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The Unintended Consequences of UN Peacekeeping’s Use of Security Contractors

Photo Credit: MONUSCO/ Myriam Asmani

 

The following analysis appears in Volume 4, Issue 3 of the Peace Science Digest. 

Citation: Krahmann, E. & Leander, A. (2019). Contracting security: Markets in the making of MONUSCO peacekeeping. International Peacekeeping, 26(2), 165-189.

Keywords: UN peacekeeping, private military and security contractors (PMSCs), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), civilian protection

Although private military and security companies (PMSCs) have attracted public attention in recent years, this attention has focused primarily on high-profile scandals related to military contractors in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In academic research, debates have centered on the ethical dimensions of privatized security instead of on their practical effects. This study focuses instead on the everyday use of PMSCs in UN peacekeeping operations — a context where their use is only beginning to gain recognition and scrutiny — and on the practical implications thereof. Narrowing in on the case of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), MONUSCO, the authors ask, “How do contractors shape security management within UN peacekeeping operations, and what are the consequences for the security of mission staff and host populations?”

Drawing on a mix of sources, including interviews, UN documents, NGO reports, and field research, the authors examine how contractors have become integrated in MONUSCO’s security practices in three areas: the operation, representation, and regulation of security. Based on their analysis, they argue that “UN security contracting contributes in important ways not only to the differentiation and hardening of security, but also to the perpetuation of insecurity in UN peacekeeping.” The various elements of this argument will be clarified below.

First, on an operational level, the UN has begun to depend a great deal on private security contractors, especially to provide security at various UN compounds in the DRC. These “protective security contractors” are all regionally owned and locally staffed, and their guards are, by law, unarmed— though they often have special relationships with public police forces so that they can call on armed contingents if needed. Second, security contractors have also become central to the way the UN represents its mission and its security environment. Security guards are meant to embody visible deterrence by wearing military-type clothing and guarding areas bounded by barbed wire, highwalls, and towers — symbols of intimidation. UN documents communicate a broader distrust of the local context, with private security guards represented as one answer to that insecurity and danger — but also as occasionally sources of insecurity themselves. Finally, security contractors are one of many actors responsible for regulating UN security activities. This decentralization of regulation can lead to difficulties around pinpointing responsibility when there are questions about the behavior of security contractors.

The authors identify and discuss three major implications of this strong involvementof security contractors in MONUSCO. First, the involvement of security contractors, especially in guarding UN compounds, contributes to the “differentiation of security” whereby the security of UN officials and other “internationals” appears to be prioritized over the security of the local population. This is a function of simple market dynamics — if security is privatized, then only those who can afford it can receive it — but also of the role security contractors play guarding the perimeters of highly fortified UN compounds and conceiving the relevant security plans in the first place. The role of security contractors in the “bunkerization” of the UN presence contributes to community members’ negative image of them, as well as of MONUSCO. In particular, local civilians understand quite well that private security guards are there to protect MONUSCO, not the local community,  and that MONUSCO is so sealed off from the community that it is unable to effectively protect local civilians either.

Second, the heavy reliance on security contractors has led to a “hardening of security” — a greater dependence on technology, equipment, and other trappings of militarized security, all of which contribute to the profits of security contractors. This emphasis leads to the adoption of more removed approaches to security provision, at the expense of “soft” skills like relationship-building that form the bedrock of civilian protection.

Third and finally, this reliance on security contractors contributes to the development of the local security economy, which can result in the perpetuation of insecurity in the community. The local security economy grows through the money earned by private guards and pumped into local police forces (to back up security contractors). Armed groups also potentially benefit financially to the extent that contractors inadvertently hire people who are still tied to these groups. In this sense, MONUSCO — through its reliance on privatized security — is potentially strengthening institutions and groups that are perceived as corrupt and/or as sources of insecurity for many Congolese people.

In the end, the authors find that even “seemingly uncontroversial, even benign” security activities — like the hiring of local, unarmed security contractors — can bring “unintended negative consequences,” ultimately alienating local civilians from MONUSCO peacekeepers and undermining the security of these local civilians.

Talking Points 

  • Private security contractors have become central to the operation, representation, and regulation of security in the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 
  • The UN’s heavy reliance on security contractors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) contributes to the perception that UN officials’ security is prioritized over the local population’s security, as well as to a greater dependence on hi-tech approaches to security that create more distance between UN peacekeepers and those that are meant to protect. 
  • The UN’s heavy reliance on security contractors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) results in more money for institutions and groups that are perceived as corrupt and/or sources of insecurity for many Congolese people. 
  • Even “seemingly uncontroversial, even benign” security activities — like the hiring of local, unarmed security contractors — can bring “unintended consequences,” ultimately alienating local civilians from UN peacekeepers and undermining the security of these local civilians. 

Informing Practice

This research is especially relevant to the fourteen UN peacekeeping missions currently in operation around the world but also to any international humanitarian, development, or protection organizations working in war zones who draw on the services of security contractors. UN officials and other international personnel should be mindful of the way in which the reliance on security contractors — even in seemingly harmless ways — can have unintended consequences, ultimately with negative effects for the security of the local population. Three practical implications stand out. First, the widespread militarization of the security field, even in cases where security contractors are unarmed, can have significant ramifications for the image peacekeepers and other “internationals” portray to local populations. Although presumably good for deterrence, a military image can instead create an aura of intimidation and a barrier to relationship-building with the community. Instead, those providing security— if they are unarmed — should endeavor to draw out this unarmed status to their advantage and use it to create connections with the community, facilitating their ability to protect both UN staff and local people. Second, on a related note, this research draws into focus just how critical local perceptions are to the success of any intervention. Therefore, UN and other international personnel should continually attend to the ways in which their activities are being understood and responded to by community members and be ready to shift these activities accordingly if they are having counterproductive effects.

Finally, this study underscores the ultimate importance of proximity and relationship-building for civilian protection by identifying how both the “differentiation” and “hardening” of security result in further distance between UN peacekeepers and local populations — and therefore greater difficulty protecting them. This finding should not only make international personnel more hesitant to participate in the “bunkerization” and militarization of UN missions but also create an opening for greater appreciation of the strengths of unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP). UCP makes proximity to and relationship-building with a broad range of actors in the community central to peacekeepers’ work. In addition, UCP makes a point of highlighting, rather than hiding, their unarmed status as they know that this only enhances their ability to build connections with the community and therefore their capacity to protect civilians.

Continued Reading

Global Policy Forum. (N.d.). PMSCs & the UN. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from Global Policy Forum’s website: https://www.globalpolicy.org/pmscs/50225-pmscs-a-the-un.html

WILPF. (N.d.). Use of private military and security companies by the United Nations. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from WILPF’s website: https://www.peacewomen.org/e-news/article/use-private-military-and-security-companies-united-nations

Peace Science Digest. (2018). Assessing armed and unarmed approaches to peacekeeping [analysis of research by Julian and Glasser]. Retrieved from https://peacesciencedigest.org/assessing-armed-and-unarmed-approaches-to-peacekeeping/?highlight=unarmed%20civilian%20peacekeeping

Furnari, E. (2014). Understanding effectiveness in peacekeeping operations: Exploring the perspectives of frontline peacekeepers [Ph.D. thesis, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ]. Retrieved from https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/handle/10523/4765

Organizations

Nonviolent Peaceforce: www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org

Peace Brigades International: www.peacebrigades.org

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