Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Lt Colonel Tim Spicer



  I welcome the Green Paper as a very thorough and constructive document. As a start point for the development of legislation it is very sound. My comments are set out below. I have followed the order of the paper and used the appropriate headings.


  The British Government policy—for example to outsource certain tasks that in earlier days would have been undertaken by the armed services.

  The US is well ahead of UK in this area—most of MPRI's contracts are with the US Government to provide training for US forces. Whilst I agree that there are areas where PMCs could help, such as:

    —  Training

    —  Enemy for exercises

    —  Range management

    —  Logistical services

  There are also areas where PMCs could assist UK national or coalition forces if they were already deployed in a country to which the UK Government may wish to deploy military forces.

  I support the general principle of licensing "to distinguish between reputable and disreputable private sector operators". It will clarify the situation for all concerned—Government, PMCs and clients.


  This is a very difficult area and will have to be considered very carefully in any legislation, to make it workable. Perhaps a clearer approach is not to define companies—PMC, Security Companies etc, but to define activities and make them inclusive/exclusive. Paragraph 11 makes a very good point. I would include the complexity of a situation where a security company (which professes not to be a PMC) is providing expatriate armed guards for a strategic installation, such as an oil well, jointly owned by the local government and an International Oil Company, in a country where there is conflict with a rebel movement. If the guards protect the installation with their weapons against the rebels—are they fighting for the Government and thus supporting the war effort? (Paragraph 13 applies).

  Definitions should also be linked to current military/political terminology eg

    —  Conflict prevention

    —  Peace enforcement

    —  Peace keeping

    —  Combat

    —  Combat support

    —  Combat service support

    —  Force multiplication


(i)  AccountabilityThere are a number of key areas that make PMCs accountable.

    —  International and national law

    —  The contract of employment (perhaps this should include a mandatory human rights section)

    —  Regulation (when formulated)

    —  Media scrutiny

    —  Image and reputational concerns

  In addition, I believe if a licensing system is introduced a monitoring system is possible. A suggestion is that the oversight or monitoring role could be filled by military attachés. Certainly UK PMCs would welcome this as a close liaison in country, it would be useful for both parties, and would assist with transparency.

  With regard to "transparency" I believe this should start with the registration process. I support this as a regulatory requirement but I believe there should be two levels:

    —  Level 1—that required by normal UK corporate registration/administration. This information would be in the public domain. UK licensed registered PMCs should be based in UK.

    —  Level 2—Confidential information required by government for registration/licensing. This relates to ownership, vetting of personnel, finances, training and competence standards, identities of employees etc. This should not be in the public domain for two reasons:

      —  Normal privacy rules

      —  Personal security—many PMC personnel are former UK SF/Intelligence service personnel who have had sensitive careers and continue to do sensitive work in the private sector. It would be both unfair and dangerous to require public disclosure of this information. This restricted level of information should also apply to clients and potential clients. (This is discussed later).

  The points raised about accountability are equally relevant to sovereignty issues. In my view it is not possible for a legitimate PMC to be a threat to sovereignty. I agree with the last sentence of paragraph 39.

(ii)  Economic Exploitation

  The argument is simple; a sovereign government can do what it likes with its legitimate assets whether it is cash or other assets including minerals and other natural resources. The proviso is government ownership and the acquisition of legitimate services whether it is road building, housing or the services of a PMC.

  There is another angle to this as well. PMCs are military service providers with payrolls to meet, overheads to pay for, cash flow to maintain etc. A mineral concession is worthless to a PMC.

(iii)  A Vested Interest in Conflict

  Paragraph 40 sums it up.

(iv)  Human Rights

  PMCs are very unlikely to be involved in human rights violations—it is the quickest way to be out of business and en route to the International Criminal Court. On the contrary, PMC training and supervision of military operations can raise the standard of human rights awareness and behaviour. Government forces in some less developed countries can be part of the problem.

(v)  Underlying Problems/Proxies for Governments

  No specific comments. Paragraphs 47 and 52 sum it up well.

(vi)  Moral Objections

  Again this is a thin argument. Views may well have changed since 11 September 2001.

(vii)  Double Standards

  Here, here!

(viii)  PMCs and International Operations

  It is perfectly feasible for a PMC to be employed by the UN. There are some very significant factors which would benefit the UN and the international community.

    —  Speed of reaction/deployment

    —  Professional competence

    —  Cost

    —  Commonality of equipment, training, doctrine

    —  C3I, force motivation and direction would all be easier and more effective

    —  Size related to effectiveness

    —  No need to "canvas" for contributing nations

    —  No sensitivity about casualties from contributing nations

  A classic example is referred to in the paper—Sierra Leone. It is worth looking at the time it took to deploy the UN force from agreement to inception (seven months). The Msize of the force balanced against military effectiveness, and the cost.

  The roles of PMCs with the UN would be to be clearly defined in a UN charter. Possible uses are:

    —  Peace enforcement

    —  Rapid crisis response—immediate deployment followed by replacement by a larger force

    —  Separation of warring factions

    —  Refugee protection and management (safe havens)

    —  Logistics

    —  Security for humanitarian assistance

    —  Intelligence and psy ops

    —  Combat and civil engineering tasks


  The case for regulation is accepted, particularly if it clears up misunderstandings, prejudice etc and creates an employable industry.

(i)  Options for Regulation

  Obviously both a ban, or ban on recruitment (paragraphs 71 and 72) are not supported. Both would put UK PMCs out of business. The argument that PMCs would move off-shore is not really valid with the respectable end of the market. Most owners, operators and personnel are mature individuals whose patriotism is unquestionable. They tend to have families and assets such as houses here—it would not be easy, or in most cases acceptable, to slide away off-shore to circumvent legislation, and possibly face prosecution, if they returned (ie if legislation referred to citizenship, passport holders etc rather than physical location).

  With regard to the varying options for licensing, I do not intend to go through each in detail, but to outline a licensing system which would be acceptable to PMCs having regard to one of their key values—speed and flexibility, and one of their key concerns—client confidentiality.

  In order to operate in or from the UK, PMCs should go through the following process:

    —  Stage 1: Application to register for a licence to operate

    —  Stage 2: Vetting of PMC and personnel to include:

      —  Ownership

      —  Financial structure

      —  Management structure including advisors such as lawyers/accountants

      —  Full time personnel vetting—technical competence background (—criminal record etc.), training levels

      —  Mechanism for PMC vetting consultants/part time personnel

      —  Interview with CEO

  This process would not be dissimilar to Government vetting procedures

    —  Stage 3: Registration and granting of general licence to operate. NB reasons for refusal to grant registration would have to be given in detail—unlike government employment vetting.

    —  Stage 4: Periodic renewal of licence—timeframe to be determined, three to five years? But with an annual return to fill in?

  With regard to the licence to operate—this should be a general licence. The application and granting of a licence for each contract is far too restrictive, time consuming, expensive, slow, and would put British firms at a disadvantage. The vetting process should ensure that UK firms will not be likely to break the rules. There is also the force of the law to fall back on, if a breach of licensing takes place.

  However given that with this system in place, there should be a close working relationship between government and PMCs, it would be relatively easy for the Government to retain the right to intervene to prevent a contract going ahead where it felt it necessary for genuine reasons of national interest (paragraph 74).

  As far as self-regulation is concerned—there would be little change to what exists today. Any respectable PMC adheres to the points made in paragraph 76. Whilst this is the easiest option to implement I suspect it will not satisfy some quarters.


  Whilst this is implicit in the licensing package and there would be no objection from PMCs, there are two areas that would be of concern:

    —  Client confidentiality

    —  Operational security

  Neither of which is necessarily applicable to arms exporting licences.


  This point is accepted but it is suspected that consensus would be difficult, particularly as there is little or no tradition or comprehension of PMC work in most EU member countries, with the possible exception of France.


  The origins of this paper are only too well known to me personally. My only comment is that the PMC work going on in Sierra Leone which was interrupted, inter alia, by the "Arms to Africa" affair—ultimately ended with the deployment of a UK force with its associated costs and a UN force of 17,000 with its associated costs. It may have been better to extend encouragement and assistance to Sandline to continue its operations against the RUF.

  My only other comments are to concur wholeheartedly with paragraph 6, and to reiterate my concern about licensing for each project. It is very possible that the point made in paragraph 12 about delay in issuing a licence leading to lost contracts is very likely.

Lt Colonel Tim Spicer

June 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 1 August 2002