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Mapping Weak Signals

Inspired by: FP7 » Growing privatisation of war

version: 14 / updated: 2011-02-08
id: #1641 / version id: #189
mode: VIEW

Originally submitted by: Ian Miles
List of all contributors by versions (mouse over)
Last changed by: Rafael Popper
WI-WE status:

Source of inspiration

European Commission Framework Programme for RTD (FP7)

Theme/activity of inspiration

Theme 8 - Socio-economic Sciences and the Humanities

Sub-theme/area of inspiration

Conflicts, peace and human rights

Optional reference/s to FP7 project/s

Use the following format: Project Acronym (Project Reference No.). Use commas if more than one project is associated to this Wild Card, for example: ALFA-BIRD (213266), SAFAR (213374), LAPCAT-II (211485)
PRIV-WAR (217405)

Uploaded reports, images or pictures related to the Weak Signal

File name File type File size
iKNOW Bulletin (draft) document 222048 open

Signal's headline

(max. 9 words)
Growing privatisation of war

Signal's description

(approx. 150 words)
Please describe the Weak Signal (approx. 150 words)
Major states are using corporate organisations in numerous military, security, and auxiliary roles – just as some countries’ outsource even sensitive public sector activities (e.g. prisons) to private companies. Suspicions have been raised about the potential influence of such entities on security policy, alongside growing concerns with the human rights and ethical issues of such privatisation. These could become major factors in the future through, e.g. litigation or public opinion (and the concerns might extend to other spheres of outsourcing of public services). The Weak Signal might go beyond simple continuation of an existing (largely unremarked, if remarkable) trend. It could imply one or other extreme Wild Card - a considerable intensification of the trend (war becomes very heavily privatised, private firms dictate military policy) or a considerable break with it (high constraints are placed upon states’ ability to mobilise private actors in war-fighting, even peacekeeping and even recovery efforts).


conflict, outsourcing, security, privatisation, ethics, law, rights, war


(max. 250 characters)
Growing use of corporate organisations in military, security, and auxiliary roles may lead to their potential influence in policies, including the regulation of activities in (post)conflict zones, wider security affairs and (para)military engagement.

Signal's first apperance


Signal's potential evolution

It could lead to...
issue type of issue/development potential impact on society timeframe for the issue to become at least 50% probable
#1 State management of public-private partnerships and public service industries. new/emerging
mainly beneficial
#2 Conflict situations shaped by (secret) agreements between private firms and paramilitary or insurgent organisations. new/emerging
very harmful
#3 Regulation of private military and security companies. continuation
#4 Human rights abuses and ethical/legal frameworks – the latter might be weakened, strengthened, or shaped in new ways. continuation
very harmful
#5 Corporate influence on international relations. continuation
mainly harmful
#6 Substantial impulse to regulate corporate activity leads to withdrawal from all but peripheral roles in conflict situations. discontinuation
mainly beneficial
#7 Cultural celebration and critique of mercenaries (“dogs of war”) re-emerging
mainly harmful

Under what assumption the Weak Signal might evolve.

If the privatisation of war is to be continued, we will see some extension of national and international law to regulate the behaviour of such entities more effectively, but not enough to eliminate problems nor to substantially disrupt their activities. The implications of the other scenarios would be experienced as far more important. If public (and legal) opposition to these activities grows, with more recourse to litigation or international law to restrict activities, seek compensation, punish malpractice, then implications could be substantial for military strategy in the modern world. If states have to reassume responsibility for social and economic reconstruction in occupied territories and “post-conflict” areas, then this will tax the capabilities of military forces. Some possibilities (not necessarily exclusive: (1) military forces will need to be restructured to adopt the new roles;’ (2) new entities will need to be mobilised (some form of “Peace Corps”) (3) New arrangements will need to be achieved concerning legal liability and regulatory supervision between states and private – and “third sector” non-profit – organisations. The wider ramifications of this Wild Card could be considerable. In the military sphere, there could be shifts in the abilities of states (and non-state actors in some cases?) to make use of mercenary and other forces; there could be agreements to resist legitimation of regimes coming to power by such means; and so on. More broadly, there could be knock-on effects on domestic private and privatised security and related activities (in the justice and prison systems, for instance), and possibly in other types of public services subject to privatisation. In the third scenario, where the Wild Card is an intensification of the trend, we could see the emergence of the more realistic elements of Richard Morgan’s 2004 novel MARKET FORCES. This sees the industry of “Conflict Investment” as one of the leading sectors in the highly dualistic world (and national) economy of 2049. The corporations involved are instrumental in maintaining and overthrowing regimes in the impoverished areas of the world, largely in order to maintain an international division of labour that can provide cheap production for the West. The United Nations is weaker than ever, trying to monitor and expose corporate moral excess. (The novel has many weaknesses, though there are also a few nice plot twists, as when a client is butchered when the protagonist displays some initiative and opts for regime change; the treatment of UN-corporate relations is reasonably well-imagined.)


please specify
please select
Level 3: important for the European Union The weak signal is important for European security, image in the world, and view of itself as adherent to (and leadership of) humanitarian and human rights norms. Research such as PRIV-WAR should inform activity dedicated to avoiding problems and improving practice.
Level 4: important for the whole world

Filters preventing the signal's monitoring

information/communicational filters (media/editorial interests, language, reasoning)
institutional filters (rules, laws, regulations)
affective filters (emotions, anxiety, self-doubt)
political filters (party or ideological interests)

Comments on selection:

Institutional filters – military policymakers may be inclined to write off the power of legal institutions and pressure groups. Media filters – some major media outlets have little interest in covering such developments.

Key driving forces of this signal

Please use these boxes to provide up to 2 drivers of HIGH importance. Click on HELP to see examples:
Driver 1 Driver 2
Social Public attitudes to overseas engagements, military causalities, and privatisation in general. Attitudes to foreigners of different types in conflict territories
Technological/Scientific Cheapening of some classes of military and security equipment requiring limited skills to use. New media enabling recording and communication of events as they unfold. Scope for monitoring operatives by citizens and clients.
Economic Expansion of corporate interests into “war markets” Transaction cost issues
Environmental Limited environmental drivers at present, though climate change is liable to trigger much more conflict round the world
Political Declining state power Avoidance of culpability Outsourcing risk
Values/Ethical/Cultural Human rights concern Attitudes to state responsibility – in conflict situations, in privatisation more generally

Major risks & opportunities associated to the signal

Please choose the most appropriate timeframe option(s) to which you would like to provide inputs.
Risks Opportunities
before 2015 Human rights abuses. Exacerbation of hostility to occupying powers and foreign states, with knock-on effects on global conflicts and geopolitics. Threat to activity of charities and humanitarian bodies (e.g. UN) trying to work in conflict areas. Efforts to develop new regulatory frameworks. Strengthening of Human Rights organisations and legal structures.
between 2015-2025 Substantial privatisation of war, with private actors shaping more military and geopolitical strategy. Increased sousveillance initiatives. Application of improved monitoring systems.
between 2025-2050 Insurgents may their policy towards non-state actors.

Potential stakeholders' actions

short-term actions
(after 2015)
Policy actors (at the international, European and national levels) EU, UN, development and rights agencies and foundations: review the trends and their implications for your activities and objectives. Establishment of effective governance, monitoring and enforcement regimes.
Business actors (incl. SMEs) Private security and military services: introduce serious human rights and related training for field operatives; establish appropriate management reporting and accountability frameworks.

Signal's relevance for European Grand Challenges

where? please justify:
particularly relevant Europe world
Coexistence and conflicts
Crime and terrorism
Social pathologies & ethics Growing privatisation of war may create greater insecurity, worsening relations of EU or member states with significant parts of the world, and possibly intensifying threats of terrorism or restrictions on oil supplies or other resources.

Signal's relevance for thematic research areas

please justify:
particularly relevant
ICT - Information & communication technologies Information technologies for monitoring operatives
Social Sciences and Humanities Systems to support citizen reporting and sousveillance Forensic science

Pan-European strategies influencing the signal

please justify:
particularly relevant
Facilitating and promoting knowledge sharing and transfer

Research-friendly strategies potentially improving understanding of the signal

For further information about 'research-friendly strategies' click here
please justify:
particularly relevant
Overcoming sub-criticality and systemic failures
To be subcritical means that the effort in a particular field or subfield lacks resources, equipment or a sufficient number of researchers to achieve a desired goal

Signal's relevance for future R&D and STI policies

Note: RTD = research and technology development; STI = science, technology and innovation
This particular weak signal has substantial implications for other areas of policy and practice, but its links to R&D and STI seem to be limited. Surveillance and sousveillance systems might be employed in order to assist regulation of corporate behaviour, provoking new lines of development of such techniques.