Private contractors: Buy a war, sell the peace?

Using Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC) in civil wars contributes to instability even after they are gone. Why?

Corinne Bara, November 2022

In a new article in the Security Studies journal, Joakim Kreutz and myself find that peace tends to fail more often and more quickly if Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC) or mercenaries have been actively involved in combat during the civil war.

Though the actual PMSC forces may withdraw as their contract ends, the legacy of their use will accentuate uncertainty in the postwar society. The former enemies are not sure whether the outcome of the conflict really reflects the strength of the opponent, given that they were supported by PMSC, and may consider another challenge now that the support from the PMSC is gone. At the same time, distrust is high as another deployment of PMSC in the postwar period is a potential risk, given that they have been hired once already.

And indeed, using duration (survival) analysis, we find that PMSC involvement in the final year of a conflict more than doubles the risk of war recurrence.

Given the frequent and increasing deployment of private contractors as fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and beyond, these are concerning findings. The presence of such forces should not be ignored or viewed merely as a commercial transaction but as an indicator of a particularly vulnerable postwar society.

In 2000, Doug Brooks, founder of the association representing the private military industry’s biggest players, wrote that private military companies can and should help end wars in Africa speedily – either through peace enforcement or by helping one side win quickly. Our research shows that even if that were the case, it would be a bad idea, given that such conflicts would just be more likely to restart.