The Privatization of Warfare

What are the advantages and disadvantages of devolving the state’s monopoly on the use of legitimate force?

Taylor discusses the ethical  issues concerning whether PMSCs ( Private Military and Security Companies) should be hired by States to undertake military operations, and argues in support of hiring PMSCs ”when they are likely to be the most effective agents available at carrying out those operations.'( Taylor, p. 149). Taylor qualifies this claim by stating that military effectiveness should be understood in a ‘moralised sense’ ( Taylor, p.150) of promoting the just goals of war underpinning the concept of of jus ad bellum ( justifications for war) and the international humanitarian law on  jus ad bello ( the way in which warfare is conducted) ( ICRC 2015), which for instance, prohibits the indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of civilians.  

Ethical, philosophical and legal questions arise as to whether PMSCs should be hired to wage war in the name of a State or undertake peace keeping operations in military conflict zones. Harel argues such tasks are ínherently governmental functions’ ( Taylor p.152), with the devolving of the State’s monopoly on the use of violence ethically questionable. It is arguable that the delegation of military operations to PMSCs unlike, for instance, the delegation of the task of carrying out medical procedures to doctors , or the contracting of external agents to promote the business interests of a company, often involves the execution of non-consensual violence against individuals. 

In relation to the moral justifications for hiring PMSCs, Harel argues that ‘while private actors could carry out the functions in question, the normative character of them would change, and they may thereby become impermissible’ (Taylor, p.152) .  It is difficult to accept that political and moral judgments made by a State about the justifications for waging war or military/humanitarian intervention in another State and the means by which such judgments are to be implemented  may be justifiably delegated to an autonomous private agent.

Relying on a purely transactional  approach to justify the delegation of the use of violence by PMSCs does not fully take into account the subjective moralities of such agents and their determination of the rightness or wrongness of their actions in using violence in the name of a State.  Taylor cites Harel’s argument that ‘regular soldiers can, at least in most cases, let the state’s judgment of the justice of the war pre-empt their own. But private contractors do not have this option.’ ( Taylor, p.153) .

Taylor counters Harel’s arguments by asserting that there is ”no reason for preferring the use of states’ regular armies over PMSCs”  by asserting that a State’s authority is over its own citizens and not over those of another state that it intends to intervene in.Thus, the fact that the invading State believes it has just cause to invade another State does not reflect the fact that citizens of a State invaded do not accept the invading State’s authority to do so. ( Taylor, p.154). From this perspective, wars fought by States as well as those waged by private contractors would be’ initiated by ‘private’ judgments’ (Taylor p.154), since they lack the justifying authority of an international body like the UN and do not come under direct control of such global bodies.

It is arguable, however, that the fact that private judgments of both States and PMSCs are engaged in waging war suggests that private military contractors may derive their judgments from their private moralities and execute actions against civilians in a way that may not always  be effectively regulated by the State. Baker and Pattison note the possibility of a ‘loss of control over the behavior of those in the field as lines of command and  control become blurred by the introduction of PMSCs’. (Baker and Pattinson, p.2). Such instances of misconduct of PMSCs include ‘ the Nisoor Square (Iraq) shooting involving Blackwater that left 17 civilians dead, and the torture and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison involving Titan and CACI personnel. ‘ (Huskey, p.194).

Interestingly , at civil proceedings brought against Blackwater, the US denied that  Blackwater personnel were employees of the State, and therefore not under its control despite the fact that Blackwater personnel provided security for a US State Department convoy in Baghdad in 2007. The increasing privatization of warfare is further evidenced by the Blackwater security firm’s recent plan to deploy a private army to ‘topple Venezuela’s Socialist president, Nicholas Maduro.’ (Haaretz, 2019)

BAKER, D. and PATTISON, J. (2012), The Principled Case for Employing Private Military and Security Companies in Interventions for Human Rights Purposes. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 29: 1-18

Blackwater Founder’s Latest Sales Pitch: Mercenaries to Topple Venezuelan Regime’, Haaretz, 30 April 2019.

Isaac Taylor (2018) Privatising war: assessing the decision to hire privatemilitary contractors, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 21:2, 148-168,

Kristine A. Huskey (2012) Accountability for Private Military and SecurityContractors in the International Legal Regime, Criminal Justice Ethics, 31:3, 193-212

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