Anthony Patrick is a graduate of Georgia State University and an Officer in the United States Marine Corps. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: Future threats to United States (U.S.) interests abroad from Chinese Private Military Contractors.
Date Originally Written: November, 26, 2018.
Date Originally Published: December 24, 2018.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is a United States Marine Corps Officer and currently attending The Basic School.
Background: Over the last six months, the media has been flooded with stories and articles about the possibility of a trade war between the U.S and the People Republic of China (PRC). These talks have mainly focused around specific trade policies such as intellectual property rights and the trade balance between the two nations. These tensions have risen from the PRC’s growing economic influence around the world. While many problems persist between the U.S and the PRC due to the latter’s rise, one issue that is not frequently discussed is the growing use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) by the PRC. As Chinese companies have moved operations further abroad, they require protection for those investments. While the current number of Chinese PMCs is not large, it has been growing at a worrying rate, which could challenge U.S interests abroad.
Significance: Many countries have utilized PMCs in foreign operations. The most significant international incidents involving PMCs mainly come from those based in the U.S and the Russian Federation. However, many other countries with interests abroad have increasingly started to utilize PMCs. One of the most significant examples has been the growing use of Chinese PMC’s. These PMCs pose a very unique set of threats to U.S national security interest abroad. First, like most PMC’s, Chinese contractors come mainly from the Peoples Liberation Army and policing forces. This means that the PMCs have a significant amount of military training. Secondly, the legal relationship between the PMC’s and the PRC is different than in most other countries. Since the PRC is an authoritarian country, the government can leverage multiple forms of coercion to force PMC’s into a certain course of action, giving the government a somewhat deniable capability to control foreign soil. Lastly, the Chinese can use PMC’s as a means to push their desired political endstate on foreign countries. With the U.S still being ahead of the PRC militarily, and with both states having nuclear capabilities, conventional conflict is highly unlikely. One way for the Chinese to employ forces to counter U.S. interests abroad is through the use of PMC’s, similar to what Russia has done in Syria. With this in mind, the U.S will need a proactive response that will address this problem both in the short and long term.
Option #1: Increase the Department of Defense’s (DoD) focus on training to counter irregular/asymmetric warfare to address the threat posed by PRC PMCs.
Risk: The new National Defense Strategy (NDS) focuses on many aspects of the future conventional battlefield like increasing the size of the U.S Navy, cyber operations, and cutting edge weapons platforms. By focusing more of the DoD’s resources on training to counter irregular / asymmetric warfare, the military will not be able to accomplish the goals in the NDS. This option could also lead to a new generation of military members who are more adept at skills necessary for smaller operations, and put the U.S at a leadership disadvantage if a war were to break out between the U.S and a near peer competitor.
Gain: Another major conventional war is highly unlikely. Most U.S. near peer competitors are weaker militarily or have second strike nuclear capabilities. Future conflicts will most likely require the U.S. to counter irregular / asymmetric warfare methodologies, which PRC PMCs may utilize. By focusing DoD resources in this area, the U.S would gain the ability to counter these types of warfare, no matter who employs them. In addition to being better able to conduct operations similar to Afghanistan, the U.S. would also have the tools to address threats posed by PRC PMCs. Emphasizing this type of warfare would also give U.S actions more international legitimacy as it would be employing recognized state assets and not trying to counter a PRC PMC with a U.S. PMC.
Option #2: The U.S. pursues an international treaty governing the use of PMC’s worldwide.
Risk: Diplomatic efforts take time, and are subject to many forms of bureaucratic blockage depending on what level the negations are occurring. Option #2 would also be challenging to have an all-inclusive treaty that would cover every nation a PMC comes from or every country from which an employee of these firms might hail. Also, by signing a binding treaty, the U.S would limit its options in foreign conflict zones or in areas where Chinese PMC’s are operating or where the U.S. wants to use a PMC instead of the military.
Gain: A binding international treaty would help solve most of the problems caused by PMC’s globally and set the stage for how PRC PMC’s act as they proliferate globally. By making the first move in treaty negotiations, the U.S can set the agenda for what topics will be covered. The U.S can build off of the framework set by the Montreux document, which sets a non-binding list of good practices for PMCs. By using the offices of the United Nations Working Group on PMCs the U.S would be able to quickly pull together a coalition of like minded countries which could drive the larger negotiation process. Lastly, Option #2 would help solve existing problems with PMC’s operating on behalf of other countries, like the Russian Federation.
Other Comments: None.
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