Private military contracting has ballooned into an industry worth more than $100bn a year. (Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
In early 1995, Sierra Leone was on the brink of collapse. A violent civil war had ravaged the country, leaving thousands dead and countless others wounded. The insurgent rebels, infamous for recruiting child soldiers, were just weeks from the beleaguered capital, Freetown, and appeared unassailable.
Several months later, however, the tide had turned: the government's authority was strengthened, rebel forces were repelled, and control over the country's major economic assets was restored. Executive Outcomes, a private military contractor armed with helicopters and state of the art artillery, helped change the course of the war.
Nearly every tool necessary to wage war can now be purchased: combat support, including the ability to conduct large-scale operations and surgical strikes; operational support, like training and intelligence gathering; and general support, like transportation services and paramedical assistance. The demand for these services, in turn, has ballooned: the gross revenue for the private military contractor industry is now in excess of $100bn a year.
The privatization of conflict is no longer a trend. It's the norm.