Iraq’s Parliament is considering rescinding CPA Order 17 that protects PMCs from Iraqi law. (BBC and AP stories here). Nice story but bad for the PMCs and incompatible with their mission. If the private military companies, especially the private security companies, are augmenting, or at times replacing US military forces, they must not only be fully integrated into the mission at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, but also protected accordingly. The risk of not doing so is political. By definition, these firms operate in less than secure geographies (no, I’m not using the word state) with weak or absent legal, judicial, and police systems and any action against them such as rescinding CPA Order 17 may be suspect.
The noble but meaningless modification to the UCMJ was a step in the right direction. The companies must be held accountable to the overall mission and not just their profit margin nor beholden exclusively to their principal. The latter is the toughest nut to crack. Also by definition, PSCs are hired for two reasons: military or other security forces are unavailable or they are not flexible enough for the mission. Using the military for diplomatic protective services has proven unworkable for these reasons. One example was using Navy SEALS to provide personal security for a major principal. Their training isn’t in protective details and in an attack on the principal their response was indiscriminate, perfectly reasonable according to their training and proper use. They were yanked and replaced by a private security detail comprised of contractors knowledgeable with working and mingling in busy civilian environments. In another example, the principal was protected by a military team and when they exited a building outside the Green Zone long ago, the detail was no where to be seen. The reason? The detail felt there was no risk at the moment and went to lunch.
In the absence of creating or something like the Diplomatic Security Service, or DSS, the "in-house" protective services of the Department of State, for Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), Department of State (DOS), and other "clients" and organizations that has a flexible enough personnel system and is protected from poaching by the regular command structure, the market for private security contractors will continue and continue to expand. In this environment, they need to be both protected as our military forces are in both conflict zones as well as friendly countries. A Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, -like agreement is one potential model to build from. Even with absence of a functioning state, or any state at all, a SOFA would provide the jaws to hold contractors accountable, showing both the contractors, our military, the local population, and ever present formal and informal media they are not cowboys. This SOFA-esque thing would not have its own teeth, but document and facilitate the teeth (hence the "jaws" metaphor) created by other means, possibly something along these lines.
Private military companies exist for several reasons. While we work on why they are used and find a better solution, they impact our national security both directly and indirectly. In the struggle for minds and wills, they not only have a direct interface with local populations, thus acting in the "last three feet", but they also provide safer political and military targets for the enemy. Maliki cannot vigorously attack General Petraeus or any other commander or unit in Iraq without severe repercussions. He can, however, attack Blackwater with impunity and affect our ability to conduct our mission.
CPA Order 17 was not a good idea. Going into Iraq with too few troops was not a good idea. Both happened and shaped the environment we are in now. If PSCs are integral to our mission, which they are whether you like it or not, they must be protected and held accountable and prosecuted just as our soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen are (but not like, we need a different system, including one that threatens contract termination and has smart and intelligent contract oversight). If not, bad things will come from both the PSC and the "state" as we leave them outside the wire and leave them as targets defending themselves in innovative ways.