Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  Increased international instability, the end of the Cold War and the reluctance by first world nations to engage in problems that do not affect their vital national interests has led some companies and nations to view PMCs as an effective solution to the security challenges that confront them. Simultaneously PMCs and their advocates have been quick to point out the failure of the UN to control the many crises that have dominated the changing security environment of the 1990s. Furthermore they have also argued that the private sector could perform many tasks that have in the past been conducted either by UN agencies or Peacekeeping troops contributed from Member States.

3.2  AIM

  This chapter will explore the arguments that PMCs can provide useful military capabilities to the UN to support its peace operations, and determine how these capabilities can fit into the UN's current methods of handling crises. The chapter will then examine what type of regulation would transform PMCs into a politically acceptable military/security capability that could be utilised by the UN.

3.3  SCOPE

  The UN has been widely criticised for failing to meet the challenges of a changing security environment. As a result of such attention it has commissioned several studies to suggest improvements to its methods of operation. The most recent major study was the Brahimi report that was commissioned by the UN Secretary General and published in August 2000. Chaired by the former Foreign Minister of Algeria, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, the panel reviewed United Nations peace and security activities and presented a set of recommendations to assist the United Nations in conducting such activities in the future. Although not infallible, this report is widely accepted certainly within the UN, as the best way forward. It therefore makes sense to use the panel's most relevant recommendations as a method of ascertaining whether PMCs can in fact enhance the UN's peace and security activities.

  This chapter then analyses the unique nature of the UN and attempt to explain why PMCs may find it difficult gaining approval and acceptance by the UN. Finally it suggests ways in which PMCs could adjust their structures and practices to gain political acceptance (and perhaps business) from the UN. The chapter then concludes by examining what type of regulation would transform PMCs into a politically acceptable military and security capability that could be utilised by the UN.



  The Brahimi report stressed the need for a more integrated approach to conflict prevention; it went on to specifically endorse the Secretary-General's remarks on closer collaboration between nations, UN organisations and the corporate sector.1 This recommendation may not at first sight be strictly relevant to the employment of PMCs but it is worth highlighting Kofi Annan's inclusion of the corporate sector in conflict prevention. Corporations may of course be biased in either their reporting or actions in crises, dependent as they could be on the goodwill of their own government or that of the country within which they conduct their business. Nonetheless business needs a secure environment in which to thrive and clearly a healthy economy is a major contributor to the prevention of conflict. It could therefore be argued that PMCs who are providing such a secure framework for a corporation are already indirectly assisting in the conflict prevention goals of the UN.

  Where perhaps this factor can be enhanced is, as mentioned by the Brahimi report, in ensuring that the efforts of the corporation and it's PMCs are not running contrary to the conflict prevention strategy of the UN (for instance by an industry and its PMC strengthening a belligerent country to the alarm of its neighbours). Additionally PMCs admit themselves that they can only provide military or security solutions to a country's problems and that the underlying causes of the conflict would have to be addressed if a lasting peace is to be achieved. This is one area where closer cooperation between the UN and PMCs may be successful in transforming a PMC's local and temporary security success into a more permanent peace. It is this lack of cooperation that meant that EO's temporary military successes in Angola and Sierra Leone were not fully capitalised by the UN. Despite these historical lessons there is still no meaningful dialogue between the PMCs and the UN, the reasons for this are explored later on in this chapter.


  The report emphasised the need for coherent post conflict peace building strategies.2 One area where PMCs may well have a useful function to play is in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants. All of these could in theory be conducted by PMCs, it is however debatable whether PMC troops could perform demobilisation and disarmament better than the peacekeeping troops of many Member States. Reintegration is however a task that may suit the first world background of many of the PMC personnel, in particular training an Army for "democratisation" is a capability that many troops from third world countries would struggle to achieve. This training programme would necessarily be a long term and perhaps an unwelcome task for some Member States and therefore one that PMCs could valuably accomplish. A precedent for PMCs fulfilling these tasks has been set by MPRI who are currently running very similar programmes in both Nigeria and Croatia.3


  The panel recommended that no mission go forward unless it is properly resourced, they believed that "to deploy a partial force incapable of solidifying a fragile peace would first raise and then dash the hopes of a population engulfed in conflict or recovering from war, and damage the credibility of the United Nations as a whole."4 Given the growing reluctance of nations to deploy forces into areas with complex problems there is therefore scope for PMCs to make up the balance of peacekeeping troops and allow the operation to go ahead. The PMC contribution need not simply be troops but could include the provision and maintenance of items of equipment.


  The failure by the United Nations and the international community to deploy appropriately sized forces to Rwanda in time to prevent the genocide between the Tutsis and the Hutus has been used by many critics as an example of the UNs weakness in this area. PMC advocates have been quick to suggest that the private military sector could deploy faster than the UN and therefore have a role to play in enabling the UN to respond more effectively in crises.5 There are however a number of arguments to this proposal. Firstly, it appears that PMCs and their advocates have been exaggerating their own capabilities and they do not currently have the wherewithal to maintain a significant body of troops at a constant state of high readiness. To do so would be prohibitively costly and it would not make either economic or business sense for them.6 That they can deploy small reconnaissance or negotiating teams into a crisis spot is not disputed, nor more importantly is it unique! Both the UN and many Member States can do so without requiring full political approval. Therefore Member State forces will remain, in the absence of a UN standing force, the best medium for the UN to deploy troops into theatre quickly. If PMCs are, as some of their lobbyists, have suggested going to work under a UN peacekeeping mandate (and therefore presumably paid for by the UN) then their speed of deployment will still be dictated by the political will and urgency of the Security Council and Member States. For PMCs to suggest an alternative method of operating under the UN is disingenuous and ignores the most fundamental aspect of the UN charter, Member State collective responsibility. It is also worthwhile pointing out that on occasions the UN has reacted swiftly. In 1956 during the Suez crisis the UN deployed troops to police the ceasefire between the Anglo/French and Egyptian forces within 36 hours.7 The solution therefore to the UN's slow response is not to replace Member State troops with PMCs but to speed up the UN's authorizing process. This clearly is no small undertaking and would require radical change within the UN. It is also worth pointing out that a PMC is not an altruistic "force for good" and will only deploy if there is a financial profit to be made. This will not only slow their deployment down as they wait for the financial backers to assemble but could exclude them from entire regions of the globe where there is no substantial monetary interest in resolving the conflict.

  Where PMCs may have a role to play in increasing the UN's speed of response is in the maintenance and improvement of the UN's existing standby proposals. The Brahimi report raised the problem of ensuring the quality of military personnel nominated by troop contributing countries to deploy under the UN Standby Arrangement System (UNSAS) system. The report highlighted some of the problems:

      "Some countries have provided soldiers without rifles, or with rifles but no helmets, or with helmets but no flak jackets, or with no organic transport capability. Troops may be untrained in peacekeeping operations, and in any case the various contingents in an operation are unlikely to have trained or worked together before. Some units may have no personnel who can speak the mission language. Even if language is not a problem they may lack common operating procedures and have differing interpretations of key elements of command and control and of the mission's rules of engagement, and may have differing expectations about mission requirements for the use of force."8

  PMCs could have a role to play in verifying the military capability of the Member State's force, this could be achieved by an external auditing process similar to the OPEVAL system used by the British Army. PMCs could also assist in the peacekeeping training of some Member state forces, this would require delicate handling for it was apparent in several interviews that some Member States, for reasons principally of pride, would resent this.9

  A further recommendation of the Brahimi report is the provision of an "on call list" of about 100 officers who would at short notice deploy as UN military observers with appropriate modifications. The formation, training and assessing of this group may also be a useful role for a PMC to undertake.


  The Brahimi reports recommended the creation of a Executive Committee for Peace and Security Information and Strategic Analysis Secretariat (EISAS). Many member states felt that this would be too intrusive into their national affairs and consequently the proposal fell on stony ground.10 There is however greater acceptability by Member States for intelligence to be gathered by the UN in support of a specific mandate. Some PMCs, such as Penumbra, have successfully combined surveillance and investigative skills normally associated with government and could therefore answer some of the of the UN's information requirements. There is indeed already a precedent of private companies providing intelligence to prosecute embargo breakers, when in 2001 Kroll associates was used to investigate diamond money laundering by UNITA. Though there is perhaps some scope for PMCs to be involved in some of the more routine embargo monitoring tasks and in providing intelligence on specific subjects on a case by case basis, it is likely that the use of PMCs to provide surveillance and intelligence support to the UN on a more general basis will remain a politically contentious issue and one many Member States will remain wary of.


  Supporters of PMCs have been strongly advocating their potential utility in conflict resolution and crisis management for some years now. It should however be pointed out that PMCs do carry a lot of political baggage with them and possess certain unique characteristics that will limit their likelihood of being employed by the UN.


  Despite a plethora of literature from lobbyists highlighting the differences between modern PMCs offering lethal services and the mercenaries of the 1960s and 1970s, many Member States and individuals within the UN staff perceive PMCs as deeply flawed organisations. This view is most commonly, though not exclusively, held amongst the developing countries. Assertions by the PMCs that they are more accountable and responsible than their predecessors have yet to convince many people. Indeed many Member States and staff at the UN take the view that PMCs are immoral organisations, who have traditionally served autocratic and unpopular governments and whose operations are littered with human rights abuses.11 There is also a perception amongst staff and Member States from the Third World that they are also inherently racist. It is not altogether surprising that there should be a clash of cultures between the staff of an idealistic institution whose dedicated purpose is to prevent the world from the scourge of war and the members of a business whose primary aim is to make a financial profit from conflicts wherever they may occur. Many Member States retain a conviction that the employment of a soldier whose motivation to fight is financial carries an inherently greater risk of human rights abuses than his regular counterpart whose duty and loyalty remains with the state. Whilst there are many reasons to believe that modern PMCs are different to their predecessors and that some of the views held by Member States and staff at the UN are anachronistic the current situation still remains that for many PMCs are politically unacceptable. It seems for the foreseeable future as if the UN Security Council and General Assembly will only countenance the use of PMCs for non lethal capabilities.


  Clauswitz's "war is an extension of politics by other means" emphasises the point that from the UNs perspective the most effective form of peacekeeping is the implementation of military capability combined with political pressure. The UN asserts that the combined influence of troops at the tactical level and political pressure from the troop contributing country at the strategic level is the key to successful accomplishment of UN mandates.12 Regardless of military capability it is easy to see that a UK battalion deployed into Sierra Leone carries much more political authority than a mercenary battalion paid for by private business. This political context must always be borne in mind when PMCs compare costs of operations as it can make such comparisons misleading and disingenuous. The employment of a PMC on a military task financed by the UK government may well retain some political weight and therefore have merit, this has been demonstrated by the use of MPRI to train the Nigerian Army paid for by the US state department. By the FCOs admission however, the use of such PMCs rather than national forces for peacekeeping tasks "cannot yet be envisaged".13


  Advocates of PMCs either fail to recognise or choose to ignore that the UN is not a multi-national private sector company and should not pretend to act like one. The UN is obliged to conduct its business through the member states and ensuring those member states are engaged as actively as possible in collective security is the principal raison d'etre of the UN. Some members of the UN and it's organisations perceive the rise of PMCs within the west and the ensuing debate over their regulation and utility as part of a deliberate policy by western governments to avoid peacekeeping tasks in complex environments.14 They therefore almost automatically reject the use of PMCs believing it will speed up the withdrawal of a hesitant West from both peacekeeping duties and political engagement in solving conflicts in the developing world. These members within the UN believe that the only realistic scenario where a PMC could be employed on peacekeeping duties within a UN mandate on peacekeeping duties is by working under the auspices of a Member State to whom that unit would be entirely accountable; the unit could therefore be treated in exactly the same way as a normal troop contribution. It should be added that the UN still sees this as a poor substitute to the deployment of a country's own armed forces.


  While PMCs may wish to conjure up combat roles for themselves under a UN mandate, they are unlikely to receive them. The Brahimi report confirmed the pattern of the last decade that any requirement identified by the Security Council for peace enforcement would be entrusted to a coalition of member states to execute. PMCs would therefore be better advised to seek the less glamorous and yet more realistic non-lethal tasks. According to UNDPKO the UN suffers from a shortage of movement controllers, communications experts, logistic personnel and logistic engineers. Troops from developing nations are particularly short of these skills.15 Recent lessons learnt from UN operations have shown that this capability gap is having a detrimental effect on the UN's ability to respond to a crisis. This is an area to which staff from PMCs are well suited and could make a real difference to the conduct of UN activities with a minimal political impact. Additionally there is a growing acceptance that PMCs may adopt some of the more routine security tasks. A leading African Diplomat in a recent interview with the author thoroughly condemned PMCs as little better than the mercenaries of the 1960's yet he conceded that properly structured and politically accountable they could have a role to play within organisations such as the United Nations Guard Contingent in Iraq (UNGCI), an organisation tasked with the protection of humanitarian convoys in Iraq.


  Additional opposition to the UN's use of PMCs as peacekeepers would come from the developing world troop contributing nations. Some developing countries see UN peacekeeping tasks as a valuable source of revenue. In addition other commentators have commented that developing country governments may also see it as an effective way of keeping an otherwise bored military occupied, thus preventing them from meddling in their own domestic politics. These countries would therefore not welcome the prospect of PMCs taking such tasks away from them.


  Some within the UN would also be reluctant to see peacekeeping tasks contracted out to the private sector because of the valuable relationships that are created between military personnel on such tasks. It would be naïve to suggest that peace-keeping operations create enduring harmony between member states. However they do go a considerable way to breaking down some of the areas of mutual suspicion between member states and generally foster a spirit of co-operation. Additionally the experience for military personnel working in UN headquarters though often frustrating undoubtedly broadens the individuals horizons and many nations consider it to be a valuable and necessary experience in an individual serviceman's career.



  PMCs possess a powerful lobby group who naturally enough see UN peace activities as a possible source of future business. It is however apparent that the political outlook to see PMCs deployed independently in a peace enforcement or peacekeeping role is not present amongst the General Assembly. A change in political outlook is seen as highly unlikely without the support of the member states, a significant proportion of whom have yet to be convinced that PMCs offering lethal capabilities are fundamentally different from the mercenaries of the 1960's.

  Current UN thinking believes that the solution to international crises in the world lie with regional power blocs working under the auspices of the UN and bolstered by first world peacekeeping battalions.16 The recent operations by ECOWAS and ECOMOG in West Africa are an example of the method of peace activities that the UN would like to follow. Supporters of these Regional organisations are suspicious of PMCs primarily because of the reasons outlined earlier in this chapter, but also because they feel some of the resources being invested into the regional organisations may be diverted to the financing of PMCs. Despite this attitude there is a growing belief that "complex emergencies" such as Sierra Leone and the Congo are defying solutions. A growing number of individuals within the UN recognise that the West is unlikely to provide peacekeeping Battalions in sufficient numbers and that many of the developing countries' troops do not have the required skills and resources and are therefore simply not up to the task. These practitioners believe that there may be a role for PMCs, but are perhaps more realistic about the prejudice felt by many member states against PMCs and conclude that non lethal military tasks are a more likely proposition than the imagined combat or peacekeeping roles the PMC lobbyists would prefer.

  Similarly there is a growing realisation within the UN that field operations by organisations under the UN umbrella require security, especially where there are few or no UN peacekeeping forces deployed. On occasions this security requirement is filled by locally recruited soldiers, many of whom are ill-disciplined and perhaps associated with one of the warring factions. On other occasions the organisations have recruited members of a multi-national security company who are better disciplined, trained, neutral and probably provide a superior level of security. The growing acceptance that PMCs have a part to play in armed security tasks would appear to have as much to do with responding to actual practices than a deliberate policy change by the UN in New York.

  There is much the PMCs themselves can do to ensure themselves greater business from the UN. Firstly they must accept the political outlook of the UN and take measures to prove the prejudices against their performance are incorrect. They should then cease demands for combatant roles for the time being and concentrate upon providing non-lethal military tasks. In the future were the PMCs able to point to a successful track record of support to regional organisations and the UN, then they may indeed be entrusted with greater responsibility and armed security tasks similar to the activities of the UNGCI. Should these in turn prove a success then there may well even be the possibility of providing peacekeeping troops responsible to a Member State but working under a UN mandate. It is hard to envisage a more independent role at present, indeed this would require fundamental changes to the principles and structures of the UN.

  There is also much that the PMCs could do to improve their image if they wish to be employed by the UN more frequently. They will need to consider recruiting from a wider range of countries to make them more politically acceptable and be prepared to adopt a greater degree of transparency and accountability. Regulation is clearly a useful aspect in achieving this and would allow the PMCs to answer the accusations of many of their critics. Finally by opening a dialogue between the UN and themselves they could ensure that much of what they achieve fits into the conflict prevention and resolution strategies of the United Nations. Increased cooperation would lay to rest many of prejudices and negative views held by the UN against PMCs.


  Many of the Member States as well as organisations like the International Peace Academy believe that by allowing groups such as SCI to operate from Britain the UK government are condoning their operations. The UN therefore sees regulation as a method of controlling their behaviour and consequently a positive step. International regulation is certainly not a realistic proposition for the next 10 years and so members of the UN generally approve of national governments producing their own legislation. There is also a cynical feeling amongst some UN staff members that many governments would either ignore international regulation when it suits their interests or in some cases be incapable of enforcing it.17

  Of the regulation options available both member states and staff members at the UN believe that a General License combined with a contract licensing regime for military services is the preferred option for PMCs offering lethal capabilities. The UN would be less happy with either registration and notification or self-regulation, because they believe that it allows lethal PMCs too much freedom (they would however accept such systems for non lethal PMCs). They would not be content with a General License by itself as there would be no check to ensure that a contract awarded to a PMC would not run contrary to UNSC interests, resolutions and embargos. Similarly whilst a licensing regime by itself would verify the suitability of a contract it would not be effective in ensuring the quality and standards of the PMC itself.

  Whilst some believe that regulation will simply drive the disreputable individuals underground or offshore, many hope that an efficient system of regulation would make PMCs more accountable and transparent, and create a greater air of political acceptability and respectability around PMCs. This could perhaps encourage a higher quality of personnel to join PMCs including more respected senior military members on retirement. This it could be argued has already occurred in the US, there is for instance clearly a strong contrast to be made between the seniority of personnel heading the regulated MPRI and those heading the unregulated SCI. It is this regulated type of organisation which the UN family would be prepared to do business with.


  1  Lakhdar Brahimi, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 17 August 2000, page 6, paragraph 33.

  2  Lakhdar Brahimi, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations,17 August 2000, page 7, paragraphgraphs 35,36 &37.

  3  Interview with General (Retd) Soyster, Washington 31 May 2002.

  4  Lakhdar Brahimi, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 17 August 2000, page 11, paragraph 60.

  5  Lt Col T Spicer, Unorthodox Soldier, Peace and War and the Sandline Affair, Mainstream publishing 1999.

  6  Interview with General (Retd) Soyster, Washington 31 May 2002.

  7  Various, The Blue Helmets, a review of United Nations peacekeeping, Chapter 3, page 52.

  8  Lakhdar Brahimi, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 17 August 2000, page 18, paragraph 108.

  9  Interviews with various Member State Mission military advisors to the UN 28-30 May 2002.

  10  Interviews with senior members of UNDPKO and UNSECOORD 28-30 May 2002.

  11  Interviews with members of Country Missions to the UN and Adekeye Adebajo of the International Peace Academy 28-30 May 2002.

  12  Interviews with a senior member of UNDPKO 28-30 May 2002.

  13  Response of Dr Denis MacShane, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to questions from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee 13 June 2002.

  14  Interviews with members of Country Missions to the UN and Adekeye Adebajo of the International Peace Academy 28-30 May 2002.

  15  Interviews with senior members of UNDPKO and UNSECOORD 28-30 May 2002.

  16  Various regional meetings, Refashioning the Dialogue: Regional perspectives on the Brahimi Report on UN Peace operations 2001. International Peace Academy and the Center on International Co-operation page 4.

  17  Interviews with senior members of UNDPKO and UNSECOORD 28-30 May 2002.

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