Humanitarian Affairs Review

Should Humanitarians Use Private Military Services?

Reprinted by permission of Humanitarian Affairs Review, (Summer 2004).

The emergence of a global trade in hired military services, better known as the "privatised military industry," is one of the most interesting developments in warfare over the last decade. The businesses in this industry, known as "privatised military firms" (PMFs), range from small consulting firms, comprised of retired generals, to transnational corporations that lease out wings of fighter jets or battalions of commandos.

These firms presently operate in over 50 countries. They have been the key actors in a number of conflicts, helping to win wars in Angola, Croatia, Ethiopia- Eritrea, and Sierra Leone. Even the US military has become one of the prime clients of the industry. From 1994-2002, the US Defense Department entered into over 3,000 contracts with US-based firms, estimated at a contract value of more than $300bn.