Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Campaign Against Arms Trade

  1.  The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) welcomes the Foreign Affairs Committee's Inquiry into the Green Paper on Private Military Companies which will facilitate debate on the issues. CAAT's memorandum represents the organisation's preliminary thoughts on the subject. These will be reviewed in the light of the evidence given to your Committee and of your deliberations.

  2.  The Green Paper sets out six options for regulation:

    —  a ban on military activity abroad;

    —  a ban on recruitment for military activity abroad;

    —  a licensing regime for military services;

    —  registration and notification;

    —  a General Licence for Private Military Companies/Private Security Companies;

    —  Self-regulation: a Voluntary Code of Conduct.

  Since the Campaign Against Arms Trade is opposed to all military exports, and as part of this has opposed military training and worked for an end to mercenary activities, it will not surprise your Committee to learn that CAAT favours the first option.


  3.  CAAT believes that it would be a retrograde step to licence, and thereby condone, the use of armed force by bodies other than publicly accountable military, security and police forces. There is also a danger that, to distance itself, a future Government could use a private company to undertake an activity that many members of the public might find objectionable.

  4.  As the international legal system is premised on action by states, CAAT would be interested to hear of the Government's assessment as to the legal implications, if any, that might result from the UK government sanctioning the activities of private military companies overseas.


  5.  Private companies, no matter how well run, have priorities other than those of government and are finally answerable to their shareholders or owners. The Green Paper, paragraph 42, quotes a report that says that such companies have a vested interest in maintaining instability so there is an ongoing demand for their services.

  6.  The Government argues that performance clauses in contracts will give companies an incentive to complete the tasks for which they have been employed. It says that in practice it is often the employing party which has a reason for prolonging the contract, for example to exploit mineral sources. CAAT would suggest that there could be a temptation to collude between the company and its employer.

  7.  The Government itself admits that the employees of private military companies have been known to switch sides in a conflict.


  8.  The Green Paper presents five arguments against a ban on military activity abroad. CAAT does not believe that these represent insurmountable difficulties.

Difficulty in enforcement

  9.  Legislation covering the extra-territorial activities of UK citizens and UK-controlled companies is increasingly being enacted. Examples include the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Chemical Weapons Act 1996, the Sex Offenders Act 1997, the Landmines Act 1998 and on bribery and corruption in February 2002. All these would have similar enforcement difficulties. More positively, they also have a deterrent effect and show that the UK considers certain activities undesirable and unacceptable.

Definitional problems

  10.  CAAT would like the ban to cover training, strategic advice and other support activities so there would be no question of a charge of inconsistency. It should not, however, be beyond the capabilities of Government lawyers to draft legislation that did not preclude neutral medical or humanitarian assistance to combatants.

Interference with individual liberty

  11.  The opinions of Lord Diplock notwithstanding, this would seem to be a somewhat specious argument as the areas of life where individual liberties are constrained by government are too numerous to list.

Depriving weak but legitimate governments of needed support

  12.  If the international community feels support is necessary, it should find the political will to provide assistance, either nationally or multi-nationally. It should not devolve the responsibility onto unaccountable private companies.

Depriving UK companies of legitimate business

  13.  Sales of military equipment can often cause instability and conflict, and are certainly no part of any solution. Furthermore, where there is instability and conflict, legitimate civil business opportunities can be reduced.


  14.  CAAT is pleased that, in paragraph 48, the Green Paper states "an over-reliance on coercive means of achieving security . . . will rarely provide long-term solutions. The easy availability of such means through private companies might represent a temptation for states who did not wish to face the more difficult long-term challenges of creating inclusive and pluralistic political communities."

  15.  The use of mercenaries would reinforce the idea that military solutions can resolve conflict.

  16.  Democracy, peace and justice would be better served if the resources which would otherwise be used by the UK government to control or licence mercenary activities are used to give positive support to or impose sanctions on troubled states or regions. Support could include negotiating political solutions, development aid and assistance to establish independent media; whilst sanctions would include arms embargoes.

  17.  Tighter controls on small arms, arms brokers and conflict goods could also do much to lessen the demand for mercenaries.

International action

  18.  With all these measures, it would, of course, be preferable if action were taken on an international basis. However, lack of consensus should not preclude unilateral action by the UK, or action by the European Union or a group of like-minded states.


  19.  CAAT seeks an end to all mercenary activities. If this cannot be achieved at this point, the following controls are minimum immediate requirements:

    (a)  all dealings between government departments and agencies and the military companies, other than operational details, to be in the public domain;

    (b)  any contract entered into between a military company and a foreign government to stipulate a cash fee and no other benefit. No other business sharing directors or offices with the providers of security should be allowed to have any dealings with the foreign government concerned for a period of, say, five years. The ownership of the military companies should be made transparent;

    (c)  the companies be made responsible under UK law for any breaches of human rights or the laws of war that may be committed by their employees.

Campaign Against Arms Trade

May 2002

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