Media Talk: Guns for Hire – The Good, the Bad and the Unregulated

Talk Tuesday 22nd July, 2008 - 12:00am

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In a world of shrinking defence budgets, smaller standing armies and increased threats from terrorism, the space for freelance soldiering is growing. Since 9/11, the number of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) has rocketed – in Iraq alone, there are now an estimated 180,000 private contractors, outnumbering serving military personnel. Since 2003, the British government alone has spent an estimated £225 million on security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The industry differs wildly from multi-million pound, multi-national corporations to misguided adventurers seeking to take over small, central African governments. However, one thing they all have in common is a lack of accountability and effective regulation.

It is not only governments who rely on PMSCs for their protection, many large media groups use PMSCs to train and protect their staff in hostile environments.

Join us while we discuss some of the worst excesses and examples of good practice within the industry. What is the likelihood of the industry ever being effectively regulated?And will the industry’s efforts to escape its mercenary past be successful?

Andy Bearpark
is the Director General of the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC), an independent trade association representing the leading UK companies in the specialist private security and risk management sector. Prior to taking up his position, Mr. Bearpark served as Director of Operations and Infrastructure for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq.

From 2000 to 2003, Mr. Bearpark served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG) in charge of the EU Pillar of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and was responsible for overseeing the province’s reconstruction and economic development.

Adam Roberts
is author of The Wonga Coup – the definitive book about the failed coup in Equatorial Guinea. He been on staff at The Economist since 1998. Between 2001 and 2005 he was the Johannesburg correspondent for the publication, covering political, business and economic news, mostly in southern Africa. He is now the online news editor for The Economist.

Tony Gerahty
is author of Guns for Hire: The Inside Story of Freelance Soldiering and is a British-Irish writer and journalist. He served in the Parachute Reigment, and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his work as a military liaison officer with US forces during the Gulf War. He has been a journalist for The Boston Globe and was the Sunday Times Defence Correspondent in the 1970s.

Ruth Tanner is senior campaigns officer at War on Want which fights poverty in developing countries in partnership and solidarity with people affected by globalisation, and campaigns against the root causes of global poverty, inequality and injustice. War on Want are authors of the report Corporate Mercenaries: The threat of Private Military and Security Companies and are campaigning for UK government regulation to hold PMSCs to account.

Andrew North has spent most of the past five years working in Iraq and Afghanistan for the BBC. He was BBC correspondent in Baghdad 2006-2007 and before that was based in Kabul, after covering the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.