Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from David Stewart Howitt, Global Dimensions, LSE and Bayard Limited

in response to HC 577: Private Military Companies—Options for Regulation


  1.  Over the next 50 years, the forces of globalisation will render states as we presently conceive them increasingly obsolete. States that fail to develop mechanisms to manage this transformation—notably those where democracy is weak and/or where wealth is poorly distributed—are likely to experience economic degradation, social upheaval, political dislocation and, in many instances, open conflict. A baseline requirement for rebuilding states immersed in such crises of legitimacy will be the provision of effective and trusted security. The International Community is currently inadequately equipped to handle such crises.

  2.  The professionalism and experience of Britain's armed forces make them an unrivalled source of expertise for such tasks. However, they are neither intended to carry out long-running nation-building operations, nor are they likely to have spare capacity to take on such tasks in the foreseeable future. Widely varying levels of deployment, cost-effectiveness and the lower profile of any particular "national" tag suggest PMCs operating on a project basis would fulfil this role better. But given historically well-founded doubts about the legitimacy and role of PMCs, proper regulation will be essential. To be effective, a regulatory framework should comprise, amongst other things, the mandatory licensing of PMCs, well-defined, robust, but not onerous operational terms of reference (including human rights, environmental, developmental and other relevant considerations) and a monitoring and evaluation body to ensure compliance.


  3.  The Global Dimensions programme at the London School of Economics and Bayard Limited, a risk management consultancy, are working on a joint examination of the relationship between security and governance. The approach is project-led and addresses the following questions with a view to engaging the appropriate experience and expertise to address each individual question as follows:

    —  What do we mean by "security" and to what extent may a state legitimately pursue it?

    —  What trends and forces are changing the context in which states or international bodies provide security, eg globalisation?

    —  Why do current bodies—national, international and private companies—struggle to fulfil the security task adequately, eg under-resourcing, inappropriate skills?

    —  How can we effectively evaluate and monitor the performance of bodies providing security and their impact on issues of governance?

  4.  This paper is work-in-progress. We would welcome the opportunity to engage in dialogue about both the practical and philosophical issues raised below.


  5.  Worldwide requirements for security are likely to continue to vary enormously from year to year. In this context, it will be more cost-effective to outsource certain security functions to private companies than to provide these services from within standing national armed forces.

  6.  In a world where effective government in many states is weak or collapsing, there will be increasing demands on major powers and international bodies to respond to issues of governance and security. There is therefore likely to be an increasing demand for professional security services from both international bodies and legitimate governments that lack the resources and skills to guarantee security in their areas of responsibility. Various types of technical assistance, logistical, operational and training tasks are likely to be amongst the requirements.

  7.  The trend towards diminishing the share of government in national economies, particularly in the West, suggests that outsourcing for the provision of services is likely to increase.

  8.  There is no spare capacity within the UK armed forces to take on additional long-term security tasks that contribute to nation-building (eg ISAF, SFOR), nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future.


  9.  Moral considerations over the existence of PMCs and the legitimacy of outsourcing security tasks to them need to be—and we think can be—addressed. Proper regulation and rigorous oversight should enable PMCs to act as a potential force for good in the international arena. The feasibility of deploying PMCs and monitoring units is a separate question.

  10.  PMCs have traditionally existed on the edge of mainstream international relations. They have generally been ready to sell their services to the highest bidder regardless of the latter's political legitimacy or human rights record. They have rarely considered how their activities affect the long-term political or economic development of the countries they operate in.

  11.  The decision to deploy national military assets in support of a given national or international policy objective is little different in concept from the commissioning of a project. As such the provision of security is, in principle, no different from the provision of any other service such as social welfare systems. Local transport or health care.

  12.  Appropriately defining the respective roles of national military forces and PMCs will be a key determinant of the successful use of PMCs.

  13.  By contracting a PMC, a government would not evade difficult diplomatic decisions, nor can it insulate itself from responsibility for the actions of that PMC in the international arena—this strengthens the need for proper and rigorous oversight. However, some complex international situations may be simplified if armed forces bearing particular "national" tags are not directly involved.

  14.  If they are to contribute positively to the building or rebuilding of policies, new generation PMCs will have to be very different in both concept and style of operation from the popular image of post-colonial mercenary outfits. We envisage them as potential key components of nation-building projects, robustly regulated and monitored by their state of domicile—in this case, the UK—and available to international bodies or legitimate governments.


  15.  We favour the incorporation of the following recommendations in any regulatory framework:

  16.  Legislation in the form of an Enabling Act (qv paragraph 72), allowing the government from time to time to designate countries or other geographical areas in which UK-registered PMCs may not operate armed units and for which it would be illegal to recruit in the UK, either for official armed forces or any other armed unit. The aim would be to prevent UK-registered PMCs operating against UK national interests. For example, we would envisage UK PMCs being banned from operations within the EU, USA, Japan, etc.

  17.  PMCs must additionally be contracted to entities approved by the British Government, ie a simple contract approval system where the "product"—general military services—remains constant and a judgement is made as to whether the entity is suitable to receive it. A clear line of responsibility must be defined (eg offshore subsidiaries, etc should be avoided). The aim is to ensure that the PMC can, if necessary, be held to account uder UK and international law.

  18.  Regulation of individuals employed by PMCs, either as staff or contractors, eg anyone to be armed must have served with UK armed forces (or have attended appropriate UK forces training) and have received an honourable discharge; or with specified other armed forces if a full service record is available. PMCs should be able to provide evidence that their employees meet these standards, have clean police and army records and have been vetted by appropriate government departments.

  19.  PMCs would reapply for its operating licence on an annual or two-yearly basis. The aim is to place the onus on the company to demonstrate its suitability. A monitoring and evaluation body would be responsible for submitting a report on the company's past and present operations at the same time.

  20.  Best practices should follow or be developed from the UK-US Voluntary Principles (UK-US initiative, 21 December 2001), noting also the recommendations of the UN Sub-Commission for the Protection of Human Rights and the Global Compact. Terms of reference (ToR) for PMC operations should contain the necessary internationally recognised benchmarks, but care should be taken not to over-specify best practices in order not to stifle a PMC's ability to carry out the tasks allotted to it. Familiarity of the monitoring and evaluation unit with international best practices will enable it to warn a PMC of activities it considers do not, or may not, meet those standards.

  21.  A Monitoring and Evaluation Unit answerable to the UK Government or contracting international body should be established. It should be staffed by sectoral and regional experts with the appropriate knowledge to scrutinise the activities and conduct of any contracted PMC. Staff would also need to be conversant with internationally recognised security best practices and qualified in such fields as Human Rights, political and economic development, environment, etc. The precise composition of any M & E team would be dictated by the nature and scale of the task.

  Its primary function would be to monitor compliance with the regulatory ToRs and report on such issues to the British Government. Its monitoring, evaluation and reporting activities must be systematic and admissible in British and international courts of law. This remains the ultimate sanction.

  In order to fulfil its mandate, the M & E unit must have a right to full and unfettered access to information (both at the decision-making point and in the field) and to PMC operations, facilities, personnel and administrative and financial records. This might, for example, entail M & E staff attached to PMC units deployed in the field, reporting in real time to a central co-ordination unit.

  Accurate and reliable media reporting of PMC operations would also contribute to the M and E unit's work and should be encouraged.

David Stewart Howitt
Bayard Limited/Global Dimensions

June 2002

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