Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report


The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:




1. In February 1999, our predecessor Foreign Affairs Committee recommended to the Government "the publication, within eighteen months, of a Green Paper outlining legislative options for the control of private military companies which operate out of the United Kingdom, its dependencies and British Islands."[1] This recommendation followed the Committee's Inquiry into the involvement of a British-based private military company, Sandline International, in Sierra Leone. Sandline's involvement resulted in the delivery of arms to Sierra Leone for use by President Kabbah's forces, in contravention of the United Kingdom's enforcement of a United Nations arms embargo. As the Committee pointed out, in the Sandline affair "something went very badly wrong."[2]

2. The Green Paper was eventually published in February 2002, the delay in publication being attributed to the complexity of the issues it considers.[3] In the foreword to the Green Paper, the Foreign Secretary acknowledges the role of our predecessor Committee and describe its recommendation as "a timely and useful suggestion."[4] In turn, we welcome the publication of the Green Paper. It provides a fascinating and thorough discussion of the issues surrounding the development of private military companies (PMCs),[5] and options for their regulation. We hope that the debate that the Green Paper has prompted leads to the establishment of sound legislation, to ensure that the dangerous, embarrassing and wholly unacceptable events that became known as the Sandline affair are never repeated.

3. We held two oral evidence sessions in June 2002, both of which contributed substantially to our analysis of the Green Paper. On 11 June we heard oral evidence from Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, director of Strategic Consulting International and a former executive of Sandline International; Michael Bilton, a freelance journalist; and David Stewart Howitt, of the Global Dimensions programme at the London School of Economics and Bayard Limited. On 13 July we heard evidence from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Dr Denis MacShane. We have received substantial written evidence from a range of organisations, which is published at pages Ev X-X. We are extremely grateful to all those who have helped us in our inquiry.

4. The debate about regulating these companies is not only concerned with preventing the damage that an unregulated private military sector may cause. In some circumstances, private military companies may be able to provide security services more efficiently and effectively than states are able to. Such companies have the potential to make a legitimate and valuable contribution to international security. The challenge of regulation is therefore not only to prevent PMCs from inflicting damage, but also to establish how the Government should work with them to maximise the benefits that a properly regulated private military sector can bring.


5. Though the Sandline affair was the immediate trigger for the current debate about regulating PMCs, broader developments in the sector since the end of the Cold War justify a detailed assessment of their role today.

6. One important factor has been the growth in the size of the private military sector globally. The Green Paper discusses this growth at some length, though it notes that "information about private military activity abroad is, perhaps not surprisingly, hard to obtain and is often unreliable."[6] None of our witnesses was prepared to state very clearly the number of PMCs operating from the United Kingdom now, though Tim Spicer estimated that there are about half a dozen.[7]

7. It seems clear that international developments arising from the end of the Cold War have contributed to the "supply side" growth of PMCs. Evidence from Kevin O'Brien of Rand Europe[8] highlighted the fact that tens of thousands of demobilised soldiers from the former Soviet armed forces have joined private security companies in Russia, of which 12,000 are now registered.[9] The Green Paper also notes the effect of the end of apartheid in South Africa on the sector: the "subsequent restructuring of armed forces there, was an important factor in the formation of Executive Outcomes,"[10] one of the most well known companies.

8. However, increased demand for private military services has also contributed to the growth of the sector. The United Kingdom's armed forces were reduced by one third following the end of the Cold War,[11] and other countries also attempted to reap the peace dividend in this way. Partly as a consequence of this, there has been an increasing trend towards the out-sourcing of functions previously performed by the military. The work of the United States Department of Defense is carried out by 734,000 private sector staff per annum, compared with 700,000 permanent government employees.[12] Denis MacShane told us that "the British Armed Forces, like armed forces in other countries and like the United Nations, now rely on private companies to provide training, logistics and security support."[13] This trend is likely to continue.[14]

9. At the same time, the demand upon states to intervene in situations of instability and human rights abuses is not declining. A consequence of this, as David Stewart Howitt put it, is that "there is a void in the international community's toolbox or there are tools missing for adequate nation building and stabilising the situation ... in many respects the market is demanding these [private military and security] services and will continue to demand these services."[15]

10. We agree with the Green Paper's conclusion that the growth in the number of PMCs is not a passing phenomenon. The increased size of the sector, the transfer of military and security capabilities—traditionally the domain of states—to private corporations, and the notion that PMCs might be employed in multilateral interventions all raise important new questions about responsibility and accountability for the activities of these companies abroad and the appropriate domestic and international legal framework for their operations. We have addressed these questions in our inquiry.


11. In the 1960s and 1970s, the private military sector gained a reputation for brutality and exploitation through its involvement in the de-colonisation process.[16] This reputation continues to affect perceptions of the sector today and the enduring image of those who work for them is that of the 'dogs of war'. Private military companies are often "perceived to be operating outside the laws of warfare (an incorrect but oft-cited assumption) and strictly for pay." Furthermore, the "apartheid background (or, indeed, Soviet Bloc in increasing numbers of cases) of these professional warriors has brought into question their motives for becoming involved in these conflicts."[17]

12. The Foreign Secretary, in his Foreword to the Green Paper, argues that "Today's world is a far cry from the 1960s when private military activity usually meant mercenaries of the rather unsavoury kind involved in post-colonial and neo-colonial conflicts." We do not doubt that many of the companies currently providing military and security services to international organisations, private companies and national governments—including our own—do so competently, efficiently and legitimately. We share the Foreign Secretary's view that one of the reasons for considering the regulation of PMCs is that it may help to "distinguish between reputable and disreputable private sector operators, to encourage and support the former while, as far as possible, eliminating the latter."[18]


13. In the last decade, the United Kingdom and other Western countries have accepted that they have a moral responsibility to intervene in cases of humanitarian catastrophe or where legitimate states have lost control over their territories. Denis MacShane spoke to us of the need for "all the democracies to accept their responsibilities in this sphere of operations."[19] These responsibilities are now more clearly related to national security than they were before the recent terrorist crisis. The international terrorists who organised the 11 September attacks on the United States used states such as Afghanistan and Sudan to organise training and to gain access to passports, visas and other facilities. Stabilising countries such as these will be important for reducing the threat of international terrorism, and the provision of security is a prerequisite for such stabilisation.

14. The campaign against terrorism is likely to be a long one, and consequently the demands on the United Kingdom's armed forces are likely to increase.[20] As David Stewart Howitt pointed out, there is "no spare capacity within the UK armed forces to take on additional long-term security tasks that contribute to nation-building."[21] The development of a regulatory regime for PMCs would be viewed more positively if, through enabling the Government safely to contract out some of the non-combat roles currently being performed by the armed forces, the pressure on British armed forces could be reduced.


15. We sought, as part of this inquiry, to learn the extent to which the Government currently engages private companies to perform military and security activities on its behalf. We therefore asked the FCO to supply us with a memorandum detailing "all current contracts between (1) the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, (2) the Ministry of Defence, (3) the Department for International Development, and (a) private military companies, (b) private security companies for activities outside the United Kingdom." We also requested, in respect of each contract, " (i) the name of the company, (ii) the country in which the company is operating under the contract, (iii) the type of work on which the company has been engaged under the contract, (iv) approximate expenditure from public funds on the contract in the last financial year for which figures are available, (v) the duration of the contract and its value over its full life."[22]

16. The FCO was unable to supply us with this information. They informed us that "Security guards and security management services for many Posts are provided under contract by ... companies that we consider to be private security companies." The reason given for the FCO's inability to supply information about these contracts was that they are "managed locally and details are not held centrally."[23] The Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence also have contracts with private military and security companies, but the records for these are also locally managed.[24]

17. We conclude that the lack of centrally held information on contracts between Government Departments and private military companies is unacceptable. We recommend that the Government take immediate steps to collect such information and to update it regularly. We further recommend that in its response to this Report the Government publish a comprehensive list of current contracts between Government Departments and private military companies and private security companies, and provides the information requested by the Committee in the Chairman's letter of 18 June to Denis MacShane, which is reproduced in full at page Ev. 44.

1   See Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1998-99, Sierra Leone, HC 116-I, para. 96. Back

2   Ibid, para. 4. Back

3   Official Report, 2 July 2001, col. 2W. Back

4   Foreword by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Green Paper page 4.  Back

5   In this Report we refer mainly to private military companies, but we include private security companies in this category. As we explain below, drawing clear a distinction between types of company is very difficult, because there is much overlap in the activities that they undertake.  Back

6   Green Paper para. 17. Back

7   Q36. Back

8   Rand Europe is a research institute based in Cambridge. Back

9   See Ev 54, para. 5. Back

10   Green Paper para. 25. Back

11   See Ev 49, para. 3. Back

12   See Ev 79. Back

13   Q121. Back

14   Green Paper paras. 27-28. Back

15   Q94. Back

16   "The 1960s and 1970s had seen decolonization and the recognition of the right to national self-determination. At the same time, concern appeared at the extent to which mercenaries were involved in the decolonization process. The United Nations began to condemn the use of mercenaries and to declare support for national liberation movements, mainly in connection with the independence process taking place in various parts of Africa. In 1968, the General Assembly declared that the practice of using mercenaries against national liberation movements was a criminal act and characterised mercenaries as outlaws." 'Report of the meeting of experts on the traditional and new forms of mercenary activities as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self determination,' transmitted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the UN Commission on Human Rights, 57th session, Geneva, 14 February 2001, E/CN.4/2001/18, page 5. Back

17   See Ev 49. Back

18   Green Paper page 5. Back

19   Q145. Back

20   See Ev 21. See also Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-2002, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 384, in which we note that many of the necessary instruments in that war are not military in character (see para. 95, p. 29). Back

21   See Ev 21. See also Second Report from the Defence Committee, Strategic Defence Review: Policy for People, Session 2000-2001, HC 29-I. Back

22   Letter from Chairman to Dr Denis MacShane, 18 June 2002, see Ev 44.  Back

23   See Ev 44. Back

24   Q121 and Ev 44. Back

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