Examination of witness (Questions 140
THURSDAY 13 JUNE 2002
140. Could you envisage circumstances in which
Her Majesty's Government would issue a licence to a private military
company to engage in an activity which was contrary to the UK's
Government foreign policy?
(Dr MacShane) It certainly would not be one that I
would sign off on. I cannot commit future ministers.
141. I am interested because does that not mean
therefore that there is a responsibility resting on the Government
if things go wrong, which is Mr Olner's point? If you, as a minister,
are prepared to license a private military company to engage in
an activity in furtherance of UK foreign policy, surely there
is a residual responsibility with the UK Government to look after
that company if things go wrong.
(Dr MacShane) I think the Government in anything they
undertake overseas have to have account for their obligations
under UK domestic law and there is something that in some ways
is often as, if not more, powerful and that is public opinion
but, as with the licensing regime for our defence industry, there
is always at the back of one's mind as one approves or not approves
a submission, the thought that, in five or ten years' time, what
could the particular piece of kit then be used for or, when you
refuse a submission, are you actually stopping the chance of reinforcing
stability and peace in a core of the world because you do not
actually want to become involved in the necessary military aspects
of the process of guaranteeing law and order in a country?
142. Are you not opening yourself up to the
scariest of all charges, that you are perhaps going to be courageous
as a politician but there will come a point, which I am sure will
be in the not too distant future, when your Foreign Secretary
will stand at the Dispatch Box of the House of Commons to defend
the activities of a private military company which you yourself
have licensed? Is that not the risk, essentially? You will be
responsible for the activities of a company which you do not run
but which you have licensed.
(Dr MacShane) This is akin to England winning the
World Cup, which I would rather not contemplate. Chairman, Mr
Pope is quite right that you have to accept the consequences of
your decisions, but I would ratherand here I may be giving
a preference but I am waiting for this consultation period to
be oversee transparency and accountability and some kind
of regime, so that everybody knew where we stood with these new
143. I would like to ask you a series of questions
relating to the underlying problems of stability and proxies of
governance and accountability. I would like to start by putting
to you the fact that some critics of PMCs argue that using PMCs
only has an impact on the conditions that create conflict and
that therefore deploying them is always a short-term solution
at best. I wonder whether you would like to comment on this in
terms of whether you can make any generalisations about the long-term
impact of importing private military expertise into unstable countries.
Are there any examples of PMCs bringing lasting stability to an
(Dr MacShane) I think that is a very important question
and there you would have to get into the debate of not just being
tough on violence and instability but tough on the causes of violence
and instability: the poverty, the socio-economic factors, the
ethnic religious nationalist rivalries that lead people to use
violence against their government. I think that, as the world
moves increasingly to democratic governments In the last
20 years, we have seen certainly in Latin America and Africa,
just to take those two regions, the replacement often of military
authoritarian governments by states that have been democratically
constituted and they have the right to ensure that first duty
of a state which is the monopoly of violence within its borders,
which is why we have an army and why we have police forces. Where
that monopoly is violated by organisations, rebel groups, terrorist
outfits, guerrilla outfits and paramilitary outfits and the state
is unable because of the lack of investment in an adequate military
or domestic security infrastructure to ensure stability, what
does it do? It appeals to its friends and Britain has been more
generous than mostyou can look at Sierra Leone, East Timor,
Afghanistan and the Balkans to name just four regionsin
aiding that quest for security by sending our own highly trained
and professional armed forces. However, we cannot be everywhere
and we certainly should not be everywhere. We should look to the
UN but the UN, as we saw in Rwanda and other places, can be very
slow. What ultimately I would like to see is much swifter responses
by trained professional peace-keepers/peacémakers on a
regional basis acting under the UN or under regional associations
but, ad interim, do we deny the right of states to appeal
for help from these professional bodies? I think it is a question
which this consultation process will have to answer but I would
be very reluctant to say that because we cannot send the British
Army or a properly equipped UN Army, then we just allow a country
to bleed to death because of internal violence. It is illegal.
144. That is very helpful because it leads on
to the concept of looking at weak states which I think you referred
to at some stage, or certainly the Foreign Secretary has referred
to the problems you have just addressed being often the problems
of a weak state which does not have the resources to adequately
recruit and train the sort of civil or military forces needed
to preserve and protect stability in the country. However, it
is the case, certainly in Africa, that many of the weak states
are also the poor states which begs the question, if they are
weak and poor, they are not able to afford to pay for the expertise
and professionalism of PMCs to restore and keep order. It does
lead, does it not, quite directly to a change of emphasis perhaps
and more pressure by this Government being put on the UN to meet
the obligations that we charge the UN for carrying out on our
behalf in terms of international peace-keeping, rather than expect
weak poor states to fend for themselves and become a hostage to
fortune of whatever commercial dealings might be going on behind
the scenes to attract PMCs.
(Dr MacShane) I am in total agreement with the honourable
Member, Chairman. He states Government policy better than I could!
145. My career is in shreds! I ask this question
just to reinforce one of your earlier answers about use of British
Forces. Just to reinforce this, can you cite an example in which
the employment of a PMC instead of British Forces deployed overseas
could reduce our overstretch without compromising our foreign
(Dr MacShane) I am reluctant to get into the substitution
discussion. There are examples in the past; one is cited in the
Green Paper. I stress that I am not an academic or historical
expert on the issue of the Sierra Leone regime being stabilised
to the point of it being then able to move forward to hold elections,
which of course resulted in the election of President Kabbah,
but then unfortunately he was driven out by the rebel forces,
which led to the sequence of events which gave rise to the Green
Paper we are discussing here. So, where there is a direct British
interest at stake, I would assume, within the limits of what the
Ministry of Defence can deliverand I think it is delivering
an extraordinary amount of men on the ground for its budgetwould
be the government agency that would carry out this work. As I
sayand I am sorry to keep repeating this but it is importantwhat
we should be seeking around the world is a trained professional
defence capability able to assist and intervene to ensure stability.
That is a discussion which we are having with many of our partners
and I think there has been a welcome sea-change, to use that metaphor,
particularly in the last year about the need for all the democracies
to accept their responsibilities in this sphere of operations.
146. The Green Paper counters moral objections
to using PMCs by suggesting that, "It may be cheaper and
will certainly be quicker than attempting to train national forces."
Is the use of PMCs so lacking in moral justification that it has
to be justified by these practical advantages?
(Dr MacShane) I think there is always a legitimate
question that can be asked. It has been asked throughout military
history of how you get the maximum effect for the money you spend
while wholly remaining within the realm of law, accountability
and democratic government policy and clearly already, as I say,
armed forces around the world accept that they no longer should
provide all the training by actual members of the armed forces
and instead ask private companies to have a role in that. It should
be a spurand I have read the same figures that you haveto
the United Nations to sharpen up/quicken up its operations to
show that the UN and other regional bodies can intervene in a
timely manner so that the actual, as it were, combat end of private
military company activities is not necessary.
147. In amassing evidence as part of the consultation
process, have the Government, yourself or your Department found
any evidence to show that PMCs are more or less prone to destructive
or abusive or unprofessional behaviour than, for example, national
armies as we would recognise them in the West?
(Dr MacShane) I think if you just consider Rwanda
and the Balkans, and let me stop there, the behaviour of national
armed forces does not need any extra comment from me.
148. That is very helpful because it brings
me onto my last question which in fact you have touched on in
earlier exchanges with my colleagues and that is the whole question
of accountability. We have examined already the concept of the
contractual relationship between companies and the client being
argued by some as sufficient accountability in the licensing regime
and so on. While I can accept that as far as the company is concerned,
commercial relations that they have with their clients is in fact
a means of enforcing accountability, we are talking here in extreme
cases of combat and individual soldiers/personnel in extreme conditions
of danger not part of the established routine of trained, disciplined
armed forces and I would suggest three words here: discipline,
deterrence and accountability. That weighs heavy on a fighting
person in an extreme situation and their actions in that situation
and what happens to them as a result of their actions. Can you
not see and do you not agree with Lieutenant-Colonel Spicer because,
when I put this question to him, he accepted that a PMC did not
and could not reduce the risk of violation, extreme action and
human rights abuse that a properly trained, disciplined and legislated
national armed forces could do. He accepted that. Would you agree
(Dr MacShane) I think one has to bow to superior military
knowledge and the superb professionalism of the British Armed
Forces is second to none in the world but, in my lifetime, we
have seen activities from the Algerian War to My Lai to more recent
examples of the armed forces of democratic states behaving in
a way that is wholly unacceptable. I would not for a second dream
of suggesting that were we to proceed with some of the suggestions
outlined in the Green Paper following the consultation, that this
guarantees that there would never be any egregious violation of
what we would consider to be acceptable behaviour. What I would
say is that making it accountable, putting it within a legislative
framework, may be better than seeing these activities driven off-shore
or being undertaken on a sub-rosa basis where nobody actually
knows who is doing what until suddenly there is a story on the
front page of the excellent Sunday Times.
149. Do you therefore suggest that that would
reduce the risk of a privately recruited trained fighter performing
human rights abuses in comparison to the risk with a professional
soldier under the discipline, the deterrence, the liability and
the accountability through the system of his employment in the
(Dr MacShane) Again, this is very hypothetical but
I assumeand I think the evidence suggeststhat most
of the people involved in these activities now are former highly
trained professional soldiers who know that their chances of continuing
in work are pretty slim if they behave in an unacceptable way.
Again, if I may say so, you are taking me into quite a hypothetical
realm, an important one but that is exactly what I hope we can
tease out, particularly at the 24 June conference and discussions
that will continue, I hope, in this House.
Mr Chidgey: In the process of teasing out these
issues, can I leave you with one thought to contemplate and that
is that there is an awfully large difference between somebody
losing their pay as a privately employed soldier because of an
abuse and spending five years in Colchester Military Prison for
the same abuse, which he might well do under the terms of army
regulations. I leave you with that thought.
150. I wonder if I could begin by clearing up
one or two things in the Green Paper. First, you said in reply
to my colleague, Mr Chidgey, that there was reference in the Green
Paper and this was an example where we had supported the employment
of a PMC. Where does that come?
(Dr MacShane) No, I did not. I think I was asked by
Mr Chidgey if I knew of an example of a private military company
being used and producing, as it were, a positive result. What
I cited was the one example that struck meit was nothing
to do with the British Governmentof the Sierra Leone government
then hiring a company that managed to defeat or push back the
RUF sufficiently to allow elections to take place, but thereafter
the RUF came back with a bang. There is a very good list at the
back of the Green Paper which I am just looking at, it is about
1994/95, and, when one looks through this, there are a number
of case studies that all seem to involve Sierra Leone or one particular
company, Executive Operations from South Africa, which was I think
related to the post-apartheid regime when the frontline states
found themselves with all sorts of very unusual gentlemen operating
within their borders.
151. Perhaps you would like to come back to
us on that example. I take your point; I misunderstood you. Can
I ask you to look at page 34.
(Dr MacShane) Yes, 1995, page 34, Sierra Leone, "EO,
assistance from South African Army soldiers and Russian aircraft
pilots" against the RUF. "Rebels split up and driven
back to Liberian border." That then led to the possibility
of elections being held in Sierra Leone. Nothing to do with Britain.
152. While we are on page 34, can we go down
a little further where we have, "J&S Franklin (Gurkha
Security Guards Ltd)" recruited by the Sierra Leone Government.
"Military training and support for Republic of Sierra Leone
. . ." and the outcome was, "Terminated a few weeks
later following rebels killing the leader." Some training
that was! The guy gets killed! However, I am very grateful for
that example. On page 35, the second one down, "Sierra Leone
1996 Sandline International (Executive Operations) UK", recruited
by the government for military training. Which government was
that because elsewhere it mentions the Sierra Leone Government?
Which government is that?
(Dr MacShane) This chart, Chairman, is not a Government
drawn-up chart; it is taken from an independent study and I am
happy to write to the honourable gentlemen with an answer to that
153. If you could, I would be grateful, but
presumably, for this morning's purposes, we can be assured that
it is most definitely not Her Majesty's Government.
(Dr MacShane) Mr Mackinlay asks a question which I
confess to the Committee I do not have an answer to.
154. I think the point is that
(Dr MacShane) It is a very fair point.
Andrew Mackinlay: So you will write to us.
155. You will clarify that.
(Dr MacShane) Of course we will.
156. Than you have got a series of Sierra Leones
where it does not indicated "recruited by", so if you
are able to amplify on those I would be grateful. Then on page
37 it seemed to me worth bouncing off you comments on this. Country
Zaire, 1996, 2,000 mercenaries. They were recruited by the Zairean
Government and included British Nationals. The purpose was military
support against rebels. Mobutu was defeated. This is an interesting
illustration because they were recruited by both sides, it would
seem. You had 2,000 mercenaries for the Zairean Government and
they were 300 mercenaries recruited for the so-called White Legion
for Mobutu. That is the way I understand it. They were recruited
by both sides. In fairness there were no United Kingdom fingerprints
on this but nevertheless British Nationals. The White Legion disappeared
into Congo-Brazzaville. They literally disappeared, that is what
the report says. Is this not going to be the problem throughout,
that whereas people who are signed up to the Sultan's army are
sworn to the Sultan of Oman, our own Gurkhas are sworn to Her
Majesty the Queen, the Swiss Guard to the Holy Father, etc., to
use a flip example, these people can just disappear off the face
of the earth. They have committed atrocities, we do not know what
has happened to them, we do not know who they are, we do not know
who the company is. They disappeared into Congo-Brazzaville. Is
this not going to be a problem for you and for us once we go down
(Dr MacShane) Mr Mackinlay puts his finger on a very
important point. I do stress again that this is a chart taken
from a study and the studies are listed at the back. I am sure
the House of Commons Library can find the academic books from
which this material has been taken and make it available to Members.
That then could be an argument, I would put it to the Committee,
for saying that having a transparent licensing regime would ensure
that you did not send unknown people into the heart of darkness,
to quote Conrad, for them thence to disappear. If anything, the
argument might be in the direction of supporting some of the suggestions
about a licensing regime.
157. Colonel Spicer two days ago said "I
am very professional, I have explored the top quality people,
their military records, etc." and no doubt he does, he has
got a good reservoir of very professional soldiers. He said "I
also check criminal records". In fairness to him I think
he was using "criminal records" in a loose sense but
he cannot do that, can he, because he will not have access to
criminal records? He can check out from his own resources but
there is no mechanism. What is your view about checking out criminality?
We check out people in terms of care situations and domestic situations,
access to the Police National Computer, etc., but by definition,
and I think rightly at this moment in time, lawfully there is
no access to such records, is there?
(Dr MacShane) Mr Mackinlay raises again an important
issue and I hesitate to duck it by saying it is more a matter
for a Home Office Minister. The question of access to records
of people employed in security companies is a sensitive one that
has been discussed in this House. The issue of the nature of any
licensing regime might indeed have to take that into account.
158. Would you see any regime which you contemplate,
Minister, finding some mechanism whereby companies cannot dissolve
themselves after each operation, successful or aborted, because
a higher number of them are aborted? It is like sand going through
your fingers, companies dissolve, ownership is vague and the soldiers
themselves are not known or named. Again, is this not a problem?
What do you think of that?
(Dr MacShane) They are very protean, they are like
amoeba, they come and go. If at the end of this whole process
it is the collective wisdom of Parliament, the Government and
the community involved that legislative proposals are not really
workable, and the Diplock Report on this in 1976 was never translated
into legislation, then we will remain with exactly the problem
that Mr Mackinlay rightly outlines.
Chairman: Mr Mackinlay, you will recall, I think,
in the discussions with the previous Committee in respect of Sandline,
Colonel Spicer when he appeared before the Committee was surprisingly
ignorant about the affiliates of his own company.
159. Indeed, and the colour drained from his
face two days ago when I asked who owned his current company.
You can see it on colour television.
(Dr MacShane) My colour drained from my face, Chairman,
when I sat in this seat so I have no blood left to give.
1 See Evidence p Ev 45. Back