Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 140 - 159)



  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 rather—and here I may be giving a preference but I am waiting for this consultation period to be over—see transparency and accountability and some kind of regime, so that everybody knew where we stood with these new organisations.

Mr Chidgey

  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 unstable country?
  (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 most—you can look at Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan and the Balkans to name just four regions—in 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 defence policies?
  (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 deliver—and I think it is delivering an extraordinary amount of men on the ground for its budget—would be the government agency that would carry out this work. As I say—and I am sorry to keep repeating this but it is important—what 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 spur—and I have read the same figures that you have—to 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 with that?
  (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 national army?
  (Dr MacShane) Again, this is very hypothetical but I assume—and I think the evidence suggests—that 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.

Andrew Mackinlay

  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 me—it was nothing to do with the British Government—of 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 specific point.

  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[1].

Andrew Mackinlay

  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 the road—
  (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.

Andrew Mackinlay

  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

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 1 August 2002