Private Military Security Companies and the Problem of Men and Masculinities


Higate, Paul. 2009. "Private Military Security Companies and the Problem of Men and Masculinities." Paper presented at the 50th Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, New York, February 15-18.

Author: Paul Higate


Though there is little new in the existence of guns for hire or mercenaries for more critically inclined commentators, few predicted the extent to which private military contractors would come to both supplant and complement the activities of regular military personnel in the contemporary period. The occupation of Iraq puts this into sharpest focus with the number of private military contractors estimated to be close to 200,000 in comparison to the 160,000 uniformed personnel of national militaries occupying the country (Scahill, 2007). The dramatic burgeoning of the private security sector has led commentators to describe it as the new business face of warfare in the contemporary period (Mandel, 2002; Avant, 2005; Kinsey, 2007; Singer, 2005) underscoring its significance both now and almost certainly into the future. Drawing on the labour of men (and rather less women) from a range of countries (Maclellan, 2006), this multi billion dollar industry has become a key component in the management of conflict and its aftermath (Holmqvist, 2005).

Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs) should be seen as a critical subject of political enquiry as they engage international relations, domestic politics and national/international legislative systems within the context of both ethical and moral questions concerning the use of violence. Companies are involved in: the security of convoys, close protection of dignitaries, security sector reform, provision of logistical and support functions to military peacekeeping operations and combat operations.
Curiously, however, scholars working within the fields of Political Science, Critical Security Studies, Law and Gender Studies have almost entirely overlooked the importance of masculinity in their analyses of this sector (for a focus on women see Schultz and Yeung, 2005). What do we miss when masculinity is ignored in analyses of PMSCs? It is not simply that PMSCs have become increasingly important to how conflict is managed, but crucially - in contrast to regular military - their activities remain largely unregulated and their personnel almost entirely unaccountable. When seen alongside the perpetration of human rights abuses by a not insignificant number of private military contractors - including most notoriously the shooting of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Najaf in September 2007 (Tavernise, 2007), it is possible to suggest that PMSCs represent a key moment of (re)masculinisation in the contemporary period. It is for this reason that the curiosity of gender scholars should be sparked since the mobilisation thousands of men trained in violence who go on to work in spaces of legal exception is a unique phenomena that can, at times, exacerbate the insecurity of those vulnerable populations forced to host them.

There are few if any arenas that demonstrate the potent connections between violence, power and sex in the “post 9/11 manly moment” (Eisenstein, 2007: 161) as explicitly as those that concern the largely unregulated privatisation of force. Through suggesting future lines of inquiry around a unique and vibrant site of (militarised) masculinities that constitute the employee component of the PMSC sector, this article hopes to lay the foundations for a research agenda that recognises the centrality of masculinities to both the personal and professional social practices of its male employees. Depending on one’s normative intentions, findings from these kinds of inquiry can be used to argue for tighter regulation of the industry, or in a more radical sense, to its incremental dissolution. My own position though somewhat unlikely in the current period of neo-liberal and U.S.-driven geo-political dominance - is to argue that PMSC involvement in direct combat and combat support should be outlawed. Reasons for this are numerous but include primarily the ways that mercenary assistance means that the use of force continues to be prioritised as a decisive means of bringing war to an end as opposed to developing less bloody forms of conflict resolution (Richards, undated: 1). Not only does co-opting the profit motive into security work of this kind shape the conditions of possibility by which conflict is negotiated, but in a related sense, assumes an immanent logic that is difficult to break from. The quest for a peaceful world is harmed by increasing the number of private military contractors who remain outside the regulatory mechanisms of state military who in relative terms have constrained the actions of men of violence over many decades. How might we begin to challenge this creeping militarization?

Keywords: private security, masculinity

Topics: Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Private Military & Security, Militarization, Peacekeeping, Security, Security Sector Reform Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq

Year: 2009

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