes nearly £150 million in the five years between 2007 and 2012 awarded for operations in Iraq.

  • Perhaps the biggest market for British PMSCs in Iraq is the provision of security for private corporations seeking to invest in the country. Such contracts have become critical to the private security sector now that the Pentagon’s war chest in the country has emptied.

  • The oil and gas sector is the central focus of multinational corporations in Iraq. Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and other multinationals have signed deals to produce, refine and export oil and gas from the country, and are willing to pay PMSCs to help secure their operations.

  • While Iraq and Afghanistan remain longstanding markets for British PMSCs, instability in other resource-rich regions of the world, such as northern and western Africa, is leading to increased opportunities for these companies. All major UK PMSCs now operate across the continent.

  • The toppling of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya in 2011 led to a rapid influx of PMSCs into the country, spearheading the arrival of multinationals keen to restore their involvement in Libya’s oil and gas sector. As one PMSC executive put it: “We’re there to facilitate the re-entry of clients in Libya. Security companies have also seen an opportunity for training post-Gaddafi security forces and, compared to the former regime, Intelligence Online noted that “Libya’s new leadership is showing greater openness toward foreign private security companies.

  • PMSCs from several countries are now being contracted to take up active combat roles in ongoing wars within African and Middle Eastern states. The Nigerian army has secured the services of South African mercenary troops from the apartheid era to fight the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in the north of the country, while hundreds of Colombian mercenaries recruited by the infamous US PMSC Blackwater (now renamed Academi) have been fighting alongside Saudi Arabian forces in Yemen.

  • The militarisation of the oceans is having significant consequences. PMSCs have shot indiscriminately at approaching vessels, sometimes resulting in the deaths of innocent fishermen. In one videotaped incident, leaked after it was played by the US PMSC Trident Group Inc. at a shipping conference, armed personnel were seen firing without warning on two skiffs which had approached the vessel. Company President Thomas Rothrauff acknowledged that those on board were probably killed, although the exact extent of injuries and the real intent of those in the skiff remains unknown: “We’re not in the business of counting injuries,” he said. According to one captain working in the Indian Ocean, “It’s the Wild Wild West out there. There are no regulations or vetting process for these teams. The company doesn’t know who it’s getting on board.”

  • The presence of private armies on board ships can contravene local and international law, and security companies have been known to buy arms illegally in war-torn countries such as Yemen, and then dump them overboard before reaching their destination.

  • The US government subsequently funded international security trade association ASIS to develop an auditable standard for PMSCs operating around the world. The standard, named PSC.1, is based on principles drawn up with the involvement of the military establishment and the PMSC industry itself, relying on self-regulation and voluntary reporting rather than binding regulations with redress mechanisms and sanctions.

  • As the number of boots on the ground of occupying forces has fallen, public attention has turned away from Iraq and Afghanistan and the private armies which gained notoriety there. Away from the public gaze, the business of PMSCs has boomed. From dependency on Pentagon contracts, they have found a wealth of new and eager clients amongst the private sector, especially in the extractive industries. They have sought out and exploited political instability in the wake of the Arab uprisings. And they have spread floating armouries across the world’s oceans to protect commercial shipping interests. In all of this, UK companies are playing a leading role, reaping enormous profits.

  • There have also been positive moves at the national level. With effect from September 2015, the Swiss government has banned all PMSCs based in Switzerland from operating in conflict zones, and has introduced strict regulation of all PMSC activity outside its borders. The UK government, by contrast, argues that PMSCs are best left to police themselves through voluntary codes.

Full Report:


Many of these private soldiers are not what we would call "fortune hunters". They are simply people who have been left out of the production process. As this new industry of private armies is booming, it's one of the few options to work. As mentioned already in several previous analyses, one of the main reasons that people are left out of the production process, especially in the developed countries, is the rapid hyper-automation of production. Robots are increasingly penetrating even in sectors which are not related with industry or construction.

This is another sign of a saturated system which struggles to find new fields in order to fuel its obsolete machine. While millions of jobs being lost, companies continue to function on the logic of maximizing profits. The result: business on the corpses of devastated countries with thousands killed or displaced. Well, it won't last too long because hyper-automation will penetrate in this brutal industry too. As mentioned in previous article:

We see a rise of private armies that act in various battlefields, like in Ukraine, exactly because in the absence of the nation-states and the national armies, someone has to protect the natural resources and the new means of production for the dominant elite. But when the arms industry will fully automate the new weapons, private armies will only serve as assistance to fully automated war machines. We already see the test fields of the weapons of future˙ the drones in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. It's not accidental that the arms industries demonstrate new weapons designed to be used inside urban areas for suppression of potential riots. There will be no "outside enemy" in the future. The threat for the dominant system will come from the interior, the big urban centers. Soldier-robots will protect worker-robots and resources. [fa.ev/the-dominant-elite-ready-to-break]

The machine already works beyond its limits. Hyper-automation is simply incompatible with this obsolete profit-chasing model which must change yesterday. And let's hope that it's not too late.

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