, Volume 92, Number 6

Elke Krahmann
Private military and security companies (PMSCs) play a growing role in international military and peacekeeping operations. Very little is known, however, about the fact that not only the United States relies extensively on contractors, but so do international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This article examines NATO’s collaboration with PMSCs during its leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF, 2001–2014). It argues that NATO’s use of international prime contractors and holding PMSCs responsible for their own security contributed to the creation of a complex network of contractors and subcontractors with detrimental effects for control and accountability. In particular, this article focuses on the proliferation of local Armed Private Security Companies (APSCs) which were accused of a wide range of humanitarian and human rights abuses. Drawing on principal– agent theory, this article seeks to explain why NATO appeared unable to stop the ‘culture of impunity’ among these firms. It shows that multiple principals and long principal–agent chains undermined NATO oversight over armed security guards. In addition, some principals and agents avoided accountability for APSC misconduct through three strategies: blame-shifting, back-scratching and morphing. NATO contracting practices, thus, had serious negative implications for the security of the civilian population and the ability of ISAF to establish lasting peace in Afghanistan.

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