The Use of PMSCs by the United Nations

As the world recently celebrated the United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Day, most remain unaware that the UN employs Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) to help facilitate international missions.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was endorsed by all member states at the United Nations 2005 World Summit. It subsequently established a global political commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. This created a collective responsibility among member states to take timely action in the event a State or a Government would fail to protect its own population.

However, the aftermath of the Cold War resulted in smaller domestic national armed forces and reduced security-related costs. Thus, there has been a growing reliance on private organizations to provide security and military services to states, international organizations, and multinational corporations. In fact, PMSCs represent a 100-165 billion industry and are continuously growing at a 7-8 % rate annually 1. PMSCs have filled the gap in the reduction of national armies and have become integral parts of low-intensity armed conflict and post-conflict areas.

Previous United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gregory Starr argues that they often cannot rely on host countries to maintain security or UN member states to send enough peacekeepers for adequate protection 2. Since 2003, there have been at least 567 targeted attacks on civilian personnel resulting in 200 deaths 3. With UN personnel becoming increasingly targeted in conflict zones, such as in Afghanistan and Somalia, the UN has turned to PMSCs to provide intelligence and protection services.

Direct and indirect use of PMSCs by the UN

One common misconception is that PMSCs’ involvement in UN operations is primarily based on armed presence in conflict. However, PMSCs’ involvement mostly centres around providing the UN, and other humanitarian organizations, with risk analysis, staff security training,

crisis management advice, and security assessments 4. For example, while monitoring UN sanctions on Indonesia regarding its past abuses in East Timor, DynCorp International provided helicopter and satellite network communications to provide logical and intelligence support. Often, PMSCs fill the gap where UN personnel or member states lack capacity or resources. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) hired at least four PMSCs, including DynCorp to supply drivers and mechanics that would transport and conduct maintenance for the UN Protection Force in Bosnia.

It is important to note that PMSCs can also be employed by member states themselves. In fact, until April 2004, all of the United States’ officers in the UN Civilian Police were DynCorp employees 5. Pacific Architects & Engineers (PAE) also has employees acting as civil police personnel to UN missions in Haiti and Liberia. Moreover, countries, where peacekeeping efforts are being conducted, are seeking out PMSCs as well. Both PAE and DynCorp have been awarded peacekeeping and capability building contracts in Africa countries, particularly in Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA). Paramount Group also offers “peacekeeping packages” to help developing countries meet UN requirements.

Security and protection services that support peacebuilding efforts

In 2014, the UN employed 30 PMSCs with unarmed and armed personnel for 11 peacekeeping operations and one support mission to provide airfield management, use of drones, and monitoring of arms embargoes 6. Furthermore, an integral part of maintaining many peacekeeping missions centre around demining and ordnance disposal. PMSCs have stepped into this market by providing mine clearances and training for local deminers.

Since the 1990s, the UN has hired PMSCs to provide security and protection for UN personnel. Moreover, PMSCs personnel remain even after peacekeepers have been removed from high-conflict areas in accordance with their contractual obligations. In addition to providing armed security personnel, PMSCs provide police and military training, capacity building, and strategic information gathering 7. Thus, PMSCs do not serve as front-line peacekeepers, but instead provide necessary management or logistical personnel for UN operations.

However, the UN Charter currently does not cite the use of PMSCs or provide a legal basis for peacekeeping operations. To a certain extent, this limits the accountability and transparency of PMSCs’ actions within UN operations. Moreover, although the International Code of Conduct for Security Services Providers and the Montreux Document aim to regulate PMSCs’ involvement, there is not yet a legally binding instrument that can enforce these regulations. Amid this growing reliance on PMSCs, the UN should acknowledge PMSCs within its Charter and incorporate PMSCs in its policies to ensure transparency in PMSC contracting 8.

[1] Macías, Andrés, “The Impact of PMSC on the Role of Today’s Military”, OPERA n°12, 2012: p. 221. All the sources have been consulted between June 1st and June 9th, 2020.

[2] Gómez Del Prado, Jose L., “A United Nations Instrument to Regulate and Monitor Private Military and Security Contractors”, Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. I, Issue I, 2011: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1000&context=ndjicl

[3] Linti, Tina, “UN’s Use of Private Military and Security Companies in Peacekeeping Operations – is there a legal basis?”, Politikon: IAPSS Political Science Journal, Vol. 29, p. 144: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d306/bfa8fc6248ee819ad1cf5d5de5e9238f6894.pdf

[4] Østensen, Åse Gilje, “UN Use of Private Military and Security Companies: Practices and Policies, The United Nations and PMSCs: An overview”, SSR Paper 3, 2011, p. 14

[5] Ibid.

[6] Linti, Tina, “UN’s Use of Private Military and Security Companies in Peacekeeping Operations – is there a legal basis?”, Politikon: IAPSS Political Science Journal, Vol. 29, p. 142: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d306/bfa8fc6248ee819ad1cf5d5de5e9238f6894.pdf

[7] “Summary report of the expert panel on the use of private military and security companies by the United Nations”, OHCHR, 31/07/2013: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Mercenaries/WG/StudyPMSC/EventSummary.pdf

[8] Østensen, Åse Gilje, “UN Use of Private Military and Security Companies: Practices and Policies, The United Nations and PMSCs: An overview”, SSR Paper 3, 2011, p. 59