Private Military and Security Companies and the Liberal Conception of Violence

Criminal Justice Ethics 31 (3):158-174 (2012)
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Abstract The institution of war is the broad framework of rules, norms, and organizations dedicated to the prevention, prosecution, and resolution of violent conflict between political entities. Important parts of that institution consist of the accountability arrangements that hold between armed forces, the political leaders who oversee and direct the use of those forces, and the people in whose name the leaders act and from whose ranks the members of the armed forces are drawn. Like other parts of the institution, these arrangements are responsive to changes in military technology and needs, to geopolitical facts, and to moral and political norms. In particular, they are sensitive to the forms that military organization takes. Since the emergence of modern states in Europe some 500 years ago, there have been three main such forms: private providers?in the form of mercenaries, in early modern Europe?then professional standing armies, which in turn developed into citizen armies. Although elements of the three organizations have coexisted in many armies, the citizen army model has dominated until recently. That model brought with it a particular conception of the accountability relations between the army, the state, and the people. The state had authority over and directed the army, which was accountable to it. In turn the state was accountable for its use of the army to the people, on whose behalf it acted. The dominance of state authority over the military is now under strain, with the professional and private elements?in the form of private military and security companies (PMSCs)?having increasing importance. As those elements increase in power and presence, so it becomes more difficult to make the state accountable to the people for its use of the military, and more difficult for the people to act as a restraining force on the way in which the military used. In this essay, I outline and assess these developments?with particular emphasis on the emergence of PMSCs?in the light of a liberal view of (political) violence. The essay focuses on the situation in the United States, which possesses by far the most important military force in the world today, and in which the use of PMSCs is most developed. The paper has three main sections and a brief conclusion: the first section sketches the liberal view of violence and its implications for organizations dedicated to its use; the second outlines the salient characteristics of the three historically dominant forms of armies; and the third looks at the current situation in which the three forms coexist uneasily



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