Growing number of private military and security companies in the Netherlands

The number of Private Military and Security Compagnies (PMSCs) in the Netherlands is growing rapidly. Many of these are directed by former military. Although these are not ‘Blackwater-style’ companies there is some reason for alarm. Over twenty companies, most of them recently established, offer security courses, many of which include firearms training. Others are offering protection against piracy or during high-risk missions in regions of tension. This distinguishes them clearly from the traditional unarmed security companies in the Netherlands.

Many PMSCs offer Krav Maga, a martial art originally developed by the Israelian Defense Forces. Some Dutch companies organise training courses for this in Israel. The use of firearms is a regular element of these training courses which charge thousands of dollars. Firearm training can also be followed in Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and the United States. The use of fire arms in private security training is prohibited in the Netherlands. Many participants follow these courses just for fun and adventure, but for some it is a step towards a job as private contractor in countries where the use of fire arms is allowed.

Protection against piracy is a niche market. Companies look for ‘creative’ solutions to evade the prohibition of armed private security on Dutch ships. This varies from renting weapons locally to having arms as cargo on board, to be used in case of ‘self-defence’.

Most Dutch security companies work exclusively within the Netherlands, but there is a growing number of them that focuses on the protection of property or persons abroad, including high-risk areas.

There is hardly any juridical framework for PMSCs working abroad and little control on their activities. A control and registration mechanism for these services is urgently needed. The export products offered by PMSCs should be tested against criteria comparable to those used for arms exports.

The contracting of private companies for what used to be government defence tasks is a booming business, notably in the United States and United Kingdom. Although the Netherlands is more reluctant, the military deployment in Afghanistan could not have been possible without operational support of PMSCs, according to the governmental Advisory Committee on International Affairs (Adviesraad Internationale Vraagstukken (AIV)).

The AIV has formulated critera for contracting companies for defense tasks. Recently the Dutch government adopted these criteria as a guideline for the outsourcing of tasks, but it is still to be seen if these guidelines can be applied in a clear and consistent way. For example, the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence work in Afghanistan was outsourced to Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems, while at the same time former Defense Minister Van Middelkoop declared that intelligence tasks should not be privatized. The question is if a clear line between deployment and data analysis can be drawn.

On an international level there are attempts to establish judical liability mechanisms for the private military sector. There is little attention for non-juridical objections against the introduction of the market in defence matters, such as the undermining of the state monopoly on violence and the commercial interest of private companies in the continuation of conflicts.

These issues make the increasing use of PMSCs a highly undesirable development. More regulation is good and highly due, but complete refraining from the use of PMSCs would be better.

[Full report ‘De opkomst van de nieuwe huurling’ (in Dutch)]