In a world where conflict often involves a myriad of ethnic, religious, ideological and material drivers, successful military operations are unlikely to be achieved through the use of military force alone.

They require the deployment of all instruments of national and coalition power and influence – diplomatic, economic, military, informational – by an extensive roster of players: components of the military, foreign affairs, development and aid agencies and a wide range of NGOs. More and more, that may include private military corporations (PMCs).

PMCs are an increasingly permanent fixture on the international stage. Their significance as key sources of expertise and support cannot be dismissed due to the demands of contemporary conflict and the resource limitations of governments. Today, states as well as development agencies, international organizations, multinational corporations and NGOs make use of PMCs for a variety of reasons – from logistics to force protection to intelligence.

Yet such organizations also can also pose problems. Driven by the profit motive and not subject to a regulatory framework or accepted code of conduct, PMCs may engage in behavior that is both tactically dangerous and strategically counterproductive. The case of Blackwater, a U.S.-based PMC engaged in the protection of U.S. diplomats, is illustrative: its employees have been implicated in the shooting of more than two dozen Iraqi civilians setting off protest worldwide.

Not surprisingly, initiatives that leverage the benefits of PMCs and reduce or eliminate problems are at a premium. In this regard, recent efforts by the Canadian Forces aimed at developing a comprehensive approach to military operations demand consideration.

The comprehensive approach involves diplomatic, defence, development and commercial resources, aligned with those of numerous other agencies, coordinated through an integrated campaign plan and applied in areas of operations as needed. It views traditional and non-traditional military activities being carried out collaboratively within a broader context known as the “Effects-Based Approach to Operations” (EBAO). The net result would be greater mission effectiveness.

The approach derives heavily from “whole-of-government” and 3D+C (i.e., defence, diplomacy, development and commerce) philosophies articulated and advanced at the national level in recent international and defence policy statements. These philosophies call for closer collaboration of previously separate agencies to achieve policy objectives.

To be sure, military interest in the comprehensive approach reflects a growing belief in the importance of achieving greater interoperability and collaboration among key players in the operational arena as well as in the development of the requisite networking capabilities and skills essential to achieving one’s objectives. Even more fundamentally, it stems from a growing consensus that outward-focused, integrated and multidisciplinary approaches to security threats and challenges must be the norm given the complex problems and challenges posed by an increasingly multidimensional security environment.

The approach reflects the CF’s need to address such challenges. In fact, it is critical in order to balance the requirement to be able to fight and win in war – the CF’s fundamental role – with the need to be able to undertake a wide range of operations other than war (OOTW).

Movement toward a more comprehensive approach is underway. Especially noteworthy are Land Force initiatives aimed at developing a force that is more Joint, Interagency, Multinational and Public-enabled. In fact, the Land Force concept of JIMP offers one means of constructing a CF-wide comprehensive approach to operations. Most importantly, it involves a belief in the requirement to adopt a comprehensive approach to problem solving that involves the holistic consideration – and ideally the coordination – of all relevant players, including PMCs.

As the concept matures, so too will initiatives aimed at developing new relationships both within and between organizations. Initial efforts doubtlessly will focus on the creation of sustained dialogue and discussion in an effort to generate some degree of a shared understanding between players. The creation of mutually acceptable frameworks for collaboration and cooperation may well follow.

In time, such work may even help yield a regulatory framework conferring greater legitimacy on PMCs as players in military operations. The ultimate result may be the creation of a private-public sector solution to many of the problems of international conflict and the development of new norms of conflict resolution for an anarchic world.

Whatever the outcome, recent experience makes clear that PMCs will remain significant actors on the international stage and as such they must be addressed. Indeed, their growing salience increases incentives for governments and their militaries to adopt proactive approaches capable of maximizing the benefits they offer while minimizing – if not eliminating – the problems they can create.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rostek and Dr. Peter Gizewski are with the Directorate of Land Concepts and Design. The views expressed here are their own.