Private military and security companies and the international trade in small arms and light weapons

Authored by: Malcolm Hugh Patterson

The Global Arms Trade

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  May  2014

Print ISBN: 9781857434972
eBook ISBN: 9780203851456
Adobe ISBN:


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Private military and security contractor or ‘PMSC’ is a broadly accepted initialism that denotes a range of service providers described in various categories and taxonomies (Wulf 2005; Mandel 2002; Kinsey 2006; Singer 2003). Over the last 20 years PMSCs have evolved to a point where they provide indispensable support for military forces fielded by a growing number of states and more advanced militaries in particular. They are most prominently integrated in the USA, which possesses the most sophisticated armed forces and cannot sustain a major campaign without these firms (Singer 2007, 3). PMSCs also play an expanding role in the delivery of a broad range and depth of logistic and security functions in support of both civilian government and non-government organizations (Vaux 2002, 14–6; van Brabant 2002). Much PMSC business involves tasks in unstable and violent places. Here and elsewhere these firms have exhibited both permissible and less than ethical behaviour in dealings that have involved small arms and light weapons (SALW). Perhaps unsurprisingly, allegations of PMSC misconduct have involved weaponry; and these firms have been trenchantly criticized as ‘corporate mercenaries’ by unsympathetic non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that target weapons proliferation (Campaign Against the Arms Trade 2006; War on Want 2007). Because small-arms related segments of the business have grown in the last two decades (Scahill 2007) it is timely to reflect on the relationship between this industry and the arms trade.

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