I thought I would return briefly to an issue that has somewhat sunk beneath the waves of the election and the financial crisis – which, my friends, will continue to get worse. (The effects of a worsening financial crisis on populations both domestic and foreign, and the challenges that a deteriorating economy poses for law enforcement globally is something I will return to at a later date).

A close and trusted friend of mine has recently concluded pre-deployment training to join a major Private Military Company (PMC) that will support a government department’s own security apparatus. The PMC – that shall remain nameless, as shall the friend and the government department– set deployment standards on its own and will also face additional set of higher standards from the government. The reasoning for this is unclear, but given that there was a greater cull as a result of the PMC’s own standards than those of the government department continues to worry me, as the government department’s standards are equal to those of the standards required for any member of any PMC deployed in Iraq in support of any government contract.

The short version? The government standards are not, in the opinion of any professional soldier I know who has also deployed with a PMC or worked in supervising PMCs, up to the required level. Interestingly, we should also be wondering why the government standards for their own people are so low (as these are the standards the government employees have to meet), compared to the high-end PMCs? Surely they should be setting the standards, particularly if they are subsequently going to oversee PMCs or proffer opinions about how the PMCs are operating. There is nothing worse as a professional than having someone who is sub-standard questioning your every move – it is a classic storyline in action movies, but horribly, horribly oppressive when it is happening on a daily basis. I have experienced this, and find it frustrating.

If we are going to follow a policy of allowing PMCs to operate and investigate their activities robustly, then those conducting the investigation must be trusted by the PMC personnel to investigate effectively, to understand the situation and then make an appropriate, fair judgment. Anecdotal evidence from a number of associates, let’s call them ‘high-end’ associates with very refined skill sets, proves that this is not the case. The professionals do not trust the investigators as they do not understand the problem set, and so those professionals that were left, those who understand and employ the use of force progression, are leaving rather than leave their fates in the hands of armchair experts.

As ever, there is a larger problem out there – what happens when there are no government standards to satisfy, because PMCs are operating outside a regulated zone. What happens after a Nisoor Square incident in North Kenya, for instance? History tells us that there will be massive knee-jerk reactions that suit the short term, but nothing will be done to create an effective solution for the long term. As troops withdraw PMCs will remain in Iraq, and PMCs will continue to be used globally. That another politically embarrassing incident involving a PMC will happen is not at question. The only question is where it will happen, and who will take responsibility for not fixing the situation properly the first time – one thing I can guarantee; there will be a lot of political smoke, but little fire.