The politics of international law: the life cycle of emerging norms on the use and regulation of private military and security companies

The burgeoning use of private military and security company (PMSC) contractors in the wake of the 2003 Iraq War years has given rise to calls for regulation and oversight of PMSCs. The UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries advocates a convention that bans states from outsourcing ‘inherently State functions’, including ‘direct participation in hostilities’, to PMSCs. Others, especially Western states and others behind the boom of the PMSC industry after the 2003 Iraq War, argue that codes of conduct and self-regulation are sufficient to regulate PMSCs. Treaty, principle and policy norms all encompass shared expectations about proper conduct, but treaty norms take form in hard law whereas principle norms are evinced in customary or soft law (or both) and policy norms are evinced in policy statements issued by international organisations and industry bodies. This article hypothesises that norms on PMSCs that are neither puritanical nor overly strong and yet appear to be both normative and concrete are the most likely to be institutionalised by a critical mass of state actors and by the PMSC industry.

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