Wagner, one of Russia's private security companies, has been increasingly in the headlines lately. ‘There is a media obsession with Wagner because the war in Ukraine is so close to our borders’, said Jutta Joachim, associate professor at Radboud University. This so-called media obsession has led to more people taking an interest in the subject to which she has devoted much of her academic work, namely private security companies. ‘I had the feeling that before the Wagner scandals the topic of private security was dead, that nobody was interested in it anymore, fortunately this is not the case.’
Joachim stressed that while Wagner is an important topic, many overlook the impact of the entire private security industry. ‘Wagner is representative of a larger phenomenon and only a shadow of the growing private security industry’, she said.
Boom in social security
Joachim explained that the boom of private security companies started after the collapse of the Soviet Union. ‘After the Cold War, the defence budgets of most countries decreased, as protection was no longer a priority.’ At the same time, however, the demand for private military personal increased. ‘Countries became increasingly involved in foreign operations around the world, which led to a higher demand of troops.’
The world market for private security companies is dominated by a few countries. ‘Drivers of the industry are the US, South Africa, China and the UK, which account for seventy percent of the industry’, said Joachim. According to her, the future of this industry is very promising. ‘It is a huge and growing industry, currently estimated at 240 billion and expected to grow twice as much by 2030.’
Benefit for governments
On paper, governments can benefit from private security companies in several ways. One benefit results in the sudden change in the way governments recruit military personnel. ‘In many countries today, you can choose whether you want to be a soldier or not, so armed forces have increasing problems recruiting personnel’, said Joachim. This loss of personnel can then be compensated by private security companies.
Moreover, governments can disguise the human cost of wars by using these companies. ‘Employees of private companies who die in combat do not show up in official government statistics.’ This can reduce public criticism of military operations because the number of war casualties is kept artificially small.
The growing criticism of Wagner and other private security companies does not come out of the blue, because these companies can have a number of disadvantages. Many countries hire them with open-ended contracts without a concrete description of the objectives. ‘As a result, private security companies overstate the costs of their services’, says Joachim. This can drive up the expense of these contracts, as there is little government regulation.
Joachim continued: ‘Hiring these companies often leads to an increase in violence in the regions where they operate.’ This could be due to the great freedom these companies have: ‘It is difficult to verify which security company is responsible for acts of violence, as they often hire other sub-security companies.’ Therefore, it is frequently very complicated to hold these companies accountable for war crimes. Moreover, Joachim believes it is dangerous to rely on these companies because they may pursue different interests than governments. ‘These companies participate in wars for economic reasons and not for political reasons.’
Joachim concluded that more should be done to avoid negative consequences from these companies. ‘This is a grey area market that is hardly regulated. We need to keep a close eye on the development of this industry. Now the US has decided to classify Wagner as a transnational criminal organisation. This decision is right but only focuses on a single company, which is not enough, as there are several groups.’
Besides Joachim, Jovana Jezdimirovic Ranito from University College Twente also gave a lecture on the PMSC (Private Military and Security Company) industry. She spoke about the different definitions of security companies and how those definitions developed.