Framing Private Military and Security Companies: A Structure-Agency Approach

Sasha Larsen Beckmann & Sofie Thaagaard Hyllested

Student thesis: Master thesis


Episodes where Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) have caused death and destruction have underlined the need for an analysis of the role that PMSCs play in warfare. To use private military contractors in war is not a new phenomenon and has been taking place for centuries, nevertheless, to outsource or privatise military tasks is today a controversial area, both within the nation-state and at the international level. Outsourcing and privatisation of military tasks which do not involve weaponry has been initiated in Denmark and other places already. However, the scope of military areas that can be handled by PMSCs differ depending on the context and is further complicated by the new advances within weapon technologies, which have made warfare possible from a distance, thereby altering the concept of direct combat and the use of force. The debate on the use of private soldiers in military affairs has been characterised by changing conceptualisations and embedded in the discussion is the norm that prescribes the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force. A universal legal definition of a ‘PMSC’ is still in the process of being developed at the international level and there are still differing interpretations of the existing legal categorisations and where PMSCs should fit in the already established legal structures. The lack of clear legislation on the use of PMSCs works as a mist where the heterogeneous group of PMSCs operate and fulfil a range of military and security tasks. It translates into an arbitrary use of PMSCs by governments, the United Nations, national armies and other actors. Furthermore, the lack of clear definitions of what constitute PMSCs – and how they differ from what has previously been known as mercenaries – causes a reconstruction and on-going development of the structures that frame the context in which these firms operate. By taking a constructivist approach to the structure-agency theory, the thesis aims to illuminate how the structures framing the use of PMSCs are reciprocally influenced and altered by the key actors making up the discourse. Hence, it is an attempt to show how the PMSCs are framed and interpellated into the discourse as it influences the judicial status of the PMSCs, as well as the people affected by the actions of the PMSCs. This will be further explored in relation to the Danish context, as the framing and use of PMSCs in the international sphere influences how Danish Officials and the Danish Defence engage with these companies. The paper thus focuses on the framing of categories or ‘roles’ - for example a ‘combatant’ or a ‘private soldier’- and aims to show how a category may change in response to historical developments and differing institutional settings. Thus, the thesis is designed to challenge and analyse the legal and political conceptualisations that are often seen as being pre-given and objective in nature, in order to better understand the legal and political framing of PMSCs and how this affects the Danish Defence’s use of such companies.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages95