Does anyone still question the fact that private security companies offer services that are in high demand? If so, a quick conversation with Abdinur Ahmed Darman, a Somali warlord, would clear the doubts! Darman, who presents himself as Somalia’s president, has decided to solve his security problems by contracting Asgaard Security Group, a German private company. Asgaard’s employees are, like most employees of the industry, former Bundeswehr special forces and elite police units and will be using their skills to protect and maybe train Darman’s forces, actively aiding him in his quest to challenge the UN-backed transitional government.
Without over-stretching the analysis, Asgaard will be basically operating against Germany’s national interest. However, the company’s actions are not bad in themselves. It is obviously that Darman is a stakeholder in Somalia and if Asgaard will provide more legitimacy to his claims, who can really argue that that is bad? However, as AQ has allied with Islamist Groups in Somalia, and has repeatedly asked Germany to leave Afghanistan, Asgaard activities in Somalia can impact German nation-wide security policies.
It is beyond the purpose of this blog entry to decide whether the company will be aiding or prolonging the conflict in Somalia. What is to be taken out of this incident is the fact that one, private security companies are here and they’re here to stay and two, private security companies have to be included in the international law body so to provide clear expectations from these companies and the choices they make on whom to offer their services.
Considered an American-exclusive problem, private security companies have been largely ignored across the Atlantic. With the overwhelming exception of the Brits, other nations failed to even properly tackle the issues these companies bring about, despite the fact that a lot of such companies are headquartered in France, Spain, Italy and Germany. So far, the actions of poster-child Xe Services, former Blackwater, and the incidents it was involved in, have caused outrage in the old continent, with German newspapers criticizing at great length the Bush Administration for the general policy towards such companies. Nevertheless, Xe/Blackwater was accussed of too much involvement with the US Government, not that it was operating against the interests of the American people. Doug Brooks of IPOA, the US trade association of the private security industry, has repeatedly highlighted the fact that these companies and their employees are Americans working and representing US interests abroad. Andrew Bearpark and The British Association of Private Security Companies have gone to a great length to promote transparent relations with the UK government and the profesionalization of the industry. Even though a signer of the Montreux Document, Germany and other European countries need to address the issue in a manner that not only offers guidelines, but determines the obligations, responsibilities and compliance rules for their private security companies . So Europeans, we have to quit claiming the moral high-ground and this fashionable anti- privatization attitude, as it is not matched by the reality. Private security companies have found a niche in the market and no, they are not mercenaries, but legitimate structures and governments worldwide have the responsibility to ensure the proper legal status. Ideally, the status of private security companies should be adressed at an international level, EU or NATO. Though an EU-level agreement is not likely, clear national legislation and especially supervising bodies are mandaory at least for all transatlantic NATO partners.
Lastly, rather than starting to throw fire at the German company in a Scahill style, I would just like to ask how their actions are worse than The Red Cross training the Talibans in first aid? As if the Talibans were not imune enough to the attrition strategy! But then again, the ICRC has to somehow maintain its image of independence. The bottom line is that non-state groups, private companies and NGOs alike, both interfere in the conduct of a conflict. Their behaviour has strategic and tactical consequences for all parties involved, especially as in “the war amongst the people”, it is very difficult to distinguish who are the regular forces, the contractors and the humanitarians.