Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report



83. The UN Special Rapporteur on Mercenaries stated in his December 1999 report to the UN Human Rights Commission that "Anything to do with defending national sovereignty, territorial integrity, the right to self determination and the protection of human rights is the inalienable responsibility of the state." He went on to recommend that "the states members of the United Nations be extremely careful in their dealings with private military security companies, especially those that attempt to intervene in internal armed conflicts by supplying mercenaries to one of the parties to the conflict."[109]

84. States have a duty to ensure the security of their citizens and to maintain internal order. In practice, some are unable to do so. We have some sympathy with Denis MacShane's view that in "regions in the world where states, democratic states—and Sierra Leone, which you mentioned, was an example—face very serious armed opposition and if there is not the willingness from other states or from the United Nations or from regional organisations to lend effective timely assistance, then those states have the right to appeal for professional help to train up their own soldiers to provide the logistical and some other support to ensure that the state itself can exercise law and order and an absence of violence over its territory."[110]


85. PMCs already provide extensive support to intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union. The services they provide include security guarding, logistic support, and de-mining. These are legitimate activities, and the use of PMCs in this area of UN and other intergovernmental organisations' work is relatively uncontroversial. More problematic is the notion that private military forces might be used for politically sensitive and high profile areas of UN operations, such as peacekeeping and peace enforcement.

86. Denis MacShane suggested to us that the relatively efficient provision of services by PMCs in other areas of UN operations "should be a spur ... 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."[111]

87. The UN cannot 'quicken up' its interventions alone, however: the organisation lacks military forces, and so remains reliant on member states to provide peacekeeping troops and other resources. When crises occur, the UN is frequently prevented from taking effective action because member states do not provide troops or other assistance with sufficient alacrity to prevent a crisis spiralling out of control.[112] Another problem faced by the UN is that member states which are willing to provide troops for peacekeeping deployments have sometimes sent them "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."[113] They may also be of variable quality and may sometimes be poorly disciplined.

88. The implications of the UN's failure to mobilise troops for peacekeeping missions in the 1990s were severe. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict attempted to demonstrate this. In 1997, the Carnegie Commission, together with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and the United States Army, convened an international panel of military leaders to explore the Rwandan experience and concluded that early military intervention—within two weeks of the initial violence—by a regular force of 5000 could have made a significant difference to the level of violence in Rwanda.[114]

89. Given the problems the UN has experienced in mobilising and deploying peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions,[115] the idea of hiring PMCs to do the job has obvious appeal. Kofi Annan stated that he considered using a private firm when skilled soldiers were needed to separate refugees from fighters in Rwandan refugee camps, though he concluded that "the world may not be ready to privatise peace."[116] General Sir David Ramsbotham,[117] after taking part in a study on UN peacekeeping operations on behalf of the UN Security Council, concluded that "liaison with the private sector was an essential part of any command and control machinery" but also that "there was a need for the private sector to provide what national contingents could not."[118]

90. In his evidence for this inquiry, Sir David described a number of projects undertaken by a private security company, DSL, on behalf of the UN. He also described how the UN came close to recruiting DSL to take over the running of refugee camps in Zaire during the Rwanda crisis, "something which it was proving impossible to provide from member state contributions."[119] His conclusion was that "there are many roles for private sector companies, employing ex-military, that are essential in any peacekeeping or national reconstruction project. The key word in their employment is sustainability. Regular forces have been so reduced, or are so overstretched... that they cannot provide trained and experienced people to conduct what is required."[120]

91. Tim Spicer claimed that the UN could in future prevent situations such as that which occurred in Rwanda "by the creation of a database or register of private companies, who could either work in the first instance on behalf of the United Nations—whether they wear blue berets or not is a moot point ...—in order to allow an organisation like the United Nations a breathing space to follow its necessary procedures before it can deploy a United Nations force." This might also stabilise the situation so that by the time national contingents were recruited from member states and mobilised, the force required "would be a peacekeeping force rather than a peace enforcement force," with a correspondingly lower risk of casualties.[121]

92. A study undertaken recently at Cranfield University suggests that some UN member states, particularly those from the developing world,[122] are likely to be highly suspicious of proposals to increase the role of PMCs in UN peace operations. "[M]any 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. There is also a perception amongst staff and Member States from the Third World that they are also inherently racist."[123]

93. Developing countries' troop contributions to UN peace operations are also a source of income. Some member states might dispute the expenditure of UN funds on private military companies rather than on the current practice, which helps to support their national armed forces.

94. Relevant here, too, is the assertion made in the Cranfield University study referred to above that PMCs have been "exaggerating their own capabilities and they do not currently have the wherewithal to maintain a significant body of troops at a state of high readiness."[124] This suggests that, at least in their current form, PMCs would not have the capacity to prevent disasters such as the Rwanda genocide, even if political resistance did not rule out their employment by the UN.

95. If the Government concludes that private military companies should not be permitted to engage in combat activities, this would probably rule out their employment for the high intensity, peace enforcement end of UN interventions. However, if regulation of the private military sector resulted in the development of a transparent, trusted industry in the United Kingdom, further commercial involvement at the low intensity end of UN peace operations might become increasingly acceptable to member states. If this helped to increase the speed and efficiency of UN reactions, to ensure the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions, and to prevent further atrocities such as those committed in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, then such regulation should be welcomed.


96. There may be a role for private security companies in protecting humanitarian organisations operating in unstable environments. International Alert, in their paper Humanitarian action and private security companies, note the need for humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to guard against violence and especially against local criminal activity, which they describe as "overwhelmingly the greatest threat faced by NGOs."[125] They conclude tentatively that there may be a role for private security here, though humanitarian organisations are faced by the dilemma that "the use, or contracting for the use of armed force by any actor in this context may implicitly or explicitly accept the terms and means of war, legitimise them, mirror them, and perpetuate them."[126]


97. The problem of overstretch of the British armed forces is widely known.[127] David Stewart Howitt described the extent to which "demands on major powers and international bodies to respond the issues of governance and security" were likely to grow,[128] but also argued that the United Kingdom's armed forces are "neither intended to carry out long running nation-building operations, nor are they likely to have spare capacity to take on such tasks in the foreseeable future."[129] He pointed out that the success of the British armed forces in deployments overseas was partly a consequence of their great adaptability, but that it was not always necessary to use such adaptable personnel if the tasks to be performed were specific.[130] It should also be noted that the experience of British troops in Northern Ireland has made them uniquely suited to peacekeeping tasks.

98. To support his point, David Stewart Howitt cited the imposition of a sanctions regime on the Bosnian Serb Republic, which, in his view, could have been carried out by customs officials in a more cost effective way than through the deployment of national armed forces.[131] Sir David Ramsbotham made the same point, arguing that the tasks assigned to the small British contingent in Rwanda—water supply, road repair, provision of communications and the running of a medical clinic—"could have been provided by [the PMC] DSL, using ex-military personnel, not just for six months but for as long as the UK government was prepared to pay. Had that approach been adopted the military infrastructure would not have been affected, and the UK contribution to the rehabilitation of Rwanda could have been enhanced."[132]

99. The different personnel structures of PMCs imply that they may be able to perform some tasks more cheaply than can national armed forces. ArmorGroup point out that "In addition to low start-up and running cost ... There are no complex pension arrangements to wind up, nor expensive redundancies."[133] Doug Brooks has argued that this makes PMCs "ideal for addressing Africa's military security problems at affordable prices."[134]

100. In this context, the question of PMCs taking on some of the activities currently being carried out by the British forces is an obvious one. However, Denis MacShane was "reluctant to get into the substitution discussion." He told us that "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."[135] He argued that the purpose of regulation is not to seek to increase the extent to which British military activities are contracted out to private companies: "What is under examination in the Green Paper are states far away from Britain that do not have an adequately trained, professionally led and equipped military force who face the need to restore law and order in their own country turning to some outside body."[136]

101. We are reassured by Denis MacShane's answer. We certainly do not believe that the Government should be aiming for further cuts in the armed forces through the greater use of PMCs to perform core defence tasks. However, we conclude that the Government should consider carefully whether the greater use of PMCs in UK humanitarian and peace support operations might help to reduce military overstretch. PMCs might be employed to provide protection for tasks such as tax collection, road building or water and sanitation projects, which is currently performed by UK forces in peace support operations. The creation of an additional cadre of former armed service personnel to perform these non-combat roles might also help to alleviate overstretch. We provide details of this alternative to the employment of PMCs in paragraphs 138 to 141 below.

109   'Report on the question of the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, submitted by Mr Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, Special Rapporteur, pursuant to Commission Resolution 1999/3,' United Nations Economic and Social Council, E/CN.4/2000/14, 21 December 1999, para. 92.  Back

110   Q122. Back

111   Q146. Back

112   This may become the case with increasing frequency if the international war against terrorism continues to preoccupy the British Government and its allies. Back

113   Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 17 August 2000, para. 108. The Report is available at Back

114   Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Carnegie Corporation of New York, December 1997, p.6.  Back

115   The Secretary General's Panel on United Nations Peace Operations concluded that, were its recommendations fully implemented, it would be able to mobilise the resources for a complex peace operation within ninety days of Security Council authorisation. The Report is available at  Back

116   Green Paper, para. 57. Back

117   HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, 1995-2001; Adjutant General, 1990-93; ADC General to the Queen, 1990-93; Director of International Affairs, DSL Ltd., 1994-99.  Back

118   See Ev 49, para. 4. Back

119   See Ev 50, para. 10. Back

120   See Ev 49. Back

121   Q3. Back

122   See Ev 85. Back

123   See Ev 85. This perception may be an understandable legacy from the experience in the Front Line States in Southern Africa in the 1980s, and so may be less relevant today. Back

124   See Ev 85. Back

125   Tony Vaux, Chris Seiple, Greg Nakano and Koenraad Van Brabant, Humanitarian action and private security companies: opening the debate, International Alert, London, March 2002, p.28. For example, some NGO personnel in Afghanistan have been left defenceless because ISAF forces are not deployed outside Kabul. Back

126   Ibid. p.28. Back

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

128   See Ev 63. Back

129   Ibid. Back

130   Ibid. Back

131   Q86. Back

132   See Ev 49. Back

133   See Ev 73, para. 60. Back

134   Cit. Ev 79. Back

135   Q145. Back

136   Q133. Back

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