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Abstract

The impunity of private military companies (PMCs) appears increasingly puzzling. Not only is there widespread awareness and public debate about violations of the spirit - if not the letter – of the law; there is also a 'mad scramble' to improve regulation. In spite of this, legal accountability remains problematic. This situation is usually explained either as an expression of the techno-legal difficulties created by the move from government to governance or as reflecting the social, political and economic capital of PMCs. By contrast, this article suggests that the paradox of PMC impunity is best understood by reference to the particular form of authority such organizations enjoy – that is, by reference to their 'symbolic' capital. The article shows that PMC authority is grounded in three interrelated discourses/practices relative to risk/security, market governance and exercise of the state's monopoly on violence. These leave an imprint on the legal accountability sought. The centrality of the risk/security discourse paves the way for exceptionalism; that of the role of market governance for ad-hocism; and that of the discourse of respect for the state's monopoly on violence for inconsequentialism. The result is the coexistence of PMCs' relative impunity with intense contestation and legal innovation

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