What are Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)?

The PSD project defines Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) as private business enities that deliver to consumers a wide spectrum of military and security services. They are commercial, benefit-oriented companies, which need to fit the following criteria:

  • market-oriented logic of action (economic; business-management)
  • high degree of professionalization (official headquarter, business structure, trained military staff)
  • organized under private law
  • legal body/legally registered
Since a lot of companies offer quite a broad array of products and services, the main challenge is to differentiate these companies from other strategically relevant industries (reconstruction and extraction). Furthermore they have a broad client base ranging from governments, IOs to Multinational corporations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). Since the PSD mainly focuses on public outsourcing to the private sector three additional criteria are central:
  1. The contracted task is related to the process of implementing internal and/or external security policy goals by states and/or IOs.
  2. The contracted task has to be equivalent to tasks usually provided by military or policing organizations.
  3. The use of private human resources is taken as a discriminating criterion to differentiate between the privatization of the production of military goods (like weapons) and of military and security services. Consequently, services like the maintenance of weapon systems by private employees are treated as a task  whereas the supply of weapons or related dual use goods is excluded.

What are Areas of Limited Statehood?

Limited Statehood is related to deficits in the effective control of territory, the monopoly of violence, and the ability of state actors to enforce and implement political decisions (cf. SFB700 2005: 36). The PSD Project makes use of three main variables of the Political Instability Task Force (PITF) database (http://globalpolicy.gmu.edu/pitf/) to identify hard cases of Limited Statehood: MAGEREA, MAGFAIL, and MAGVOIL. The sample size is composed of countries that displayed the highest characteristics (4) in at least one variable and in at least one state-year constellation.

The Sample

Afghanistan Croatia Nigeria
Albania Ethiopia Peru
Algeria Georgia Philippines
Angola Guatemala Rwanda
Azerbaijan Guinea-Bissau Sierra Leone
Bosnia Iraq Somalia
Burundi Côte d'Ivoire Sudan
Cambodia Lebanon Tajikistan
Colombia Liberia Uganda
Congo-Brazzaville Mozambique Yugoslavia (Serbia & Kososvo)
Congo-Kinshasa Nepal  
Region Instances %
Americas 3 9
Europe 5 16
Middle East 2 6
Africa 15 47
Asia 7 22
Total 32 100

Public Actors as Clients

Today, the demand side of the market for protection and force is composed of private and public actors. In failing states transnational corporations and non-governmental organisations hire PMSCs to protect their property, investments and humanitarian missions. Although these arrangements are an integral part of the overall security architecture in weak or collapsed states, the PSD collects data on public-private contracts. Beside practical reasons of data access restriction, this approach was chosen in analogy to the fact that the privatisation of security is mainly discussed as a shift from the public to the private sector. To understand this (partial) shift from government to governance, the PSD project focuses on the conditions and motives that guide public actors* to delegate main security functions to PMSCs.

Focusing on such delegation processes by public actors, two logical combinations have to be taken into account.

  • A public actor (e.g. a weak government) delegates tasks to PMSCs on its own territory (intern-intern constellation).
  • Security tasks are delegated by an external public actor to PMSCs on the territory of another failing state (extern-intern constellation).


*We treat public actors as the sum of all institutions and bodies of states and international organisations.