Have Lawyer, Accountant, and Guns, Will Fight: The New, Post-Cold War Mercenaries

David Isenberg (1), paper prepared for the Getting Guns off the Streets of the Global Village panel of the International Studies Association Convention, February 19, 1999 (Reprinted by Author's Permission)

"Why not, when nations have already lost the monopoly of violence, consider creating volunteer mercenary forces organized by private corporations to fight wars on a contract-fee basis for the United Nations the condotierri of yesterday armed with some of the weapons, including non-lethal weapons, of tomorrow."
--War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Alvin & Heidi Toffler, Little, Brown & Co., 1993.
They're back! The new and improved 1990s mercenaries (2) are now the good guys; at least to some. No doubt Machiavelli must be turning over in his grave. After all, in his classic work of realpolitik "The Prince", he wrote "Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline."
Thanks to popular culture mercenaries are widely perceived to be war profiteers exploiting violence for personal gain. Such unflattering references are why today's mercenaries have worked hard to reposition themselves. In the new grammar, mercenaries now use innocuous business titles, such as Private Military Companies (PMC).
Today's PMCs are unlike the mercenaries of a few decades ago (3) , such as Frenchman Bob Denard, and Irish "Mad" Mike Hoare, who took advantage of the crises that followed decolonization in Africa. (4) Nor are they like the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam veterans who participated in the 1980s Central American wars. Today's mercenaries are increasingly highly trained, organized, and most important, hierarchically organized into incorporated, registered, businesses whose services are offered both to governments, large corporations and non governmental organizations (NGOs). Often, the personnel of PMCs are former military personnel with many years of active duty behind them. (5)
Of course, traditional mercenaries still exist and fight. After all, although mercenaries may not be the world's oldest profession they are at least the second oldest. Looking at recent press clips one can find frequent references to them in such places as Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Africa.(6) Last year French mercenaries working in Congo Brazzaville went on strike for lack of pay. (7) And employees of some PMCs have been reported to be working on both sides in the Congo war (8)as well as working for the ECOMOG peacekeeping force in the current fighting in Sierra Leone.(9)
But the modern mercenaries have assumed a new media visibility. The activities of South African-based Executive Outcomes (EO) (10), which helped the Angolan military bring Jonas Savimbi's UNITA to the bargaining table(11), U.S.-based Military Professionals Resources Inc. (MPRI) (12), which has won contracts to train the Croatian and Bosnian militaries, and Sandline (13), which has been in the news due to its involvement in Papua New Guinea (14) and Sierra Leone (15), have been well publicized; due in no small part to their web sites, professionally produced videos, and marketing literature.
Why Mercenaries Now?
Why are PMCs more visible in recent years? The reasons are not hard to figure out. The end of the bipolar superpower standoff pushed an international order, which had been in an unnatural stasis for the past half-century, into an unsettled flux. And as a result instability, and its handmaidens, conflict and war, have been abundant. Unlike the Cold War era there is a marked reluctance on the part of the West to intervene in what are seen to be peripheral conflicts, not related to vital national interests. The casualties suffered by U.S. forces in Somalia in 1993 strengthened U.S. reluctance to participate in peace enforcement missions.
As has been repeatedly noted, since the end of the Cold War capitalism and privatization has been making major inroads worldwide. Corporations and businesses are making new investments in a global scale; trying to break into new markets and obtain new resources, as well as protect existing infrastructure in areas often troubled by violence.
Given the military and security forces of a country are often, at best, inadequate to the challenges besetting them; a government's natural desire to stay in power; and the lack of support from outside powers; it comes as no surprise that national and corporate leaders are choosing help from whatever quarter is available. (17) In that sense PMCs are serving a new and unique function as regimes turn to them because they cannot trust their own forces or those forces are in disarray.
And, as it turns out that help is increasingly available from PMCs. This is not surprising. After all, for several years in country after country the mantra has been to let the private sector do it. Downsizing and outsourcing have been all the rage; affecting even military forces; formerly the monopoly of the public sector.(18) When it comes to weak or unstable governments, it seems that nature abhors a vacuum.
PMC Market
As previously mentioned mercenaries are as old as warfare and have always flourished wherever insecurity reigns. (19) In a sense the growth of security companies internationally is in many respects an extension of their increasing role in providing security in domestic settings. And there is still enough conflict in the world for people to want PMC services.(20) According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 1997 Africa experienced its highest number of bloody conflicts in several years. There were eight conflicts in Africa, four of them new, making it Africa's most violent year since 1991 when there were ten. All of these are internal conflicts, which are usually the most intractable, and the ones that outside powers are most reluctant to become involved in. Such conflicts are also those which are the least likely to be solved through negotiation. Thus, given the need to improve military capabilities in order to settle things decisively on the battlefield and the prospect of no outside help from outside states such wars represent market opportunities to PMCs
Not all PMCs are the same.(21) Some very large U.S. firms, such as Vinnell Corp.(22) which for many years has been training the Saudi Arabian National Guard,(23) BDM International Inc., Brown & Root, and Pacific Architects and Engineering have long provided military logistical support to foreign militaries. These companies offer some military-training capabilities most often associated with PMCs. However, these sort of companies are primarily concerned with providing security services; they do not provide direct military assistance that has a strategic impact and, although they may provide important services, are not in the category of firms discussed here.
It is the prospect of private firms conducting direct combat, combat support, or at least training people in combat, as opposed to maintenance, skills which seizes public attention. Last year the International Institute of Strategic Studies published a paper by David Shearer on the subject who wrote "Military companies provide active military assistance, in some cases involving combat, which has a strategic impact on the political and security environments of the countries in which they operate.(24) "In other words, they are not merely passive trainers. They may fight alongside a client's military forces but usually with the limitation that they are acting within the chain of command of the client's military hierarchy.
EO was virtually in a class by itself as it primarily was a pool of former South African National Defense Force or police personnel; albeit one without a weapons stockpile or even a standing force. It was also the one PMC that conducted direct combat operations on a sustained basis. Most PMCs, unlike EO, function in a noncombat advisory capacity. EO terminated its operations last Dec. 31 for undisclosed reasons. (25) However, that doesn't mean that EO personnel won't stay active in the field. Last month a news report stated that a group of South African mercenaries, a number of whom were formerly associated with EO, were given approval by South African intelligence officials to act as consultants to the MPLA government in Angola.(26)
Another large, but less publicly well known, firm is the UK-based Defence Systems Limited. DSL has developed into one of the world's largest suppliers of specialist security services. Its
core business is devising and implementing solutions to complex security problems in high-risk areas that include Algeria, Angola, and Colombia. Its client list includes De Beers, Texaco, and Chevron Schlumberger, British Gas, British Petroleum, Bechtel, BHP Mineral, and American Airline, among many others. At least seven UN bodies use DSL in security roles.(27)
Ghurka Security Guards Ltd.,(GSG) formed in late 1989, is a privately owned British firm. It primarily employs former British Army Ghurka officers and soldiers, who are closest in model to the French Foreign Legion. Among other services they offer security training, route clearance, explosive ordnance disposal, and manned guarding services in hostile area to safeguard personnel, installations, and equipment.
MPRI, which was founded in 1987, may be the prototype of the PMC of the future. MPRI trades very heavily on the cachet of its founders and staff, most of whom were former high ranking senior military officers in the U.S. military. Its immodest logo says it is "the greatest corporate assemblage of military expertise in the world." It has very close ties to the U.S. government and says it only operates in areas approved by the U.S. State Department. In its overseas work MPRI deliberately worked as an extension of US foreign policy. Given the challenges of civil conflict in the Balkans it is understandable that the U.S. government supports MPRI's work there. In that regard it should be emphasized that no PMC thus far has worked against the interest of its home state, although a group like EO, unlike MPRI, worked largely independent of South African government regulation. But it shares with MPRI the belief that stability is best ensured by enhancing a state's regular military forces' combat capability.
PMCs and Sierra Leone
Most recently, the scandal last year in the United Kingdom over the activities of Sandline International in the west African country of Sierra Leone served to focus world attention on their activities. (28) Although when it broke last year it was compared to the Reagan administration's Iranian arms sales scandal, the Sandline case is quite different when viewed in context. 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, rutile 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 a time when it was felt that it would fall to the RUF. A bloody fight on the outskirts of the Freetown in May 1995 led to a retreat by the RUF. EO expanded their operations into the rural areas, retaking diamond-mining areas by the end of 1995 and provided security enabling internal refugees to return home. They also started to cooperate with one of the rural militias (the Kamajors) which had organized to provide a local defense force in the absence of help from a corrupt and incompetent government army.
In early January 1996 EO defeated the RUF in a series of set-piece encounters. Elections were held the following month. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a former UN diplomat was elected president. Kabbah agreed to keep on the foreign PMCs such as EO and local affiliates such as Lifeguard, an EO spinoff (29). Under Kabbah, EO's training program for the Kamajors intensified and the militia became an increasingly important force, both politically and militarily.
In cooperation with the Nigerian forces EO continued to fight the RUF; badly defeating them in a number of battles (30). By August the RUF proposed peace negotiations. After Kabbah took office in April EO's contract was renegotiated downward to $1.225 million a month. Interestingly, because the IMF was pressuring the government to cut spending Kabbah proposed cutting EO's fees down to $0.7 million a month without even consulting EO, even though the IMF thought EO's charges were reasonable. EO subsequently explained both to the Kabbah government and to the IMF that it could not make such cuts but did agree to reduced its fees further, down to $0.9 and add the shortfall to already substantial arrears; an arrangement that continued until EO left in January 1997. The government owed EO $19.5 million.
EO's arrival in Sierra Leone had preceded the rapid expansion of the Isle of Man-registered Branch Energy's activities in Sierra Leone's mining sector. Branch Energy (in which Sierra Leone had a 30 per cent stake in the Koidu concession) said it had invested $12 million in exploratory mining between 1994-96--a period in which almost all the other mining companies had pulled out. Branch Energy was taken over by Canada's Carson Gold in August 1996; and then changed Branch Energy's name to DiamondWorks. Kabbah's government and the RUF signed a peace agreement in November. An important provision was that EO would leave Sierra Leone by January 1997. The Kabbah government proceeded to antagonize the army by drafting a plan for its substantial downsizing. The army also was angered by Kabbah's increasing reliance on the Kamajor militias for security. In May Major Paul Karomah led a successful coup. He invited the rebel RUF to join his junta.
Kabbah opened discussions with Indian-born Thai banker Rakesh Saxena, now living in Canada and wanted by Thailand over alleged bank fraud, who offered to provide up to $10 million in funds for a counter-coup in return for Sierra Leonean diamond, bauxite, and gold exploration concessions. Saxena contact Col. Timothy Spicer, a retired British army officer and the head of Sandline International, and commissioned an intelligence assessment of the situation.
Last spring Koromah's junta was defeated by the West African multinational peacekeeping force ECOMOG, which was mostly led and manned by Nigerians (31). In May it was revealed that Sandline was reported to have exported 30 tons of small arms obtained from Bulgaria and military expertise in breach of a United Nations arms embargo approved last October, the only practical effect of which was to help Koromah to stay in power.
Supposedly this was a violation of the Labor Government's promise to pursue an "ethical" foreign policy. In its defense Sandline said it had been given the go-ahead for the exports by Britain's foreign Office. It appears they told the truth as the Customs and Excise Office said it could not find enough evidence to prosecute Sandline. A report released last week by a Parliamentary committee which criticized the government's handling of the affair does not change that point.(32)
Largely undiscussed is the fact that the operation in question led to the restoration to power of a democratically elected President, recognized by Britain and the UN. As several papers noted, a whiff of hypocrisy hangs about this affair.(33) When President Kabbah returned to Sierra Leone Whitehall welcomed the event. Less was said about the methods by which Koromah had been driven out of Freetown. The reason was that the successful military operation was led by Nigerian troops; and the decision by Nigeria's disreputable military regime to appoint itself the champion of constitutional order in Sierra Leone has been a source of some embarrassment ever since its forces first entered the country in the guise of peacekeepers. More importantly, in light of the recent renewed, vicious fighting (34) between the Nigerian peacekeepers and those of the RUF and Koroma loyalists, and the atrocities by the RUF against civilians (35), many have commented that the only bad thing about EO and Sandline operations in Sierra Leone was that they didn't stay.(36) Similarly, last year the United Nations issued a report critical of Executive Outcomes at the same time that it employed a Lifeguard Security, a company often linked to EO.(37) Ironically, given all the controversy, Sandline did not make much money from its activities in Sierra Leone. According to news reports its contract was canceled before the weapons actually arrived. (38)
This was not Sandline's first encounter with controversy. In 1997 the government of Papua New Guinea hired Sandline to assist the PNG military in putting down a long-standing armed independence movement in Bougainville. Political disputes between the then-Prime Minister Julius Chan and Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok, the head of the PNG Defence Forces, who opposed Sandline's hiring, but only after the contract was signed, led to harsh criticisms against the deal. When the terms of the contract were leaked to the public, riots erupted to protest alleged corrupt dealings between Chan and Sandline. Chan subsequently stepped aside while a caretaker Prime Minister was appointed. Subsequent judicial inquiries ruled that the contract was legitimate and that Sandline appropriately complied with its terms and that there was no evidence of corruption. In 1997 it was revealed that Bill Skate, Chan's successor as Prime Minister, had offered Sandline $9 million to provide evidence that Chan received corrupt payments from them. Sandline refused as it had no evidence.(39)
Although there have been various attempts in international law to ban mercenaries none have been effective. (40) The 1972 OAU Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries is not in force. Even if it were its provisions do not preclude the use of mercenaries per se but rather precludes their use to overthrow or undermine governments or liberation movements. Its main provisions were incorporated into the Additional Protocol I of 1977 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. However the Protocol applies to interstate conflicts and PMCs are almost always involved in intrastate conflicts. In 1989 the UN drafted an International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. But this actually serves as an example of the world's comfort level with mercenaries. The Convention needs ratification by 22 countries to enter into force. Thus far only 12 have signed. And, the signatories include Angola and Zaire, who have openly hired mercenaries, thus showing the Convention will not end reliance on mercenaries or PMCs.
It should be remembered that the ambiguity regarding the use or mercenaries also works to the disadvantage of mercenaries. If, for example, they were captured in an international conflict they are not entitled to treatment as prisoners-of-war or legitimate combatants. In other words they don't get the protection of international humanitarian law.(41) But they are required to follow the rules and customs of war, at least on land, as set out in the Hague Convention.(42)
As Shearer noted, given the criteria used in the above conventions it is legally impossible to classify PMCs as mercenaries. For example, since many PMC personnel are employed on a long-term basis they were not recruited for a particular conflict and thus can not be considered mercenaries. The requirement that mercenaries take a direct part in hostilities would exclude those, like U.S.-based Military Professionals Resources Inc., acting as foreign military advisers and technicians. Even Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, the UN appointed expert on the subject, has acknowledged that defining mercenaries is extremely difficult, if not outright impossible.(43)
A recent article by the head of the legal division of the International Committee of the Red Cross found:
A relatively new phenomenon is private security companies who offer their services to governments or private industries, particularly in unstable areas where the government's police force cannot provide adequate protection. The best-known example is Executive Outcome, a security company that operates extensively in Africa; a number of others are active in a variety of contexts. Although such companies are frequently referred to as "mercenaries" in the media, they do not fall within the traditional understanding of the term, nor do they easily fit the legal definition found in Article 47 of Additional Protocol I. However, they do use military methods and consist primarily of ex-soldiers.
Whether security companies are bound by any international rules is a major issue. When used by governments in the context of an internal armed conflict, it is arguable that they form part of the government's forces and thus are bound by the rules of non-international armed conflict. However, they are not officially part of the government's army. Moreover, the concept of mercenaries in Article 47 of Protocol I applies only in international armed conflicts. Multinational or other industries who use such companies ought to be accountable in some way for their behavior; yet these clients are neither states nor parties to an internal armed conflict in any traditional sense of the word. The security companies concerned are in principle bound by the law of the state in which they function; in reality, this will not have much effect if they actually engage in hostilities, which press reports say they have done in some instances. Given the increasing influence of private industry and the growing importance of multinational companies, the international community is going to have to face this issue and decide whether the use of force by such companies against armed groups should be subject to international rules. If so, a departure will have to be made from the traditional application of international humanitarian law to governments and armed rebel groups. (44)
Given the lack of relevant international law greater emphasis naturally falls on national legislation. But here also domestic laws fall short. Current U.S. law, under the Neutrality Act only prohibits the recruitment of mercenaries within the United States-being a mercenary is not in itself a criminal activity. Even the restriction against recruiting is rarely enforced. One
need only recall the situation in the 1980s when the anti-Sandinista contras were successfully recruited and trained in the U.S. mainland for confirmation.
In fact, in December 1997 the State Department passed regulations amending the International Traffic in Arms Regulations providing that persons engaged in the business of brokering arms shall register after paying a fee. (45) The effect is that firms, such as MPRI, receive official approval to transfer arms overseas. Of course, MPRI does not do such things without first fully clearing it with the appropriate approval authorities but the effect may make it easier for smaller PMCs to do so in the future.
Although the record thus far indicates that PMCs have served a beneficial role, many people are uneasy with what they see as the potential or actual lack of accountability on their parts. (46) Observers wonder who their actual boss is: their own government; the employing government, or a private business. Some are concerned that they could operate covertly on behalf of governments who do not wish to be publicly identified. (47) Others worry that PMCs and the associated firms they establish on behalf of a client, say in an oil or diamond region, might give that client, a strong, perhaps unfairly dominant foothold in that state's economy. (48) The confusion over links between PMCs, such as Sandline, and commercial firms such as Heritage Oil & Gas and Branch Energy, now Diamondworks, has fueled those fears; although it has not been shown that there is anything illegal about such links, if they exist. While these are valid concerns they may be overstated. After all, the public sector has not shown itself to be a paragon of openness in disclosing all its military operations. Where, after all, was the accountability regarding the Eisenhower/Kenedy Administration's Bay of Pigs or the Reagan Administration's covert operations in Nicaragua?
There are no easy answers to these questions. (49) Attempts to ban PMCs are both futile and undesirable. (50)As previously noted previously enacted legal definitions are not relevant to today's PMCs. When a country's vital interests are threatened, the need for help outweighs uncertain moral arguments against it. That likely explains why Western governments have taken little concrete action to prohibit PMCs. As Sandline's director Tim Spicer noted, "Objectively, there is nothing wrong with providing military services to people who don't have them in exactly the same way as you get bankers, doctors, and construction workers in Third World countries. Of course, we are a commercial organization. We're not a sort of moral-crusading white legion that goes around the world knocking off the bad guys. But our commercial aspirations are tempered with trying to do it right for the right people and not simply because somebody comes along with a fat cheque."(51)
The most active efforts in controlling PMCs are occurring on a national basis. In 1997 the South African government introduced The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Bill. Under its provisions a group like EO would have been compelled to seek government authorization for each contract. However, as David Shearer noted, by requiring the government to approve EO contracts, the bill also makes Pretoria partly responsible for the company's activities; by approving an operation, the government is effectively sanctioning it. In that sense a South African PMC would receive the same sort of sanction as MPRI does from the U.S. government; a point that was explicitly made by EO in its presentation to the South African parliament, which approved the bill. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Sandline flap UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has ordered officials to investigate ways of regulating PMCs.(52)
National legislation, however, is not a long term solution. (53) Most PMCs have fairly small infrastructures. They hire people for specific operations and thus do not have standing forces. If national laws became too difficult for them to live with they could easily move to another location. And, as Prof. Herb Howe of Georgetown University, a longtime observer of EO, noted, any attempt to eliminate PMCs would only drive them and their clients away from public oversight.
What most seems to bother many observers, especially those on the left, is that nowadays PMCs are respectable. They cannot bring themselves to believe that PMCs operate with discipline, observe the laws and customs of the host nation and, and adhere to the principles of the Geneva Convention and the international law of armed conflict, just like regular armed forces. But from the viewpoint of a PMC failure to comply with these laws results in prosecution and deters clients, thus possibly bringing about the end of their business.
Yet while PMCs generally have been operating ethically and responsibly thus far, the possibility can't be ignored that one or more of them might act unacceptably. And just one rogue PMC would likely make things difficult for the others, given the skepticism with which they are regarded.
What is really required is a general set of rules setting forth the conditions in which PMCs must operate. In short, regulation, not prohibition is needed. At a minimum such regulation must be based on greater transparency. Some of this is already provided by media scrutiny of PMCs, at least the larger ones, in the countries in which they are headquartered and in which they operate. But even better would be some sort of regular declaration of their activities.
In terms of regulation the best approach discussed thus far was laid out in a point paper sent to the United Nations last year by Michael Grunberg. He is the founder and owner of Plaza 107, a British multinational holding company, who has worked closely with both EO and Sandline. He calls for a general set of rules, governed by an international body such as the UN or the International Court in The Hague which covers the conditions under which PMCs can operate. They would subject themselves to an audit process whereby the registration body conducts an evaluation of the company's compliance with a pre-determined set of internationally defined and accepted operating practices, such as technical competence, adherence to the law of armed conflict, and respect for human rights.
Once registered PMCs would be kept on a list of "approved companies" maintained by the regulating authority. The authority would have the right to remove, suspend or fine a particular PMC if there was evidence to prove that the company had breached its operating obligations and governing code.
Prior to a PMC accepting an operational assignment it would have to apply to the regulating authority for permission, setting out basic project details, a justification for its involvement and a statement of the parameters within which it would work. If permission is granted then a certificate would be issued by the regulating entity. In this sense the process is similar to that of an arms contractor seeking an end-user certificate prior to selling its weapons abroad.
Finally, a PMC would deploy to the field with an observer team. This force would monitor the PMC to ensure it was not unnecessarily prolonging participation for unnecessary gain, using indiscriminate military methods in violation of humanitarian law, or using their presence to exploit natural resources.
Of course, such an approach leaves many questions unanswered. Who sponsors the observer teams? How do they factor into operational security? If abuses are discovered, what recourse would the teams have? Who would be penalized? What are the consequences of the misconduct? Would the UN Security Council be responsible or some other international tribune; say the International Criminal Court? Still, it is a start and at least deserves to be examined and discussed.
Future of PMCs
Like the international order itself the role of PMCs is still in flux. Some observers believe that the future of PMCs lies more with those that provide strict combat training, as opposed to actual combat capabilities. James Woods, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs from 1986 to 1994 believes that EO is not a good model. He thinks it is a wasting asset because it lacks steady contracts and thus professionalism and training goes down. He believes the market is growing for groups like MPRI which provide tactical reconnaissance, convoys & area security. (54) The latter functions are exactly the sorts of tasks which humanitarian NGOs perform, making them likely clients of PMCs. In his view the real growth in the future will be with groups like BDM, Vinnell, and DynCorp, which provided logistics support to the U.S. military when it assisted refugees in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
It is valid to point out that PMCs are not the ultimate solution to strife and conflict in beleaguered states. If PMCs are not integrated into long-term reconstruction and development efforts whatever stability they brought to a conflict zone will be short-lived. And as Howe pointed out, it is not improbable that in the future outside companies might agree to finance a PMCs activities in a client country, when the government can't pay, in exchange for future concessions. Some see this as a new model to replace those of the Cold War era; rulers of weak states using a foreign partnership to compensate for the lack of a great power patron. Some worry that the PMCs, encouraged by foreign corporations, may become a force unto themselves.
For example, a past U.S. Army War College study noted:
Similarly, in a system where corporations or cartels have their own power that transcends the strictly economic, the United States will have to decide what sort of relationship to have with transnational corporations or multinational cartels. Should for instance, the United States consider signing treaties, perhaps even nonaggression pacts with powerful corporations? And, if corporations do appear to pose an actual challenge to the power of the state, should the U.S. Government pursue a strategy designed specifically to prevent the accumulation of non-economic power by corporations? And, what should U.S. policy be toward transnational security corporations (a.k.a. mercenaries) such as the highly successful Executive Outcomes composed of former South African soldiers? Clearly, if power continues to accrue to transnational corporations, the United States will have to re-think some of the basic tenets of its approach to security and world politics.(55)
In their defense PMCs argue that once they restore stability private companies offer technology and finance which are often desperately needed.
Also, PMCs are not necessarily suited for the various types of UN peace operations. Firms like EO or Sandline which focused on direct combat operations may be unsuited for classic peacekeeping operations. These are limitations that PMCs themselves acknowledge. As many peacekeeping operations involves forces far larger than those of many PMCs combined it is obvious that PMCs are not suddenly going to replace the Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia.
It is possible that in the future the market in Africa for PMCs may disappear. Perhaps, over the long term, an effort like the Clinton Administration's African Crisis Response Force (56) will obviate the need for PMCs. Given the recent disbanding of EO it may be that the shelf life of PMCs is limited. Indeed, a researcher for Human Rights Watch said as much at a "Privatization of Security in Africa Conference" held in Johannesburg last December.(57)
But given what I see happening today in places like Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Congo, to name a few countries, I'm not holding my breath.
Thus, I advocate legitimizing the role of PMCs in the international order. If a state cannot provide security and protection for its citizens, which is the essential rationale for existence for a government in the first place, it strikes me as immoral and the height of hypocrisy to tell another state it cannot take steps to defend itself because someone has inaccurate and outmoded ideas about private military forces.
To sum up there must, of course, be accountability, control, and transparency of PMCs; especially if they are acting on behalf of the international community. This is not to say that such firms can be substituted for peackeeping forces. They are not trained in the culture of peacekeeping. PMCs are fundamentally about combat, not peackeeping (58) . And, the use of PMCs are not a long-term solution to conflict resolutions. Other states will still have responsibilities in terms of diplomacy and economic aid. Doubtlessly questions remain to be answered as to how precisely the EOs and Sandlines of the future should operate, which clients they should serve, and how they should be monitored. But in the end, there will still be a need for someone to do a dirty job. And if PMCs are willing to step up and volunteer we should let them.
In conclusion, in an era when there is a global erosion of national sovereignty most of the world is shifting functions from the public to the private sector, it comes as no surprise that the ultimate state function, warfighting, is being outsourced. The trend of private sector groups assisting governments in such previously government-monopolized functions as diplomacy and arms control is increasingly prominent. After all, it was just over fourteen months ago that a worldwide treaty banning antipersonnel landmines was signed; primarily due to the efforts of an international coalition of NGOs working with a small group of states.
Given the fact that conflict will continue and states will choose not to undertake humanitarian interventions PMCs have a valid role to play in the future. For generations we have seen the private sector make money off war. The time has come to let it make a profit out of peace.
1. David Isenberg is an analyst in the Arms Control Implementation Division of DynMeridian ( or http://www.dynmeridan.com). DynMeridian is a scientific, engineering and management services firm, which provides comprehensive national security support to the U.S. Government and industry. DynMeridian is a subsidiary of DynCorp (www.dyncorp.com). Late last year DynCorp was one of the companies selected to provide personnel for the Kosovo monitoring mission (See Jonathan Steele, "US gives Kosovo monitoring job to mercenaries," Guardian, October 31, 1998, http://reports.guardian.co.uk/spreports/kosovo/p-1361.html). DynCorp has also been involved, since 1995, in the international police force active in Bosnia. But the author started researching the issue of Private Military Companies at his previous job at the Center for Defense Information where he wrote the study Soldiers of Fortune Ltd.: A Profile of Today's Private Sector Corporate Mercenary Firms, November 1997 (www.cdi.org/issues/mercenaries). He continues to research this issue on his own time, outside of his regular job responsibilities.
2 For the sake of convenience I use the term "mercenaries" even though many of the personnel and firms described here share nothing in common with the image of mercenaries so entrenched in popular culture. I do this simply for the sake of a convenient categorization. We should acknowledge that the term is a subjective, loaded one, carrying lots of emotional baggage and connotations.
3 A few titles on historical mercenaries include Samantha Weinberg, Last of the Pirates: The Search for Bob Denard, Pantheon Books, 1995; Paul Balor, Manual of the Mercenary Soldier: A Guide to Mercenary War, Money and Adventure, Paladin Press, 1988; Janice E. Thompson, Mercenaries, Pirates and Sovereigns: State-Building and Extraterritorial Violence in Early Modern Europe, Princeton University Press, 1994; Malin Brown, Merc: American Soldiers of Fortune, MacMillan Publishing Co., 1980; and Anthony Mockler, The New Mercenaries: the History of the Hired Soldier from the Congo to the Seychelles, Paragon House, 1987.
4. John Keegan, "Private armies are a far cry from the Sixties dogs of war," Electronic Telegraph, 13 May 1998, Issue 1083, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000309588621265&rtmo=VJwMgf&atmo=gggggggK&p g=/et/98/5/13/nsie113.html; and Gus Constantine, "Mercenaries' roles different since Cold War," Washington Times, March 6, 1997
5 According to Michael Grunberg of Plaza 107, London, the average length of prior military service of PMC personnel is around ten years, (personal email, April 23, 1998).
6 "Liberian Mercenaries Support Ousted Afrc," Inter Press Service, 30 April 1998; and "UNITA arsenal unveiled," Angola Peace Monitor, Vol. 5, Issue 5, January 22, 1999, http://www.anc.org.za/angola/apm0505.html.
7 Adam Sage, "France's restless dogs of war bite back with strike," The Times, February 5 1999, http://www.-te-times.co.uk/news/pages/tim/99/02/05/timfgneur03005.html?22194 70.
8 Khareen Pech, William Boot, and Ann Eveleth, "South African mercenaries in Congo," Electronic Mail&Guardian, August 28, 1998, http://www.mg.co.za/mg/news/98aug2/28aug-congo.html.
9 Sam Kiley, "Mercenaries on both sides of the war - `up to 300' with the RUF?," London Times, January 14, 1999.
10 A useful article on EO is Herbert M. Howe, "Private security forces and African stability: the case of Executive Outcomes," The Journal of Modern African Studies, 36 2 1998, pp. 307-331. A partial listing of other articles for background on EO include Al J. Venter, "Sierra Leone's mercenary war: battle for the diamond fields," International Defense Review, 11/95, pp. 65-68; Prof. Herb Howe, "South Africa's 9-1-1 Force," Armed Forces Journal International, November 1996, pp. 38-39; William Reno, "Privatizing War in Sierra Leone," Current History, May 1997, pp. 227-230; Michael Ashworth, "Africa's new enforcers," Independent, Sep. 16, 1996; and Yves Goulet, "Executive Outcomes: Mixing business with bullets," Jane's Intelligence Review, September 1997, pp. 426-430.
11 Not all observers agree that EO's battlefield prowess was responsible for forcing Savimbi to negotiate. For detail see Sean Cleary, "Angola: A Case Study of Private Military Involvement," a paper presented at the Profit and Plunder - The Privatization of War and Security in Africa joint conference of the Institute for Security Studies and the Canadian Council for International Peace and Security, 1997. It should also be pointed out that mercenaries have worked for Savimbi; see Al J. Venter "MERC WORK: Angola: Hired Guns Fight On Both Sides In Endless Civil War," Soldier of Fortune, August 1993.
12 A partial listing of articles about MPRI is: Stan Crock, "Trouble is our business," Business Week, November 20, 1995, p. 52; Mark Thompson, "Generals for hire: confronted with its trickiest task in Bosnia, the U.S. has made plans to pay someone else to do it." Time, January 15 1996, p. 34; Paul Harris, "Military Advising is Growth Industry," Insight, August 26, 1996, p. 12; Philip Smucker, "Virginia firm training Bosnians," Washington Times, p. 1; Colum Lynch, "For US firms, war becomes a business," The Boston Globe, February 18, 1997, p. 1; Tammy Arbuckle, "Building a Bosnian Army," Jane's International Defence Review, 8/1997, pp. 58-61; Philip G. Smucker, "America Teaches Rules of War to Ruthless and Their Victims," Christian Science Monitor, December 26, 1997; Enis Dzanic and Norman Erik, "Retraining the Federation forces in post-Dayton Bosnia," Jane's Intelligence Review, pp. 5-9; Mark H. Milstein, "GIs in Gym Suits: U.S. Vets Bring Professionalism To Bosnian Military," Soldier of Fortune, May 1998; Ian Douglas, "Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI)," a paper presented at the Profit and Plunder - The Privatization of War and Security in Africa joint conference of the Institute for Security Studies and the Canadian Council for International Peace and Security, 1997; and Colin Woodard, "Bosnia: your tax dollars at work," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March/April 1998, Vol. 54, No. 2.
13 See Peter Lewis Young, "Bouganville Conflict Enters its Ninth Year," Jane's Intelligence Review, June 1997; Michael Smith, "Big business for officers of fortune," Electronic Telegraph, March 27, 1997, and Andrew Lycett, "Colonel Tim Spicer and the £22.5 bungle in the jungle," Daily Telegraph Magazine, 10-11-97.
14 See the transcript of the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry Into The Engagement of Sandline International, http://ww3.datec.com.pg/sandline/default.htm.
15 Sir Thomas Legg KCB QC and Sir Robin Ibbs KBE, Report of the Sierra Leone Arms Investigation, Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 27th July 1998, http://www.fco.gov.uk/news/newstext.asp?1349; and http://www.fco.gov.uk/news/newstext.asp?1353.
16 Sandline's web site is www.sandline.com; Military Professionals Resources Inc. (MPRI) site is www.mpri.com; and Executive Outcomes, although now disbanded, was www.eo.com.
17 Herbert Howe, "Global Order and Security Privatization," Strategic Forum No. 140, May 1998, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, http://www.ndu.edu/inss/strforum/forum140.html.
18 See Peter Lock, "Military Downsizing and Growth in the Security Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa," http://www.idsa-india.org/an-dec8-10.html.
19 For detail see James Larry Taulbee "Reflections on the Mercenary Option," Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Autumn 1998), pp. 145-163.
20 Useful articles on this point are Herbert M. Howe, "Global Order and the Privatization of Security," The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 22:2, Summer/Fall 1998, pp. 1-9; Al J. Venter, "Market forces: how hired guns succeeded where the United Nations failed." and Jane's International Defence Review, 3/1998, pp. 23-26;
21 Kevin A O'Brien, "Freelance forces: exploiters of old or new-age peacebrokers?," Jane's Intelligence Review, August 1998.
22 See http://www.vinnell.com.
23 William D. Hartung, "Mercenaries Inc.: How a U.S. company props up the House of Saud", The Progressive, April 1996, Vol. 60, No. 4 pp. 26-28. 24 David Shearer, "Private Armies and Military Intervention," Adelphi Paper 316, International Institute of Strategic Studies, p. 9. See also his articles "Outsourcing War," Foreign Policy, Fall 1998, and "Dial An Army," The World Today, August/September 1998.
25 The release put out by EO when it disbanded was that there was no longer a need for it now that peace and stability were beginning to take hold in Africa; a claim that is obviously ridiculous.
26 "South African Mercenaries Given Permission To Operate in Angola," Pan-African News Wire, Weekly Dispatch II, January 4, 1999.
27 Al J. Venter, "Dogs of War PLC, Army Privatisation in Third World Hotspots," Combat and Survival Magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 4, July 1998, p.32.
28 Nicholas Rufford, "Diamond Dogs of War," The Sunday Times, May 10, 1998, http://www.sunday-times.com.uk/news/pages/sti/98/05/10/stifocnws01002.html?2 398137; Rosemary Bennett, "UK Minister under Scrutiny Over Arms Inquiry," Reuters, 14 May 1998; "Fred the Fijian's Unkillables put junta on the run," The Times, May 15 1998, http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/tim/98/05/15/timfgnafr03001.html?23 98137; Colum Lynch, "US, Britain Implicated In Africa Coup," Boston Globe, May 9, 1998; "Chronology of Sierra Leone: How diamonds fuelled the conflict," Africa Confidential,
http://www.africa-confidential.com/sandline.htm; and Michael Evans, "Sandline Chief Insists He had Official Approval," London Times, May 20 1998.
29 In an August 5, 1997 press release EO said it had no business links with Lifeguard.
30 For a contrary view see the letter to the editor by Prof. Robert Mortimer, "A Mercenary By Any Other Name," Foreign Policy, Winter 1998-99.
31 Some think ECOMOG would have succeeded regardless of any assistance received from Sandline. See Ed O'Loughlin, "Ecomog clean up - on its own," The Mail & Guardian, May 15, 1998, http://www.africanews.org/west/stories/19980515_feat1.html.
32 See The key players in arms-to-Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_275000/275727.stm Committee's conclusions on arms row
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_275000/275745.stm 'Appalling failure' on arms-to-Africa
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_275000/275732.stm Arms report pulls no punches http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_275000/275894.stm Blair defends arms row officials http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_275000/275732.stm Penfold's pals vs Robin's reliants http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_275000/275934.stm
33 "Double-Edged Sword: The Case For A Pragmatic Assessment of Mercenary Forces," London Times, May 5, 1998.
34 Ingrid Nilsson, "Terror In Sierra Leone," USA Today, February 11, 1999, p. 13; Judith Miller, "U.N. Monitors Accuse Sierra Leone Peackeepers Of Killing," New York Times, February 12, 1999.
35 Norimitsu Onishi, "A Brutal War's Machetes Maim Sierra Leone," New York Times, January 26, 1999, p. 1; Jan Goodwin, "Sierra Leone Is No Place To Be Young," New York Times Magazine, February 14, 1999; and "Hell's Other Name Is Sierra Leone," [Editorial], Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1999.
36 See Hugo Young, "An ethical foreign policy is fine, but not when you're in a hole in the corner," The Guardian, May 12, 1998, http://reports.guardian.co.uk/papers/19980511-35.html; Tim Spicer, "Why we can help where governments fear to tread," The Sunday Times, May 24, 1998; Sean Kiley, "Send in the mercenaries, Mr. Cook," The Times, 22 January 1999; Sean Kiley, "Mercenaries rage kindled by atrocities," London Times, January 25, 1999; Anton LaGuardia, "Sandline `should have been left to finish the job'," London Telegraph, January 14, 1999; and Elizabeth Rubin, "Saving Sierra Leone, at a Price," New York Times, February 4, 1999; Boris Johnson, "Cook, this is no way to treat the servants," London Telegraph, February 10, 1999; and Simon Jenkins, "Fire, film - and forget," The Times, February 10, 1999.
37 "SA mercenaries working for the UN," Electronic Mail&Guardian, July 17, 1998, http://www.mg.co.za/mg/news/98jul2/17jul-mercenary.html.
38 Alison James, "Sandline contract cancelled," Electronic Telegraph, 13 May 1998.
39 Paul Ruffini, "PM's offer to Sandline: $15m "to ruin Chan," The Sydney Morning Herald. June 24, 1998.
40 Some recommended articles detailing the activities of some of the PMCs discussed in this paper as well as the legal implications are Juan Carlos Zarate, "The Emergence of a New Dog of War: Private International Security Companies, International Law and the New World Disorder," Stanford Journal of International Law, Winter 1998, 34 Stan. J. Int'l Law 75; Matthew J. Gaul, "Regulating the New Privateers: Private Military Service Contracting and the Modern Marquee and Reprisal Clause," Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, June 1998, 31 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1489; and Dino Kritsiotis, "Mercenaries and the Privatization of Warfare," The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 22:2, Summer/Fall 1998, pp. 11-25.
41 See the transcript of The Law Report, March 25, 1997, http://www.abc.net.au/m/talks/8.30/lawrpt/stories/lr970325.htm.
42 Article 1 of the Annex (Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land) to the Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the laws and Customs of War on Land state "The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions: 1, To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; 2. To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance; 3. To carry arms openly; and 4. To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war." Anthony D'Amato, International Law Coursebook to Accompany International Law Anthology, Anderson Publishing Co., 1994, p. 100.
43 See the numerous reports he has filed since charged with reporting on the issue by the UN Commission on Human Rights, i.e. The Right of Peoples To Self-Determination And Its Application To Peoples Under Colonial Or Alien Domination or Foreign Occupation: 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 self-determination, submitted by Mr. Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, Special Rapporteur, pursuant to Commission resolution 1994/7.
44 Louise Doswald-Beck, "Implementation of International Humanitarian Law in Future Wars," Naval War College Review, Vol. LII, No. 1, No. 365, Winter 1999, http://www.nwc.navy.mil/press/Review/1999/winter/art2-w99.htm.
45 Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs; Amendments to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations; Federal Register, December 24, 1997, (Vol. 62, No. 247, pp. 67274-67278, Effective Date Dec. 24, 1997.
46 Typical of this view is Ken Silverstein, "Privatizing War: How affairs of state are outsourced by corporations beyond public control," The Nation, July 28-August 4, 1997.
47 Simon Sheppard, "Foot Soldiers of the New World Order,"New Left Review, March/April 1998; and Tod Robberson, "U.S. Launches Covert Program To Aid Colombia: Military, mercenaries hired, sources say," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1998, p. 1. According to one news report Sandline operations in Sierra Leone had the tacit report of the Clinton administration; see Raymond Bonner, "U.S. Reportedly Backed British Mercenary Group in Africa," New York Times, May 13, 1998. Another report stated that Sandline was involved in attempts to overthrow the rebel government; see David Graves and Hugo Gurdon, "US says Sandline experts helped to overthrow rebels," Daily Telegraph, May 14, 1998, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000309588621265&rtmo=VxZwlkmx&atmo=ttttttd& pg=/et/98/5/14/wsie114.html.
48 Pratap Chattterjee, "Mercenary Armies & Mineral Wealth," Covert Action Information Bulletin, No. 62, Fall 1997, pp. 28-37; and "Cold War Warriors Defend Multinationals Interests," Inter Press Service, October 16, 1998.
49 Francois Misser, "Mercenaries or security men?,"NewAfrican, December 1997, http://www.africalynx.com/icpubs/na/dec97/nacs1202.htm.
50 For more on this point see "Former soldiers are finding lucrative jobs fighting other people's wars. South Africa would like to ban them," The Economist, January 16, 1999.
51 Andrew Gilligan, "Inside Lt Col Spicer's new model army,"Electronic Telegraph, November 22, 1998, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=001224792737135&rtmo=LKdx333d&atmo=11/24/98 19&pg.
52 John Hibbs, "Red Tape To Combat Soldiers of Fortune," London Daily Telegraph, June 15, 1998. Earlier this month the British Foreign Office announced new measures designed to prevent British nationals and companies from providing training or training facilities for "terrorists" planning actions in Kosovo.
53 As The Economist recent noted legislating against mercenaries is a tricky proposition. See "Can Anyone Curb Africa's Dogs of War?," The Economist, January 16-22, 1999.
54 It should be noted that Woods is a member of the lobbying firm Cohen and Woods International, which was founded by Woods and Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Reagan Administration, and the firm advises MPRI. See the report The Corporate Coalition Behind the "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act,"released by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch., Washington, D.C.
55 Steven Metz, Strategic Horizons: The Military Implications of Alternative Futures, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, March 7, 1997, p. 49.
56 See http://www.nwc.navy.mil/press/review/1998/summer/art5su98.htm; http://ralph.gmu.edu/cfpa/peace/acrf/fact.html; http://ralph.gmu.edu/cfpa/peace/acrf/open.html; http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/1997/10/07/opin/opin.1.html; and
57 "Private Military Companies Face Crisis in Africa," ANC Daily News Briefing, December 14, 1998.
58 These points were taken from the draft paper by Kevin A O'Brien (Department of Politics and Asian Studies, University of Hull, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa) Private Military Companies - Time for Inclusion in the Official Debate?, prepared for the Conference on "European-led Military Operations in Support of Humanitarian Missions, Senate House, University of London, 5-6 November 1998.
David Isenberg,
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Email: isenberd@dyncorp.com

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