The use of private security companies in armed conflicts has increased.
– Allowing private, profit-driven businesses to supply services related to force and security is a clear challenge to the idea of a state monopoly of violence, says Joakim Berndtsson, PhD student in Peace and Development Research at the University of Gothenburg.
Since the start of the war in Iraq in 2003 a number of violent incidents have occurred in which private security companies have been involved. At the same time, the international debate on the role of security companies in armed conflicts has intensified. The private companies often undertake assignments that are traditionally associated with military units. Many commentators maintain that the firms are insufficiently regulated and that state supervision of their operations is functioning poorly or not at all.
– Privatization is contributing to erasing the boundaries between private and public actors, complexifying questions of state control, says Joakim Berndtsson.
The state control is changing
Joakim Berndtsson has analysed how privatization of security challenges ingrained ways of thinking about the state and its role in relation to force and security and how the use of private security companies in Iraq influences state control over the means of violence. It has been estimated that in Iraq, which has been called “the first privatized war”, at most some 50,000 people have worked for private security companies on behalf of American, British and other companies and authorities.
– With such a large number of private operators in the conflict zone, a large proportion of which are performing armed operations, it is reasonable to assume that state control over the means and use of force is changing, says Joakim Berndtsson.
A modern construction
Privatization also entails an increased willingness to look for solutions to what are perceived as security problems and threats that are private or are “adapted to the market”. A fundamental point of departure in the thesis is that even though privatization can be regarded as a challenge to the idea of the state monopoly of force, it is not a new phenomenon.
– It has to be remembered that the idea of a state monopoly of force is a modern construction, chiefly associated with consolidated states. The actual control that the state exercises over the instruments and use of force varies substantially in relation to time and place. A more long-term historical perspective reveals the current privatization of security to be more of a return of private operators than something entirely new, says Joakim Berndtsson.
However, the fact that the state’s control is changing does not always imply a deterioration.
– On the one hand it is possible to observe the way in which the privatization of security has under certain circumstances led to increased flexibility and functionality for states such as the USA and the UK. But the inadequate regulation and problematic relations between the security companies and other military and civilian personnel has simultaneously led to increased insecurity and an undermining of state control over the use of force in Iraq.
Title of the thesis: The Privatisation of Security and State Control of Force: Changes, Challenges and the Case of Iraq
Name of faculty opponent: Dr. Christopher Kinsey, Defence Studies Department, Kings College, London
Time and venue for the public defence: Friday 3 April 2009 at 1.15 pm, Lecture theatre SA 326, Campus Linné, Seminariegatan 1, Gothenburg