From "mercenaries" to "private security contractors" : the (re)construction of armed security providers in international legal discourses
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Millennium Journal of International Studies, Vol. 40, no. 2, 2012, p. 343-363
The proliferation of armed security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to widespread criticism of their insufficient control through international laws and conventions. This article suggests that one reason for this omission has been the (re)construction of actors who provide armed force for profit in international legal discourses. During most of the 20th century, armed persons who participated in foreign conflicts for monetary gain were identified as ‘mercenaries’. They were outlawed through international legal documents such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on Mercenarism and given restricted rights in the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions. Today, the same types of actors are increasingly defined as ‘private security contractors’, and new discourses and international agreements are emerging that attribute to them legality and legitimacy. The aim of this article is to examine the changing legal constructions of armed security providers since the 1970s and the consequences with respect to their control. The article argues that the (re)construction of actors who supply armed force for money in international legal discourses has been made possible by three main discursive strategies: the distinction between persons and corporations providing armed force for profit, the changing focus from the motivations of these actors to their relationship to a ‘responsible command’, and the shift from a concern about the actors to one about certain activities.