Global Policy Forum

UN Embroiled in Private Security Controversy

Global Policy Forum’s report “Dangerous Partnerships”, released last month, has sparked a debate about the use of Private Military and Security Companies by the United Nations. The UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) has rejected the report’s conclusions as ‘unfounded’, but has failed to provide the public with actual numbers because there is “no centralizes process” to deal with PMSCs within the UN. Requests for comments from journalists have been met with silence and the UN has thus far refused to shed light on its contracts with PMSCs.

By Rosalind Adams,

August 17, 2012

A Global Policy Forum report released last month concludes the United Nations has increased its use of Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs) since 2006 and demands more oversight from the UN.

Experts agree that the system lacks regulation, but for some, the true problem is that use of these companies is condoned at all.

According to the report by Global Policy Forum Program Coordinator Lou Pingeot, “Dangerous Partnership: Private Military and Security Companies and the UN,” PMSCs are being used in a panoply of different roles and UN agencies. These range from the seemingly more innocuous, like unarmed guards protecting UN staff, to the more deleterious, including providing armed guards in conflict regions.

The UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) criticizes the report’s conclusion that spending on security has increased, saying these claims may be unfounded.

Andrew Martin of DSS told MediaGlobal, “The increase in security spending the report spoke about seemed to include all spending with companies who may have an element of security in their business but the report had jumped to the assumption that the contract was for security.”

However, it is difficult to confirm this because no inter-agency record is kept as to how and where these companies are being employed. Martin reveals,“At the moment I can’t say who’s using these companies because it not under SS [UN Department of Safety and Security]. There’s no centralized process.”

The lack of internal organization is cause for alarm. Abby Stoddard, a fellow at the NYU Center on International Coordination, tells MediaGlobal, “The risks occur when an aid organization lacks clear internal policies on whether, when, and how to employ a PSP (Private Security Provider).“

In an official response to the report, the office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General acknowledged a need for more oversight, stating that they are working on a draft policy on the use and oversight to hire these companies. The policy would include a provision “that such companies may only be used in circumstances where the provision of armed security by the host country, another member state, or United Nations resources are not possible or appropriate.”

As an international peacekeeping body with an intention to prevent conflict, the United Nations has no military force of its own. Peacekeeping forces for UN missions are provided by the member states. But with presence in increasingly militarized zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, the UN has defended its need for security companies to protect itself.

In an interview with MediaGlobal, author of the report Pingeot asks, “There is a broader question here. Should the UN be deployed in some situations? Should the UN have a presence?”

Pingeot argues that it is the changing security policies of the UN, a trend toward bunkerization—that is, creating war-like compounds to protect its staff in conflict zones—which encourages this trend toward an increasing use of PMSCs.

Similarly, Stoddard explains that both an increase in aid worker violence and an increasing use of security providers, though not necessarily directly correlated, are tied to humanitarian operations in increasingly violent regions. “The PSP

industry ballooned in the aftermath of Iraq, and many of them sought humanitarian clients in Afghanistan and elsewhere where there was a high incidence of violence.”

But are private security providers truly mollifying the danger of these regions? There seems to be no evidence of this as numbers from the Aid Worker Security Database show the highest number of aid worker victims worldwide (306) in recent years. Though private security forces may not be directly responsible for this situation, it may be fair to say that at the least they are contributing to increasingly militant situations.

A spokesperson for G4S, the largest security company in the world, in describing the staffing of a mine-clearing contract in Afghanistan between one of its subsidiaries, ArmorGroup, and UNOPS, noted, “ArmorGroup followed the time-proven approach of working with members of the local communities to the maximum extent practicable – engaging local village/tribal elders in accordance with local custom to provide local solutions to local problems.”

The G4S spokesperson disputed an earlier report from a US Senate committee that they were working with Afghan warlords, instead saying that their protocol with whom to liaison were based on recommendations from US Special Forces team based at the Shindand Airbase.

While hiring locally may be the best practice for a security company, does this aid the UN? Interacting and gaining acceptance with the locals is an important security strategy, but as Stoddard notes, “It is arguably impossible to outsource. Theoretically an outside firm could be hired that does this type of security work too, but the more removed it is from the organization the harder it is to communicate to the local people who the organization is and what it’s goals are.”

Though hiring a security company to clear mines may well fall under the new draft policy to only contract in instances that are beyond the scope of the UN, what is also disconcerting is that the UN, as a peacekeeping body, is participating in a war profiteering model at all.

Beyond the official response to correspondents, the UN remains mainly tacit as attention swirls around the issue after the release of the Global Policy Forum report.

After speaking to a G4S spokesperson about the details of a contract in Santo Domingo to support the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission in Haiti, a representative from the UN office claimed there were no security forces in the Santo Domingo office. The Public Information Officer for DPKO, Andre-Michel Essoungou, responded to our additional queries about the contract with, “I am quite confident that you have the essence of what we at DPKO/UN have to say.”

As pieces of this story come together — increasingly militarized conflict regions, problems in outsourcing security services, and a lack of internal oversight — it may be time to question whether these companies should be hired at all.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.