- 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,
- --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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- need only recall the situation in the 1980s when the anti-Sandinista
contras were successfully recruited and trained in the U.S. mainland for
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 (http://126.96.36.199 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
- 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
- 8 Khareen Pech, William Boot, and Ann Eveleth, "South African
mercenaries in Congo," Electronic Mail&Guardian, August 28, 1998,
- 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),
- 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
- 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
- 30 For a contrary view see the letter to the editor by Prof. Robert
Mortimer, "A Mercenary By Any Other Name," Foreign Policy, Winter
- 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
'Appalling failure' on arms-to-Africa
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
- 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&
- 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.