"Private Security Companies Are Mercenaries"
No. The term "mercenary" describes a wide variety of military activities, many of which bear little resemblance to those of today's private security companies. The mercenary activity associated with entities such as the British East India Company came about when nation-states chartered companies to establish colonies and engage in long-distance trade. Mercenary units that fought in the American Revolution were effectively leased to the British Army by the Hessians. The soldiers of fortune that ran riot over the African continent in the 1960s were individuals or small ex-military groups that operated in the shadows.
Modern contractors most resemble the military enterprisers of the late Middle Ages. Before the rise of the nation-state, nearly all force was contracted. From the 12th century through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, military contractors often employed soldiers trained within feudal structures, sending them to whomever could pay, from Italian city-states to the Vatican. Fighting wars, maintaining order, and collecting taxes were among the various political tasks filled by these military enterprises. Some historians link the rise of contracted forces in the late Middle Ages to the inability of the feudal system to address the increasingly complex needs of a modernizing society, such as the protection of trade routes for merchants. Similar reasons exist today: The market pressures, technology, and social change of a globalized world create multiple demands that national militaries have difficulty meeting.
Today's private security companies are corporate endeavors that perform logistics support, training, security, intelligence work, risk analysis, and much more. They operate in an open market, work for many employers at once, and boast of their professionalism. These companies staff their projects not with permanent employees, but with individuals drawn from vast databases of ex-military and former law enforcement personnel. These databases list individuals by experience and specialty, so contractors can custom-fit each job with qualified employees. Individuals may appear in several databases, move easily from one contract (and company) to the next, and freelance when not under contract. Although many of these individuals are quite honorable, the industry's structure allows ample opportunity for some who bear disturbing similarities to the 1960s-style soldiers of fortune to enter the corporate mix.
"The Bush Administration Has Dramatically Expanded Use of Military Contractors"
Wrong. The United States ramped up military outsourcing during the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War brought reductions in force size, and numerous ethnic and regional conflicts emerged requiring intervention. During the first Gulf War in 1991, the United States deployed about one contractor for every 50 active-duty personnel. Ethnic conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s and Kosovo in 1999 saw that ratio increase to about 1 to 10, roughly equal to that of the recent war in Iraq.
Since U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq in May 2003, however, security contractors have flooded the country. The unstable environment has stretched coalition forces thin, and the absence of a U.N. mandate has made tools such as U.N. peacekeepers and international civilian police unavailable, drawing private security companies closer to combat as the Iraqi insurgency continues. Media attention on contractors in Iraq, such as the Americans who allegedly abused Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, has also raised public awareness of security contractors to a higher degree than in previous conflicts.