Sunday, 19 December 2004

Private Military Companies do the Job

(This is an cutback version of my paper. All sources are mentioned in the fullversion)

Wars expectedly or unexpectedly start, fights begin, soldiers as well as innocent people die and the world watches. For a long time the UN has tried to stop wars from emerging and has tried to put an end to wars that have already begun, but lately the willingness of countries to participate -sending troops or donating money- in peacekeeping operations (PKOs) is declining. With fewer troops and less money, the UN is simply not capable anymore to set up a good working peacekeeping system and cannot involve in every war or threat around the world. Is there no solution to this problem of declining control or no intervention in emerging wars or conflict areas? Is there no help for the victims of war?
There is a solution, although not widely accepted as the solution: sending in mercenaries. “Mercenaries” is actually not the right word for the troops which might be sent in: Private Military Companies (PMCs) is the new term for modern day “mercenaries”. Of course normal soldiers of fortune still exist and fight, for example in former Yugoslavia, but more and more become organized in PMCs. The need for peace is increasing from day to day and so is the use for qualified troops to secure this peace. Conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe are evolving or simply in an impasse. If this trend of having new and more conflicts emerging every year; the world will get worse. Therefore it is about time, that this solution, although highly controversial, is addressed and thoroughly discussed. The world has to face that the road we are on will end soon and that we have to take a turn somewhere. The turn of hiring PMCs is the only turn left and we have to take it.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a priority-shift of Western countries has also taken place. The strategic interests of major powers in countries such as Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and others, have declined with the end of the Cold War. As a result Western countries are much more reluctant to intervene military in weak and/or unstable states as there is a fear of becoming entangled in expanding conflicts and the incurring escalating costs. Their politicians are fearful of explaining casualties to their electorates.[1] Everyone can still remember the horrifying images of Somalia, which were broadcasted all over the world. On October the 3rd, 1993, 18 American soldiers were killed on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia and their bodies were dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu. These images shocked the world and the UN itself. The willingness of many countries to participate in UN PKOs declined from that moment on, as the risk of sending out soldiers became simply too high. Now it was clear that there were tremendous risks for the UN soldiers and this event made crystal-clear that the UN is also vulnerable and not safe for attacks by any of the involved parties. A UN mandate is always non-coercive, but non-coercive missions do not seem to succeed when there is no mechanism in place to halt hostilities. David Shearer contends that “conflict resolution theory has to look more closely at the impact of coercion, not to dismiss it.”[2]
The term peacemaking is more applicable to what PMCs can do, but this term is not very widely accepted and appreciated. Bludgeoning the other side into accepting a peace agreement runs in diametric opposition to most academic studies of conflict resolution. These studies centre on consent bringing warring sides together with the implicit assumption that each wants to negotiate an end to the war. To a large extend the international community has responded to civil wars in this manner, especially those of limited strategic interest. Ceasefires act as holding positions; mediation seeks to bring combatants to an agreement. Peacekeepers, acting under mandates to be even-handed and to use minimal force, are deployed to support this process.[3]
The flaw in this approach is that according to recent empirical studies, outright victories, rather than negotiated peace settlements, have ended the greater part of the twentieth century’s internal conflicts. Examples are the conflicts in Angola, Bosnia and Sierra Leone that have been always refused a negotiated and consent-based settlement until more coercive measures were applied. The reason that the international community has persisted so long on negotiated settlements is clear: self-interest. Such an approach would avoid direct intervention and the subsequent political risks.
Experience demonstrates that the creation of the necessary conditions for keeping the peace is essential. There must in the first place be a peace to be kept. Examples, such as Somalia, show that there is limited scope for peacekeeping if the strife is continuing. Similarly, the experience of Executive Outcomes (EO) in Sierra Leone seems to point to the utility of peacemaking as a prelude to full PKOs.
PMCs have clear advantages over UN-assembled forces, which makes it desirable to use the option of sending in a PMC instead of a UN multinational force. One major advantage is that PMCs have proven to be extremely responsive, often able to deploy forces immediately after a contract is signed or very soon after. UN forces have to be assembled: countries have to discuss in their own governments to send troops and even if, then it still takes them much longer than the private sector can do. This advantage can be the savior for tens of people, if not hundreds or thousands. This advantage makes it also possible to terminate a conflict at the beginning of evolving, instead of being sent into an already fully evolved conflict.
Unified private companies also avoid the difficulties of ad hoc multinational forces: the command is streamlined and integrated (without the need to reconstruct a field command structure for every operation as is the case with UN operations), the field force is cohesive (have mostly worked as a team before) and standing logistical and transport arrangements are already there.
Another major factor is the financial advantage. PMCs have proven to be very cost-effective, because, according to Sandline: “PMCs are prepared to operate in a significantly more cost-effective manner, for example using a much more streamlined logistics tail and employing a materially smaller number of personnel for the equivalent task.” The example of the mission of Executive Outcomes, a former South African PMC, in Sierra Leone speaks out to the advantage of PMCs: $35million for 22 months, versus a planned UN operation budgeted at $47 million for only eight months. This costs-factor is also very important as the UN faces a terrible creditor’s situation at the moment. Outstanding contributions of UN members to peacekeeping are around $1,37 billion! With lower costs, lesser money is needed from the UN member states.
At the conceptual level the idea of safe areas formulated in Bosnia-Herzegovina implies a willingness to use coercive force to safeguard civilians. As humanitarian operations are deployed in regions where government apparatus and law and order have fragmented, the need for a well-armed shielding force argues for coercive measures. This particular role of peacemaking is also admirably suitable to PMCs[4]. PMCs are not afraid to use coercive measures; this in contrast to UN peacekeepers. The evidence suggests that coercion is often essential to breaking deadlocks and brining opposing parties to the negotiating table.
In March, 1995, then-President Valentine Strasser, a former army officer who had taken power in a coup in May, 1992, requested assistance from EO to fight a rebellion being carried out by a vicious group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
At the time, the RUF controlled and was savaging resources central to the country’s economic base: diamonds, mille and bauxite. EO started by initiating training programs for the army. EO’s first operation involved defending the capital, Freetown in collaboration with Nigerian and Ghanian troops, at the time that it was felt that the capital would fall to the RUF. A bloody fight in the outskirts of Freetown in May, 1995, led to a retreat by the RUF. EO expanded its operations into the rural areas, retaking diamond-mining areas by the end of 1995, and providing security, enabling internal refugees to return home. In January, 1996, EO defeated the RUF in a series of set-pieces encounters. Elections were held the following months (the first in 27 years!) and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a former UN diplomat, was elected president. In cooperation with the Nigerian troops, EO continued to fight the RUF, badly defeating them in a number of battles. By August, 1996, the RUF proposed peace negotiations, which were signed in November that same year. EO left Sierra Leone in January, 1997.
Though there are clear advantages to the use of PMCs in UN PKOs, many countries do not wish to see it. For over three centuries, the accepted international norm has been that only nation-states should be permitted to fight wars. Therefore it is not very surprisingly, that the rise of PMCs in the 1990s and the possibility that they may view conflicts as a legitimate business activity has provoked outrage and prompted calls for them to be outlawed.[5] Academics, diplomats and the press have labelled these PMCs as “mercenaries” and “dog of war”, conjuring up images of freebooting and rampaging Rambo’s overthrowing weak, usually African, governments. Even the Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, bristled at the suggestion that the UN would ever consider working with “respectable” PMCs, arguing that there is “no distinction between respectable PMCs and non-respectable mercenaries.”
Following out of the Sierra Leone case it is allowed to say that PMCs can be the “breakthrough” factor in a conflict and that they can play an important role in peacemaking. The likelihood that a military solution can bring durable peace to a country depends on the nature of the peace agreement, as well as how effectively follow-up measures such as demobilization, cantonment of fighters and rehabilitation are implemented. After making, there comes keeping and here the UN should get involved again with programmes of building up the country, keeping the peace and disarmament. These shortcomings are often seized upon as proof that the efforts of PMCs have failed.[6]
PMCs are motivated first and foremost by profit and are responsible primarily to their shareholders. Consequently, financial losses, in spite of any strategic or political considerations, may prompt a company to pull out. A requirement to hire a for-profit PMC is that the interests of the PMCs are congruent with the interests of the contracting party, likely the UN. Many of concerns are addressable through concise and unambiguous contractual arrangements and clear mission objectives. It is important to understand though, that the priorities of the contractor are not completely identical to those of the contracting organisation and that measures must be taken to ensure that the divergences of interests do not adversely affect the PKO.[7]
There are few checks on PMC’s adherence to human-rights conventions. The problem itself is not a lack of human-rights law. The problem with PMCs is an absence of adequate independent observation of their activities; a feature common to all parties in a conflict, but especially characteristic of PMCs that have no permanent attachments to national governments.
The private sector is advancing more and more in the world of the international security and is simply becoming part of the system. PMCs have taken over many tasks from regular armies and are in some cases also inevitable for the success of some armies. The United States Ministry of Defence has estimated that it will spend $ 25 billion on PMCs in 2004, which underlines the impact and influence some private companies have in modern day warfare.
Forbidding PMCs is no option, as a clear market and strong need for PMCs is definitely present. Regulating would be a far better option, as also stated in the Green Paper of the British Government.[8] Regulation can be best achieved through constructive engagement. In several efforts to broaden their appeal, PMCs have offered greater transparency.[9] Sandline maintains that it is prepared to place itself under the scrutiny of international monitors and accept an international regulating framework.[10]
Conflict resolution theory needs to look more closely at the impact of coercion, not immediately dismiss it. PMCs may in fact offer new possibilities for building or keeping peace that, while not universal in applicability, can hasten the end to a war and limit the loss of life. Moreover, there is no evidence that private-sector intervention will erode a state. Despite the commercial motives of PMCs, their interventions, if anything, have strengthened the ability of governments to control their territory. Political intervention and post conflict Peacebuilding efforts are still somehow necessary, but the use of PMCs is the best possible option.
Attempts to ban PMCs are futile and undesirable. When a country’s vital interests are threatened, the need for help outweighs uncertain moral arguments against it. Given the facts that states will choose not to undertake humanitarian interventions and that conflict invariably will continue. PMCs have an important role to play in the future and are the best option for keeping the peace. For decades, the world has seen the private sector make money of war. It is time to let it make a profit out of peace. PMCs can do that.

[1] Shearer, D., Outsourcing war, Foreign Policy, vol.112 (1998) 68-76.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] McIvor, P., Private Peacekeeping-Opportunity or Impossibility?, Peacekeeping & International Relations, vol. 27 (1998) 1-4.
[5] Shearer, D., Outsourcing war.
[6] Ibid.
[7] McIvor, P., Private Peacekeeping-Opportunity or Impossibility?, Peacekeeping & International Relations, vol. 27 (1998)
[8] Green Paper, Private Military Companies, Options for Regulation, February 12th 2002,,0.pdf
[9] Shearer, D., Outsourcing war.
[10] Sandline International,

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