While China explicitly forbids PMCs, China legalized PSCs in September 2009. Since then, Chinese PSCs have rapidly proliferated, increasingly obscuring the line between security and military services.


What are the benefits of not using PMCs as China did? China is using private security companies (PSCs), but for some reason decided to forbid the use of PMCs. Is there any advantage of not using PMCs as Russia and the United States do? I am wondering if China gave a reason for not using PMCs.

Private security companies are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as companies primarily engaged in providing guard and patrol services, such as bodyguard, guard dog, parking security and security guard services.

A private military company (PMC) or private military and security company (PMSC) is a private company providing armed combat or security services for financial gain. PMCs refer to their personnel as "security contractors" or "private military contractors".

  • 9
    Can you clarify the difference between PSC and PMC? If a PMC means possessing heavy armament (artillery, tank, helicopters, planes), then Wagner matches, but not sure if Blackwater qualifies. If you mean usage during actual war operations - rather than armed security guards - then Blackwater does qualify. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 19:47
  • 2
    Note that mercenaries are illegal in Russia.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 6:52
  • 1
    How is that even a question given current events in Russia? If you are a dictator, armed forces that are not answering directly to you are a liability. China realised this. (Putin probably also realised this, but given the reportedly disastrous financial state of Russia he presumably didn't have much of a choice)
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 13:52
  • 4
    PMC like Wagner and even Blackwater normally cost the government more than equivalent regular troops. It's specifically about recruiting people who just want to fight, not serve.
    – Therac
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 19:21
  • 1
    Broadly speaking, china doesnt need pmcs, historically pmcs were an eventual threat, and chinese pscs are glorified security guards. Apparently chinese pscs are pmcs in all but name and scope, and are kept on a leash in focusing on chinese-state led roles, and not state military ones. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 0:22

6 Answers 6


If you don't use PMCs, they don't march on your capitol and threaten to depose your government, as the Wagner Group did last week in Russia.

This is the most recent example of a PMC doing something of this kind, but the historic record reflects similar revolts by PMCs going back at least as far as the classical Roman era, in a significant share of all regimes which have employed them. See, e.g., here.

Notably, via Wikipedia:

Niccolò Machiavelli argued against the use of mercenary armies in his book of political advice The Prince. His rationale was that since the sole motivation of mercenaries is their pay, they will not be inclined to take the kind of risks that can turn the tide of a battle, but may cost them their lives. He also noted that a mercenary who failed was obviously no good, but one who succeeded may be even more dangerous. He astutely pointed out that a successful mercenary army no longer needs its employer if it is more militarily powerful than its supposed superior. This explained the frequent, violent betrayals that characterized mercenary/client relations in Italy, because neither side trusted the other. He believed that citizens with a real attachment to their home country will be more motivated to defend it and thus make much better soldiers.

The same link points out that many modern developed countries have banned PMCs.

  • 10
    Typo: "capitOl" should be "capitAl"
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 10:02
  • 14
    @convert The Foreign Legion may be foreign, but it has never been private.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 12:55
  • 5
    @StuartF Every military college in the world starts their curriculum of military history from the classical era and moves on from there. And, the point is that this has been a problem with mercenaries continuously from then to the present.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 16:56
  • 4
    @ohwilleke: That dictionary entry only says "state" (and not "country"), and there's a reason for that: it's specifically US states that have "capitols" - for example, see: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/capitol
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 19:45
  • 6
    @ohwilleke: It might possibly in the US (though I'm struggling to find many examples); in the rest of the world it really doesn't.
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 21:13

In addition to ohwilleke's answer seems to me there are added disadvantages to relying on PMCs in times of actual sustained combat.

Militaries, even in rule-of-law/democratic countries, have harsh penalties available to compel personnel to remain at the front, under the umbrella term of desertion.

Taking the US as an example:

The 2012 edition of the United States Manual for Courts-Martial states that: Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.

PMC personnel leaving combat zone out of self-preservation would not automatically be chargeable under those offenses, but may rather fall under contractual/employment/ or applicable civilian laws, which may be inadequate to force people to face deadly risk and which will take months or years to bring to court.

For example, cowardice as in (June 2023) Parkland school shooting: Jury selection begins as Parkland school resource officer Scot Peterson faces a rare trial over police conduct in a mass shooting on campus | CNN is only now getting to court:

Scot Peterson – who retired from the Broward Sheriff’s Office as scrutiny of his conduct during the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mounted.

Granted, you might very well be able to strengthen penalties and promise swift justice when operating under martial law, but then doing so also means you don't benefit as much from the PMC's "off the books" / deniability status.

Likewise, armed force personnel often have to take Military Oaths typically swearing to uphold the laws and constitution of their country and soldiers and officers tend to take these quite seriously.

Finally, there is the question of cost.

For a modern military, it will fall be driven by the following buckets:

  • gear and maintenance
  • training, including large scale drills
  • pay
  • benefits, including family relocation expenses

If you're hiring security guards for your embassies, then you can probably save on the benefits, gear is negligible and training can be addressed by hiring ex-military types.

But if you are using a domestic PMC, with heavy gear, for actual combat operations, then it hard to see who is bankrolling those expenses besides yourself and the direct pay component may be quite a bit higher than regular military as a mercenary's motivations are, by their nature, financial. As another answer says, you may also be facing uncertainties regarding the training.

Remember, all that spiffy Wagner gear, like the Pantsir that shot down the Russian choppers? Bankrolled by the Russian taxpayer.

Though it's not just combat operation costs, look at Contractors reap $138bn from Iraq war | Financial Times (2013)

None has benefited more than KBR, once known as Kellogg Brown and Root. The controversial former subsidiary of Halliburton, which was once run by Dick Cheney, vice-president to George W. Bush, was awarded at least $39.5bn in federal contracts related to the Iraq war over the past decade.

In a poor country, or a country with a limited military, like Costa Rica, facing a sudden, well-defined, security emergency, maybe importing a PMC's gear and know how would make sense. You pay, expensively, but you are getting a capability you never developed.

A country like Mali, facing an insurgency (COIN)? A PMC could bolster your troops, if your primary problem is combat capacity. But most COIN wars aren't lost by a military force being outgunned, but rather by a military force not "winning hearts and minds" and foreign mercenaries are unlikely to be an optimal way to achieve that. Wagner's forays in Mali seem to be textbook examples of what not to do.

  • What does the Parkland school shooting have to do with mercenary armies?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 6:55
  • 7
    5 years later, heavy dereliction of duty is still outstanding for Parkland. Uvalde cops may never face trial. Do you think those are extremely dissuasive possible penalties to saving one's skin in combat, if a purely civilian law framework is in effect?. Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 7:05
  • Oh, you mean it's a civil trial and not a criminal trial?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 7:21
  • 14
    Think civilian as opposed to court martial. Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 7:23
  • It seems that the takeaway from these school shooting cases is "the only legal duty to protect is when police themselves create the danger or make it worse" (as Prof. Stoughton puts it in his interview). So charging actual police officers with cowardice is quite tricky too. Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 7:39

It's a step towards eroding the monopoly of (legal) violence of the state. Like usually the state is in possession of the biggest military/police and any use of violence except maybe immediate self-defense is forbidden. So having a 2nd entity providing this service bears the inherent risk of "a competitive market" also known as coups, civil wars or the like.

Also I'd distinguish 2 kinds of mercenaries, one is in-house mercenaries and one is 3rd party contractors. In terms of in-house mercenaries like Wagner or Blackwater, where the company is located within the country and providing a service to said country, I actually don't really see the benefit with respect to a regular army or special forces. In terms of equipment, infrastructure, security and whatnot, a state should have more money, material and an means to provide secrecy than a company. And in terms of "plausible deniability", does that really work? Does anybody actually attribute the war crimes of Wagner and Blackwater to these companies? Or is it Russia and the U.S. who are responsible for these crimes by means of these mercenaries? At the end of the day the client is still responsible for their conduct and will be seen as responsible for that, especially if they continue to employ them or condone their conduct by not punishing it.

Like even if Wagner has recently gone rogue, it's not like that's their first streak of war crimes or that it had any major consequences, they are still associated by everybody with Russia and not seen as an independent actor. Similar to how the excuse of "they just misinterpreted deliberately vague orders" isn't going to convince anybody that the U.S. did not employ and later pardoned torture. So it's something you can say to fill the silence and others might accept that narrative if they are sufficiently bribed for it, but it's nothing that would have any convincing power on it's own and everybody assumes to a certainty of knowledge that you're lying.

So the more convincing kind of mercenary action is true 3rd party. Idk support the local military or paramilitary or hire mercenaries from an unrelated faction. Sooner or later your involvement is going to be suggested and revealed, but even if you can at least claim that they had a will of their own and you were just supporting their resistance against an oppressive regime. Like most regimes tend to be repressive against terrorism, so that's likely not even wrong.

It's still a risk in terms of reliability and secrecy, but you're technically at least bordering something criminal, so there's always a risk involved.

And the last case is allowing mercenaries to operate from your territory as a 3rd party for someone else. Which is a combination of the before. Like whatever conflict they get involved in, the involvement of you as a country will be at least assumed even if you aren't involved. So they can easily damage your own reputation without your gain. And if you really don't know what's going on they might also act contrary to your own international goals.

The only real use case is that you have an excess army that you could conscript if necessary but don't have to pay for otherwise, but the price is compatibility issues and the fact that they might refuse in which case you have a hostile army in your borders that is well versed in your technology infrastructure, cultural quirks, making them quite a problem for you.

And the U.S. and Russia (in recent years) are a rather unusual case as wars are often fought on foreign soil, so that the effect of "locals having skin in the game" wasn't so prevalent (or rather it often was but usually not as an advantage point), but if you're fighting a defensive war on your own soil, it's more likely that soldiers who actually live there and have families and property there are more likely to actually want to win the war and fend of the aggressor rather than those just doing a job and for whom home and family are outside of the conflict zone.

Also most countries at least officially forbid the use of mercenaries, but only allow for PSCs which technically doesn't get in conflict with the monopoly of violence of the state. Though when the security contractor has military grade equipment and is employed in combat situations that distinction becomes rather dubious.

  • 3
    >I actually don't really see the benefit with respect to a regular army or special forces< Really? It's the management. Armies of the world (as well as any other governmental bodies) are well-known for their notoriously inflexible command chain.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 19:29
  • @fraxinus A popular sentiment, yes. Accurate? Thought experiment: you're in a 200 person civilian company. Yesterday, your CEO stepped on a landmine. 10 seconds ago, his successor, the VP of Sales, got shot by a sniper. Who is next in line? Can you and your fellows decide in 30 seconds? Tik, tok, time's ticking. That's what the hierarchy-by-rank aims to solve. Second, the best modern armies devolve considerable autonomy to lower ranks, who are expected to show initiative, a "trick" the US, and now UA, learned from the Germans. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission-type_tactics Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 16:52
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica only statistically accurate. There are bright examples of the opposite here and there.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 19:04

Much better training standards

Training soldiers is expensive and private company do want to make a profit. Sometimes they hire ex-soldiers, but they ask a high pay. Sometimes they hire people from third world countries, obviously then they train them, but the standards cannot not be the same of a regular army. It would be too expensive.

While American PMSCs recruit people from all over the world Wagner recruits are from the Russian Federation. But on the other hand a lot of news stated that they hired ex convicts or used criminal charges to press people into service with little training. Given all the mix of recruits, in both countries there is not a guaranteed training standard.

  • 1
    Wagner is also increasinlgy relying on African hires and from other non-Russian countries. It's just where they source most of their people
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 13:01

I didn't see it linked anywhere here so, as an additional to a lot of the answers already posted:


China's Security Contractors Have Avoided the Fate of Russia's Military Contractors, So Far

China's approach to private security contractors (PSCs) is much more limited in scope and effects than Russia's use of private military contractors (PMCs). The differences are stark.

The distinction between a PMC versus a PSC is the difference between a for-hire military contractor versus a security team that merely protects a single static location, like a military base, embassy, or port.

Thus far, evidence indicates that China has engaged solely in PSC activities and has intentionally avoided PMC activities, likely due to a deliberate strategy by Xi to avoid regional entanglements

enter image description here

Chinese PSCs have focused narrowly on protecting Chinese investments around the world, such as providing security to Chinese-funded construction and infrastructure projects or Chinese embassies and installations.

Thus far, the Chinese approach to security is to legally bar their contractors from carrying weapons, to call local authorities when firepower is needed, and, in some high-threat locations, to outsource security to other countries' armed contractors.

The article does whoever suggest that this is changing and that we may yet see Chinese armed PMC's in the future.

Personally speaking, the supplied picture did make me chuckle. It suggests that the Chinese saw PMC and Private security (as in close protection etc) pictures and sort of got confused but liked the 'look' and wanted to replicate it for themselves.

Private Security Companies in Kenya and the Impact of Chinese Actors


For the time being, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is not deployed overseas to protect Chinese companies and citizens. As a result, Chinese private security companies are stepping in to fill this security vacuum.

As of 2016 China only had about 3,200 PSC officers protecting 16,000 companies operating abroad.

Another note is that the PRC has always had a private security sector, internally, that consisted of low wage, low skilled men as glorified doormen and gate pushers. The 2009/2010 introduced a two tier system, into which nearly all current PSCs fall, that is of unarmed security. The other is for armed escort but the PRC has such restrictive gun laws for civilians that it is impossible for a PSC to be internal and be in this category. That said, the unarmed security compensate with younger, ex-PLA fitter recruits with martial arts skills and carry non lethal weaponry such as cold shock and extending batons. So while they are unarmed they are not entirely incapable.


So, for now, the biggest difference, and likely perceived benefit (of not being directly engaged in armed contact) between China using PSC's compared to other countries PMC's is that they are currently unarmed.

They call in and direct other direct-contact agencies such as other PMC's when it comes to lethal contact.

Side-lining lethal kinetic engagement means China currently stays out of the way of messy political entanglements.


China has a long-standing policy of military non-interventionism that reduces the need for the PLA to serve overseas very much, let alone a need for PMC's to perform the same role but more roguely. Most of China's 20th century wars have been on or near it's border (India, Vietnam, Korea) and they don't require the same long-term force projection or cause the same war weariness as, for example, Russia/Wagner's military presence in Mali or the US/Blackwater's presence in Iraq.

Look at the role of China's PSC's around the world: to protect China's static economic interests. They don't use them to launch artillery strikes on Kiev or besiege Fallujah. Why would Chinese companies want to pay more money for unnecessary services like tanks or whatever fancy weapons a PMC might have, and why would the Chinese state want these generally considered evil entities existing and creating diplomatic problems for them?

It seems like the question is asking, why doesn't China do this bad thing that Russia and the US do. It's like asking why hasn't China invaded Afghanistan yet. Why would it?

In conclusion, the answer to the question is that China has no use for PMCs.

  • 2
    Yes, yes, tell that to Vietnam, India, Korea. and let's not forget Taiwan. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 1:26
  • None of those wars are comparable to Wagner in Mali or Blackwater in Iraq: Firstly, all of them pre-date the existence of PMC's, and secondly, only fighting wars next to a nation's border does "reduce the need for the PLA to serve overseas very much", reducing the use-case for a PMC. I'll edit the question to be more anti-china, but the core argument that China doesn't do the kind of force projecting and occupations that require PMC's is still valid I think Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 1:44
  • @BugCatcherNakata The Sino-Indian clashes are quite recent, they certainly don't predate the existence of PMCs. Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 7:48
  • I assumed the reference was to 1962, I wouldn't call the recent clashes a "war". Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 8:51
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Vietnam invaded Cambodia, a Chinese ally, and the Cambodians are actively fighting the Vietnamese to repel their incursion. Not to mention that China is acting under US command to disrupt the Vietnam-USSR strategy. PVA came to Korea under an invitation from the North Korean Government, but the idea started when the US breached the 38th parallel and bombed villages in China (at the time not yet involved in the war), India is a territorial dispute stemming from British colonials randomly drawing borderlines
    – Faito Dayo
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 14:34

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