The private military industry is a multibillion-dollar market that is expected to boom over the next decade.
The industry brings in about $100 billion US a year in revenues and operates in over 50 nations. But, since it is largely unregulated, there are no firm numbers worldwide on how many private contractors or companies there actually are. The U.S. army has told Congress it doesn't even know how many contract employees it has; it puts the estimate at anywhere between 144,000 and 562,000.
The industry is usually divided into several distinct groups. There are
those workers who provide support services to existing militaries. They are
civilians, but many with military backgrounds, who build bases overseas, do
maintenance work on aircraft and weapons, provide specialized training,
drive trucks, fly helicopters, prepare meals and do laundry.
Many western armed forces, including Canada's, have some form of contracted
support from civilian companies. Private firms provide pilot training and
mechanics at bases in Canada. In Afghanistan, private contractors built and
ran the Canadian Forces' $40-million Camp Julien.
The most controversial group in the industry are those personnel who are
armed or provide more front-line services. They usually, but not always,
work for private companies hired by governments, non-government agencies or
corporations, to protect either people or installations.
The critics of the industry see these troops as mercenaries, with the
definition of that word being a soldier who fights, or engages in warfare
primarily for private gain, usually with little regard for ideological,
national or political considerations.
The corporate troops are indeed well-paid. But they argue since they are
working for legitimate governments and lawful companies and in support of
primarily western nations, such as the U.S., then they can't be classified
as mercenaries. As well, they argue that in places like Iraq they don't
conduct offensive operations. Once known as private military companies,
those in the business have been pushing a new term: "private security
"I have called these security companies a process of legalizing
mercenaries," says retired general Senator Romeo Dallaire. "Unless they can
be held accountable to the ethos of a liberal democracy military force they
are nothing more than contracted hired guns."
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