Are marketised states a threat to peace?

The rise and rise of privatised military companies has transformed the state's war making capacities and foreign policy horizons.
Michela Telatin
31 March 2010

The marketisation of security is a prominent facet of the current foreign policy practices of Western states. Increasingly, Western states pay private military companies to fulfil militarised foreign policy objectives. Ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq expose these contemporary strategies used by western marketised states. While existing literature on the state privileges failed states and their capacity to produce and export insecurity, little attention is paid to how the process of state transformation occurring in the west under the aegis of marketisation influences the conflict capabilities of western states and their propensity to make war.

The ongoing private military company boom, nurtured by multimillion dollar contracts paid by governments such as the USA and UK for services in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot simply be justified by temporary operational needs on the battlefield due to a shortage of soldiers and warfare technicians. Private military companies are not simply force multipliers of Western states’ armies, but this does not make them anti-state actors. The state remains their paymaster, whether their task be to train the police and armed forces, secure election polling stations, manage military training centres, etc. While private military companies integration within the state's armed forces has been a much remarked on and contentious development, their integration into the foreign policies of western marketised states is less investigated.

This silent transformation of marketised foreign policies has camouflaged the operations of patron-states in global hot-spots characterised by increasing local insecurity that threatens the interests of western states. The boom in private military companies during the last decade can be explained by the dual processes of Western states' transformation and their changing foreign policy responses to regional insecurity. 

Western marketised states

The marketisation of the security sector, exemplified by the use of private military companies as state security/war providers, has redefined the capacity of the state to fulfil its domestic and international functions. In the domestic domain, the marketisation of personal security creates a gap between the rich, able to pay for private guards to secure their neighbourhood and houses, and the poor, who find themselves unprotected. While peace is then monetarised, fear is normal for the majority of people who are un-bankable.

In the international domain, the marketisation of security raises questions about the nature of contemporary western states; how does the employment of private military companies as additional tools influence western states response to, and understanding of, international security issues? While the multiplication of inter-, intra-, and trans-national relations is a well known phenomenon, the western state remains the most powerful world actor, despite the fact that it marketises parts of its security activities to private military companies. A marketised state is not a weak state which needs the support of private military companies to go to war, but a strong state which, from a mapping of its worldwide interests, can orchestrate the use of different foreign policy tools at its disposal, including state intelligence services, national armies, NGOs, and more recently the private 'WiFi' soldiers of private military companies, whose wireless fidelity is linked to their contract and not to passionate patriotism.

Western governments' willingness to include these new tools in the manufacturing of their foreign policies raises the question of whether the transformed nature of the state has made the west more prone to war.

The private military company stimulus

The rapid proliferation of private military companies in the last decade has often been interpreted as a result of the end of the Cold War and resulting peace dividend and the influence of a neoliberal economic outlook on the reduction of state spending. But the rise of private military companies in the 2000s can also be linked to current Western interventions in regions experiencing a widening spectrum of insecurity. Private military companies existed well before the end of the Cold War and their expansion in the 2000s was accompanied by increases military spending. Private military companies are flourishing in the UK and USA not because of the centrality of neoliberal economic theories but because these two countries are at the forefront of interventionist foreign policies whose implementation requires the marketisation of security policies.

The development of private military companies in a country’s territory is not inevitably linked to the general trend of economic and political devolution of state activities; the marketisation and privatisation of public goods and services. If it were, private military companies would have flourished in many other countries pursuing economic liberalisation. It is a connection in need of further research, but the presence of private military companies in these select liberal states seems to link the process of state transformation and a growing foreign policy interventionism, evidenced in security sector reform policies implemented by private military companies.

Private military companies have become the invisible hands of western marketised states. With the costs of war de-politicised by the employment of WiFi soldiers, the state's activities disguised in the world's hot spots, and parliament absconding responsibility by blaming private military companies in the case of problems, private military companies sustain western states' interventionism.

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