which rely on a kind of private armies made of 20-25 million persons. Their growing and even dubious activities are poorly documented.

Small Arms Survey (SAS), an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, has prepared a study on this issue, attempting to shed light on a poorly documented aspect of the global private security industry: its use of arms.

“While much attention has been devoted to debating the legitimacy of Private Security Companies (PSCs) undertaking what may be considered state functions, the study says, less effort has gone into documenting the types of small arms used by PSCs and potential gaps in their control.”

**They Exceed The Number Of Police Officers In The World**

The SAS study main findings include:

• Based on a review of 70 countries, this study estimates that the formal private security sector employs between 19.5 and 25.5 million people worldwide.

. The number of PSC personnel has grown at a fast pace since the mid-1980s and exceeds the number of police officers at the global level.

• PSCs hold between 1.7 and 3.7 million firearms worldwide, an estimate based on extrapolations from reported inventories. If undeclared and illegally held weapons were to be included, the global PSC stockpile would undoubtedly be higher.

• Globally, PSC firearm holdings are just a fraction of the stockpiles held by law enforcement agencies (26 million) and armed forces (200 million).

. While several states ban the use of small arms by PSCs, private security stockpiles in some conflict-affected areas amount to more than three weapons per employee.

**Arms Per PSC Employee In Latin America, Ten Times Higher Than W. Europe**

The SAS main findings also include facts such as:

. Outside of armed conflict settings, PSCs are most armed in Latin America, with ratios of arms per employee about ten times higher than in Western Europe.

. PSCs working in Afghanistan and Iraq have been equipped with fully automatic assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, and, in some cases, rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs), raising questions about their stated ‘defensive’ roles.

**Illegal Acquisition Of Arms?**

. Some PSCs have been involved in illegal acquisition and possession of firearms, have lost weapons through theft, and have used their small arms against civilians although they were unprovoked. Available information remains anecdotal, however, and makes it challenging to measure PSC performance over time or compare it to that of state security forces.

• The rapid growth of the private security sector has outpaced regulation and oversight mechanisms. International initiatives to tackle regulatory gaps remain in their infancy.

**Weapons Systems, Prisoners, Intelligence Operations…**

Security and military services may include protecting persons, guarding objects (such as convoys or buildings), the maintenance and operation of weapons systems, prisoner detention, the provision of advice or training for security forces and personnel, and associated surveillance and intelligence operations, reports SAS.

In addition to desk research and interviews with industry representatives and other stakeholders, the SAS, which serves as the principal international source of public information on all aspects of small arms and armed violence and as a resource for governments, policy-makers, researchers, and activists, according it its site, relies on a number of original expert contributions commissioned by the Small Arms Survey.

**Lack Of Data, Monitoring**

‘The main impediment to accounting for the total number of PSC employees in the world is the lack of global data collection and monitoring systems,’ says SAS.

In addition, “countless smaller firms are also active; about 30,000 companies are registered in the Russian Federation, while South African PSCs numbered nearly 7,500 in 2010.”

Taken together, PSC personnel employed in the 70 countries outnumber police officers by a ratio of 1.8 to 1, according to the study.

“These countries employ a combined 19.5 million PSC personnel (a rate of 435 per 100,000) compared with fewer than 11 million police officers (240 per 100,000), suggesting an even greater imbalance than previously thought.”

Global private security dominance in terms of personnel does not apply systematically across countries, however.

More than half (39) of the countries listed in SAS study actually employ more police officers than PSC personnel, but their effect on global numbers is negated by the situation in larger PSC markets, such as China, India, and the United States.

**One Million People In ‘ Informal Security Arrangements’ In Brazil Only**

While clarifying that it is beyond the scope of this study to document the number of people participating in informal security arrangements, SAS says, however, that the figures reportedly hover around 50,000 in Argentina, between 670,000 and 1,000,000 in Brazil, and from 240,000 to 600,000 in Mexico.

In Francophone African countries, it adds, some communities seek to fill the state security vacuum by establishing informal neighbourhood militia groups, while young men faced with economic hardship provide free bodyguard services to businessmen in exchange for food— activities that are reported by neither industry nor governments.

**Western Militaries and Governments**

Some major Western militaries and government agencies, such as the US Department of Defence, have gradually institutionalised the outsourcing of functions other than combat in order to free up uniformed personnel for fighting, according to SAS study.

“Some states contracting PSCs argue that the private sector can be hired and fired faster than uniformed personnel and can therefore be deployed more flexibly, which is more affordable in the long run than maintaining a permanent in-house capability.”

**More Wars, More Private Armies**

As a result, the proportion of non-military personnel contracted by the US military has increased over time; while it represented 1/20 of the size of regular US forces during World War I, this ratio grew to 1/7 during World War II and 1/6 in Vietnam, to reach and even exceed parity in the conflicts of the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, SAS reports.

“A side effect of reductions in state security personnel has been the creation of a vast supply of available and trained individuals, many of whom secured jobs in PSCs or created their own.”

**Millions Of Demobilised Soldiers**

An estimated 5–6 million soldiers were demobilised worldwide between 1985 and 1996, says SAS. If reservists are included, military downsizing from the 1980s to 2007 resulted in more than 30 million trained personnel leaving military positions worldwide.

**The Perils Of Growth**

One of the principal concerns regarding the private security sector is that, like other commercial services, only those who are able and willing to pay will benefit from it.

In this regard, the study says that this dynamic runs the risk of exacerbating disparities between the wealthy—protected by increasingly sophisticated systems—and the poorest, who may need to resort to informal and some- times illegal means to secure their safety.

“Another crucial question concerns the legitimacy of outsourcing activities that some consider an inherently governmental function. The use of PSCs redistributes the control over the use of force, and drawing a line on the types of services that PSCs can perform has been the subject of continuing debate.”

**Who Is Killing Al-Qaeda Operatives?**

Reports that the (US) Central Intelligence Agency hired Blackwater to carry out a plan to assassinate al-Qaeda operatives caused significant controversy, the study underlines.

“The possible use of PSCs to conduct internationally mandated peace-keeping operations and humanitarian interventions is similarly contentious. While very few firms currently undertake offensive combat missions, PSCs generally do not have policies ruling out this possibility.”

**They Have Their Own, Voluntary Code Of Conduct**

“A voluntary industry code of conduct, for instance, does not exclude taking on offensive missions if ‘mandated by a legitimate authority under international law’, adds the study.

In situations of armed conflict, international humanitarian law (IHL) and international criminal law govern the activities of PSC employees, according to SAS.

**Serious Violations**

“Serious violations they commit or order to be committed may be prosecuted in national or international courts, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Both IHL and international human rights law also apply to states that hire PSCs (contracting states), states where they operate, and those where they are incorporated.”

Much of the discussion surrounding private contractors and their relationship to IHL has focused on determining whether these individuals have status as combatants or civilians, according to the SAS study.

Small Arms Survey full report:


Copyright © 2011 Human Wrongs Watch

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