Legion of Frontiersmen, Edmonton Command, 1915 – a nationalist paramilitary group not officially affiliated with the Canadian Army.
(c) Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2005-1017-522 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Generaloberst von Falkenhorst with the sisters of the Lotta Svärd, a Finnish voluntary auxiliary paramilitary organisation for women, in the summer of 1941.
Paramilitary forces usually tend to wear similar but different uniforms to the military, for instance gray "urban camouflage".

A paramilitary is an organization whose structure, tactics, training, subculture, and (often) function are similar to those of a professional military, but is not part of a country's official or legitimate armed forces.[1] Paramilitary units carry out duties that a country's military or police forces are unable, or sometimes unwilling, to handle.

Military compared to paramilitary

Though a paramilitary is not a military force, it is usually equivalent to a military's light infantry force in terms of intensity, firepower, and organizational structure. Paramilitary forces and organisations use "military" equipment, skills, tactics etc that are compatible with the civilian sector (IE: Urban environments etc). During peacetime, Paramilitary professions are usually found in areas such as high profile non-military sites such as laboratories, nuclear power plants, industrial explosive factories, seaports, airports, borders and government sites such as embassies, palaces, political summits etc tasked with roles of VIP protection, anti-terrorism etc. A paramilitary may also commonly fall under the command of a military, even despite not being part of the military or play an assisting role for the military in times of war.

Paramilitary forces can also include private military company missions.


Under the law of war, a state may incorporate a paramilitary organization or armed agency (such as a national police or a private volunteer militia) into its combatant armed forces. The other parties to a conflict have to be notified thereof.[2]

Some countries constitutions limit freedom of association by prohibiting paramilitary organizations outside government use. In most cases, there is no definition of paramilitary, and court decisions are responsible for defining that concept.


Depending on the definition adopted, "paramilitaries" may include:

Irregular military

Auxiliary forces


Law enforcement

Government agencies

  • CIA - Special Activities Center (SAC) (specifically the Special Operations Group (SOG), staffed by Paramilitary Operations Officers)
  • CIA - Global Response Staff

Home guards

Civil defense

  • The fire departments of many countries are often organized in a manner similar to military or police forces despite being unarmed.
  • The Belgian Civiele Bescherming and Singapore Civil Defence Force.
  • The Australian State Emergency Service.
  • The Ukrainian Teroborona
  • The Lithuanian Riflemen's Union.

Examples of paramilitary units

Paramilitary uniforms and equipment

The likes of a SWAT vehicle shown here would be a Paramilitary equivalent to, for instance, an Armoured personnel carrier used by the actual Military.

Due to status and legal reasons, Paramilitary forces tend to be issued similar/capable equipment etc but not issued to the Armed Forces as they have a completely different function and role.

Commercially manufactured non-government issue "tactical gear" sold to the civilian market can be also classed as Paramilitary gear.

See also


  1. ^ "paramilitary". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. June 2011 [online edition; original published in June 2005]. Retrieved 2011-09-13. Designating, of, or relating to a force or unit whose function and organization are analogous or ancillary to those of a professional military force, but which is not D regarded as having professional or legitimate status.
  2. ^ "Customary IHL - Section B. Incorporation of paramilitary or armed law enforcement agencies into armed forces". Retrieved 2013-07-27.

Further reading

  • Golkar, Saeid. (2012) Paramilitarization of the Economy: the Case of Iran's Basij Militia, Armed Forces & Society, Vol. 38, No. 4
  • Golkar, Saeid. (2012). Organization of the Oppressed or Organization for Oppressing: Analysing the Role of the Basij Militia of Iran. Politics, Religion & Ideology, Dec., 37–41. doi:10.1080/21567689.2012.725661
  • Üngör, Uğur Ümit (2020). Paramilitarism: Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-882524-1.

External links

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Urban camouflage pattern, based on US woodland pattern.
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Officers and non-commissioned officers of the Legion of Frontiersmen, Edmonton Command, Edmonton, Alberta.