The Demobilisation of Private Military Contractors

Gerda Henkel Research Fellowship 2014-2016

New research from Dr Adam White discovers more about ‘private military veterans’ and the impact Private Military Contractors are having on the economy and society. 

Private Military Contractors at work

Coalition military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been conducted using an unprecedented number of private military contractors engaged in a range of activities from frontline counter-insurgency to backroom logistics. When US and UK troops crossed over the border into Iraq in 2003 the ratio of contractors to soldiers was 1:10 – by 2008 it had reached 1:1. While academics have explored the strategic, legal and moral implications of deploying private military contractors in hostile environments, nobody has yet questioned what happens to them after the conflict. With the drawdown of Coalition military operations, many contractors are making the transition back to civil society and forging new identities as ‘private military veterans’, yet we have almost no knowledge of this process. Against this backdrop, the research was the first to address key questions about their physical and mental condition, where they go, what they do next, and their impact upon economy and society.

It discovered that demobilizing from a warzone as a private military contractor is very different to demobilizing from a warzone as a soldier. The primary factors which give shape to how a contractor returns home include: whether or not they actually choose to leave the battlefield; the presence of former regimental networks to facilitate future employment opportunities; the extent to which they have developed a diversified skillset within their previous military and private military careers; access to retraining opportunities upon arriving home; the degree to which they have been ‘militarised’ in their previous military and private military careers; and whether or not they have experienced any trauma in their previous military or private military careers. It also found that this demobilization process is frequently overshadowed by the anti-mercenary norm, which has the effect of tainting the homecoming experiences of returning contractors.

Photo of Dr Adam White
Demobilizing from a warzone as a private military contractor is very different to demobilizing from a warzone as a soldier

Dr Adam White, School of Law, university of Sheffield