THE MAGAZINE

Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror

By Mayer Nudell, CSC

***** Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror. By Robert Young Pelton; published by Crown Publishers, www.randomhouse.com (Web); 358 pages; $24.

Among the developments in the post-9-11 world has been the expansion of a specialized form of private security contractor: the private military company (PMC). Companies such as Blackwater, ArmorGroup, and Control Risks have expanded the role of private-sector protective security to fill gaps left in Iraq and elsewhere. This has led to some interesting and controversial exploits that have implications for the security profession.

Robert Young Pelton, perhaps best known as the author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places, has given us a snapshot of life in the world of the PMC and the independent contractors who populate it. Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror is an entertaining look at how so-called mercenaries have come to play an increasingly critical role in Iraq and how their metamorphosis into the more-expansive PMCs could go astray. Pelton has gone inside the closed world of predominately former military or police security contractors working for PMCs in Iraq to provide interesting and informative vignettes revealing the motivation bringing them there—motivation that is not always obvious. He also provides a glimpse into the money men and entrepreneurs behind the PMCs and their goals, which are often financial, but not always.

With this glimpse, Pelton identifies an important issue: The rise of the private security company in war zones and high-risk areas has created a new breed of private soldiers, armed mercenaries, security guards, and companies who have the license to resort to full-scale violence if attacked. They constitute a potential freelance warrior class that operates under murky legal restraint. The commercial provision of an armed force has become a standard way of doing business, as well as a supplemental tool of foreign policy. The key issue to watch in the future will be whether or not armed men hired on a contract basis become an integral tool of foreign policy

Finding the proper place for PMCs should be a concern not only for security professionals but also for anyone interested in international affairs. Pelton doesn’t offer an answer to where that place should be, but he gives much to consider.


Reviewer: Mayer Nudell, CSC, is an independent consultant on crisis management, contingency planning, and related issues. He is a member of ASIS International.

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