Global Policy Forum

The Many PMC Faces of NATO

Western powers have increasingly turned to private military and security companies over the last two decades. Yet, no consensus exists as to appropriate use and how oversight should be organized.  The UK government has been particularly inclined to favor the private market, making the state especially dependent on private firms for both its domestic and foreign security. PMSCs are also central for the US government, which lacks political, functional, and social control over these firms. By contrast, countries such as Germany or Norway have avoided extreme privatization of security and only contract with PMSCs for non-strategic and non-coercive services while maintaining much greater political control.  So if and when oversight and regulatory systems are set up, they should recognize this diversity and include the opinion of restrictive governments as well as the main - uncritical - clients.

By David Isenberg

November 28, 2012

Well now, let's see, the U.S. does it, the U.K. does it. France and Russia plan on doing more of it and China is planning to do a lot of it. Even the United Nations does it. By it, of course, I mean using private military and security contractors.

Perhaps you noted a trend in the above paragraph. We have gone from countries to multinational organizations, or to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, we have gone from the individual nation to the large multi-splendored collective. What other examples, besides the United Nations, can we look to in this regard?

Why, NATO, of course. But not all NATO member states are the same when it comes to PMC use. For the details let's look at the master's thesis NATO and Private Military Contractors: Different approaches, and challenges to internal cohesion and solidarity by Christian Kjelstrup and published by the University of Oslo in 2011.

He did a comparative analysis of four NATO members -- the U.S., the UK, Germany and Norway in regard to use of private military contractors and found three different patterns. One might say like the 1970s movieSybil, that when it comes to PMC use NATO member states have many faces. (Note: for those who like coincidences Sybil had 16 distinct personalities and back in the nineties NATO had 16 member nations).

According to Kjelstrup, "NATO-members such as the US and the UK have to a wide extent relied on the provision of military functions from PMCs. Contrary, other NATO-members such as Germany have been very restrictive towards the privatisation of force."

But, as he notes, for NATO, an alliance built on the principles of democracy and consensus, "an inconsistency therefore occurs when alliance-members have accepted the recurrence of PMCs into their civil-military relations at a varying degree." He explores this inconsistency by asking questions such as:

Which different policy standards do NATO members have towards the use of PMCs?

How do different approaches towards the use of PMCs affect NATO's internal cohesion and solidarity?

For the United States he found, unsurprisingly:

"The case of the US can in total be summed up by low political control, low functional control, and low social control."

Given that the UK "has since the Thatcher administration from the 1980s been the frontrunner of privatisation in Europe" it is also no surprise that the UK dare not, in fact cannot operate, let alone go to war, without PMC. For example:

"Public Private Partnerships (PPP) were introduced in 1997 with the purpose of further modernisation of the British military. A core element of PPP is the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) program. Under PFI private capital is invited to bid on the procurement, construction, and maintenance, of British military facilities which the MoD then buys or rents from the PMC in return. Under the PPP/PFI programme, the MoD has to a large extent relied on PMC for the training of crews for key military functions such as attack and medium sized transport helicopters, Hawk and Tornado fighter jets, strategic airlift, Astute-class submarines, and by 2016 the entire air tanker. This indicates a serious dependence on private expertise in order to train crews who are vital to the military systems ability to generate security. Also, the MoD may find it very hard to opt out of such contracts because with PPP /PFI expertise and ownership of military service facilities remain on the hands of the PMC in the case of contract termination. This further increases the dependence in the short term because the MoD may have a hard time finding substitutes for the PMCs currently on contract who have sufficient expertise and facilities available."

But, unlike the United States, the UK, at least in some areas, is a bit more cautious about what it allows its PMC to do.

"Whereas the US has more actively introduced PMCs to provide coercive services to its contingency operations abroad, the UK has to a larger extend relied on PMCs for training at home. This indicates that the UK is concerned about violations by PMC acting on its behalf. Relatively to the US, the UK has also to a greater extent explicitly stated and broadened the scope of its policy regarding social integration of force. Therefore, although the UK scores a 'low' on political and functional control, it is assigned a 'high' on social control."

German policy, however, is markedly different. It emphasizes that privatization is limited to services of non-strategic relevance and non-coercive services. The Merkel government has clearly stated that PMCs providing coercive services are not hired. For its current operation in Afghanistan, the German Ministry of Defence has hired PMCs exclusively for the provision of support services such as canteens and construction.

The downside of that is that because Germany does not use PMCs to provide coercive services, it neither does have specific regulation to this regard like for example the US has.

Evidently the Germans are not as enthusiastic about Adam Smith's invisible hand as the British.

"Germany planned to introduce market principles to the German Armed Forces as early as 1994, but has however been very careful in regard to thereafter following developments. The German government has during the process of privatisation aimed at full or partial ownershipof those PMCs which are providing services to its armed forces. The Framework Agreement "Innovation, Investment and Efficiency", introduced in 1999, assigns the German Armed Forces with ownership of military assets, while PMCs may take over associated services such as management, operation and training."

Given its history Germany is one of the most sensitive states in the world when it comes to the use of force so:

"Even though Germany has not been privatising coercive military functions, its public, represented by its national parliament, is widely concerned with the matter. Especially the legal status of PMCs and the right to use force by their employees is under focus by members of parliament. Also, the avoidance of using PMCs is arguably a strong indirect statement in regard to state control over all forms of the use of force. As a result, Germany is assigned 'high' on social control, thereby scoring 'high' on all indicators relative to the US and the UK."

Like Germany, Norway has so far been careful with the privatization of coercive services and military functions. In terms of political control the NMoD [Norwegian Ministry of Defense] is "clearly in the driving seat. It both has the initiative, and sets the terms and conditions. Compared to the UK, for instance, government leadership is not perceived as an interference with free market principles."

However, for internal purposes, Norway does use PMC, but for resource reasons, not political ideology.

"The Norwegian military, and especially the Army, is experiencing a gap between provided funds and political ambitions. As a result, many former competences have been eroded with the result that the military is looking to the PMI for training expertise. Over 30 PMCs have as of 2008 been providing military training to the Norwegian military so that it can meet its operational standards. This clearly leads towards the indication that the Norwegian military indeed is dependent on PMCs in order to meet its functional training standards. However, the Norwegian case of dependence is a result of politically initiated military downsizing and not a political initiative for privatisation, as is the case in the UK and US."

The implications of the above are that the use of PMCs among these nations can be categorized as either having 'high' political, functional and social control (Germany and Norway), or 'low' political, functional and social control (the US). A third pattern is represented by the UK, with its 'low' political and functional control, yet not as extreme as the US when it comes to social control. The bottom line is that there are in indeed differences among NATO-members when it comes to the use of PMCs.

So, if it's true that variety is the spice of life NATO PMC policy probably tastes like a hot chili pepper.


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