Explaining the concept of private military and security firms

Just over half a century has passed since PMCs (Private Military Companies) first appeared. Read this article to learn more.

Explaining the concept of private military and security firms
That which you call "private military companies" (PMCs) entails what exactly? Photo by Elena Mozhvilo / Unsplash

The first private military company is WatchGuard International, founded in London in 1965 by David Stirling, a retired British Army Lieutenant Colonel and former Commander of the British SAS. The company offered consultancy, personnel training, arms acquisition support, and other services to governments mainly in the Gulf region.

Over time, similar companies emerged in the United States, Australia, South Africa, Israel, and elsewhere. The most common services offered were the training and consultancy services already mentioned, but also security, demining, etc.

The security firm G4S is also mentioned as one of the largest PMCs. The boom of private military companies started after the end of the Cold War, when governments drastically reduced military budgets, including the size of armies, and were keen to hire PMCs for some tasks.

As the American political scientist Peter Warren Singer has pointed out, while around 1990 the ratio of professional military personnel to PMC contractors was about 50:1, around the turn of the millennium it was already 10:1.

The legal regulation of PMCs prevents their employees from being involved in inter-state hostilities, in which case they risk becoming illegal combatants. In many countries, it is illegal to operate such companies and to recruit people into them, including the Russian Federation. This may seem paradoxical in light of the news that has been coming out of Russia and Ukraine for several months now.

Whereas until the end of last year there were only occasional reports in the media of Russian PMCs operating in some African and Middle Eastern countries, with Kremlin officials shying away from acknowledging the existence of such companies in Russia, soon after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, reports of these units' militant activities began to appear on a massive scale.

The war in Ukraine is arguably the first military conflict in which PMK fighters are participating in conventional warfare as regular frontline units, and they are clearly among the most combat capable of the Russian occupation forces. Particularly prominent in this respect is the PMC "Wagner Group", whose founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has become one of the most prominent figures on the Russian political scene at the moment.

He and his PMC are now allowed to carry out acts that until recently were unthinkable even in Russia, such as the mass recruitment of prisoners to be sent to the front and the killing of a militant who broke the rules of the organization, as shown in a video published on the web.