Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 84 - 99)



Sir John Stanley

  84. Welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I should like to ask one point for the record and for clarification. In your memorandum to the Committee[6] you say that your submission is from Mr David Stewart Howitt, Global Dimensions, LSE & Bayard Limited. I should be grateful if you could just tell the Committee whether Bayard Limited have any involvement or interest in the provision of military services.
  (Mr Howitt) No.

  85. Thank you. The regulatory option which you clearly have come down in favour of out of the six listed by the Government is option E, as I understand your paper, the option of a general licensing system for private military companies and private service companies. You have outlined an interesting and quite extensive add-on to a system of general licensing with a detailed proposal for that to be coupled with a very full monitoring and evaluation system. What I should like to ask you is: what were the reasons why you came down in favour of option E, the general licensing system and clearly discarded option C, which is the tighter and more specific licensing system, essentially on a contract by contract basis rather like the individual licensing of arms exports from this country?

  (Mr Howitt) Specifically the rationale behind that is the environment in which many of the circumstances that the world is facing are going through a lot of change. We saw indications in the 1990s of the extent of change that was ongoing, we have not in any way seen the limits of how far that change is going to go. The primary rationale for coming down on option E was based on the idea that in order for a private military company or private security company to be able to operate effectively to the contractor they would need that structure of relationship to be able to conduct whatever activities were specified in a given set of terms of reference. A more rigid definition at this stage was the primary reason, though, as we state in the submission, this is very much a work in progress. It would be over specific to say that we came down wholly in favour of E; in fact the submission includes what we should like to see incorporated within a regulatory framework. That was more what we specified.

  86. Another question I should like to put to you is the view that has been put forward in the Green Paper and which would also be argued by the private military companies that there is a material cost advantage to a government, just looking solely at the financial considerations when there are obviously much wider considerations, but just for the moment looking solely at the financial considerations there is a material cost advantage in using private military companies rather than in our case British armed service personnel. I note in paragraph 59 of the Green Paper it says that the UN operation in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, cost about $600 million a year. It is at least possible that if a task of UNAMSIL were put out to tender, private companies would be able to do the job more cheaply and more effectively. I wonder whether you share that particular judgement, bearing in mind that individuals working for private military companies are in many cases self-employed people who will no doubt require a substantial premium for putting themselves at risk, will require substantial monies to be able to be attracted to serving in dangerous and far away places. What is your view as to whether there is, as the Government believes may be the case, a cost advantage to using private military companies as opposed to regular British service personnel?
  (Mr Howitt) My approach is to answer that question from a slight angle as such. The specifics of the cost/benefit equation apply more in a different scenario where the effectiveness of the UK armed forces in their various deployments worldwide, be they peace keeping, peace implementation or in war fighting roles, has very often been due to the professional nature of the forces and secondly a great skill in adaptability to the circumstances that they are faced with. The potential advantage of the use of a private military company in circumstances which would fulfil a function that the UK armed forces may fulfil on a given deployment would be that one could include within that structure task-specific and specific personnel who are trained and familiar with the exact specifics that they are meant to be dealing with and also with the environment in which they are operating. By way of a case in point, the sanctions mission which was put from Yugoslavia into the Bosnian Serb Republic during the Yugoslav war in 1994 might be quite an interesting example to cite for that. The nature of the mission was to monitor whether the Yugoslav Government was in fact imposing a regime of sanctions on the Bosnian Serb Republic. The staffing of that mission, which included some contracting through third parties from various countries, was such that I would not say it was Customs officials and specifically trained personnel who had a specific training in the nature of the task who were used for that but rather a different style of body, but that may show a case in point where specific personnel for a specific task would be more appropriate and more cost effective than the deployment of a national answer.

  87. On the first page of the paper we have had from Colonel Spicer he is very up front on the potential type of non-combat tasks that private military companies can perform. He refers to training, enemy for exercises, in other words purely in an exercise role, range management and logistical services. Then he goes on to make it equally clear that as far as he is concerned, there is also a role in a combat context for private military companies. When human rights issues are concerned, there is a very, very important distinction as to whether or not private military companies cross over from training and logistical work to combat roles, though one acknowledges that if you are going to train and involve logistics that is just the trunk of the tree and the branches come out as combat. Do you believe that it is legitimate and acceptable for private military companies to engage in combat roles as well as non-combat roles?
  (Mr Howitt) There are two issues there. One is whether one can separate the question of training from the role they are actually trained to fulfil. I put that to one side for the moment. Without looking at and examining each individual case, it is not possible adequately to provide a framework answer which covers that. There are different levels of the market, if one can put it this way. I would say that the use of private military companies can be envisaged at three different tiers of the market. There is the international community as the contractor, be it NATO, the UN, the EU, sub-contracting various services for an international mission. That exists. Then there is the domicile country of a PMC, and that might in this case be the United Kingdom, sub-contracting a PMC to fulfil a task which is consistent with UK foreign policy. Then there would be the domestic contracting of foreign forces for that. Each of those individual circumstances presents a different scenario for the use of PMCs. I think that the 1990s only demonstrates some of the indications of what may lie ahead, but the events which happened during that time and the advent of humanitarian intervention as an evolving ideology begins to open the question of how to fulfil certain tasks. I can see in another egregious case where humanitarian intervention is being called upon, that that may be the case[7].

Andrew Mackinlay

  88. You heard me probe the question of giving governments some arm's-length opportunities for denial. Do you have any observations on that?
  (Mr Howitt) Yes. I think that should be avoided at all costs. It is not a question of trying to hide an issue here, it is the provision of services and security. Many of the recent conflicts, all post 1989 conflicts, have demonstrated that where there is an absence of the provision of security that void leaves huge room for exploitation. There are certain circumstances where national resources can be deployed into that.

  89. The deficiency which Kofi Annan or any Secretary General has, is a real one and well documented. Rather than going down this road, should we not be arguing and trying to build support for the United Nations to have a bank of soldiers with all the multiplicity of skills and committed assets from various countries so it can take them off the shelf, as it were, in a particular situation, so a force could be marshalled, indeed they could hire Colonel Spicer to lead it, because I recognise his skills. Rather than going to hire a company, should we not be arguing that there should be people, individuals who are clearly accredited to the United Nations, who could be recruited short term, assets hired or bought on the market, or made available by Member States. Could we not be going down that road?
  (Mr Howitt) In essence that is only an adjustment on the same principle as a PMC. One is making each individual a private military company as such and resourcing and being directly sourced by the UN. The UN is faced with almost impossible circumstances in staffing up some of its peacekeeping missions and 1994 is a case in point. The provision of adequate resources for the UN to fulfil its task is no less a question of the Member States as it is the UN. The inadequacy of the UN to be able to provide those people is not because they do not wish to, it is because the Member States do not provide them. If the Member States do not provide personnel for a given mission, where are those people going to be provided from? The only alternative which exists is a PMC.

  90. Yes, at the present time, but you have not—my failure perhaps—responded to my idea. It is probably a matter I am going to put to Dennis MacShane, the Minister, when he comes here. If there are these skilled, professional soldiers, retired in the main, out there, a number of key armed forces, good reputation, they have their good logbooks and so on, why do we not have a system whereby they can be marshalled by the United Nations, hired by the United Nations? They are not PMCs. Like a soldier takes an oath to the Queen, they would take the oath to the United Nations and the thing is marshalled, indeed perhaps by somebody like Colonel Spicer. At the moment he is commissioned to the international organisation, he is not hired. There is a distinction. Surely it should be within the capacity of good men and women to be working towards that objective.
  (Mr Howitt) I agree that the idea is extremely sound, but the practicality of that is impossible in my experience of the United Nations. Secondly, structurally and organisationally, it is probably preferable, given the nature of the operations within which these resources or facilities would be deployed, to have an organisation which can be sub-contracted to one point for organisational purposes.

  91. One thing does unite the Committee's questioning and I wonder whether you have a brainwave on how we might deal with it. Where perhaps an individual act or atrocity is committed—and it does happen, it happens in the most disciplined and regulated armies—you do then have military law, a court martial system and now also some international jurisdictions, but how can we create a system whereby a hired soldier does not disappear into the ether, as it were, when he has committed an atrocity or a group of them? How can we overcome that? Sure as night turns into day that will happen at some stage because there will be a bad soldier, bad officer.
  (Mr Howitt) This is a question of global jurisdiction, is it not? Where is the global judiciary? The arrival of the ICC in due course will ultimately provide the ultimate sanction for that. UK domestic legislation provides the immediate accountability framework for that. In the event of an atrocity or a breach of contract, which is essentially what the issue would be, then those individuals should be accountable in UK law ultimately.

  92. Indeed, but nobody has said, neither Colonel Spicer, nor our other witness, nor yourself, and I do not mean this critically but it is why I am opposed to this Green Paper, anything other than that companies are disciplined. No doubt it is written in their contracts, but there is no way of ensuring, and it is very important that there is a sanction, that people can be ultimately put in prison and brought to account. It just will not happen, will it, because there will be an atrocity somewhere in some jungle and nobody will be able to trace the person?
  (Mr Howitt) As such that is no different from actions which have been committed. In principle it is no different from a UK soldier committing an atrocity.

  93. It is entirely different, is it not? Even after My Lai, though we might think the result was wrong, nevertheless people were brought before a court. There may well be a political decision taken at some stage that the person should not be put in prison or should be reinstated in the armed forces or whatever, but that is transparent and then subject to parliamentary control and scrutiny and becomes part of the political debate. All the people employed by sovereign governments are ultimately answerable to those court systems. There is nothing in this Green Paper, nor has anybody today been able to come forward with a system which will ensure that there is accountability. That seems to me why the idea of contracting out is fatally flawed. To extend it would be compounding this problem.
  (Mr Howitt) I do not share your concern in this respect, specifically because—and I shall reiterate a point which Colonel Spicer made—the vetting procedure and ensuring that one is employing experienced, competent men and women of integrity within the nature of these operations is going to be fundamental to the successful provision of security in the environments we are talking about. If, in the process of screening and vetting personnel for these operations, there is a flaw and a character gets through, that is certainly a weakness, but that is a weakness which exists within the military overall. About after the fact is a separate question and tracking people who have allegedly committed crimes and that is due process of law and that is an issue of global jurisdiction or the global judicial framework or where that is going to go. That is essentially a separate question from the procedure. By regulating the process of PMCs, one is actually in a greater position to pre-empt or to prevent such circumstances happening whereby worst practices rather than best practices are being applied in the provision of security.

Mr Illsley

  94. We have talked this morning about the legitimacy of private military companies, the regulation of private military companies, either licensed themselves or licensed to enter into a particular conflict. We are discussing this whole idea of the legitimacy of PMCs and licensing. We have arrived at this situation from a report by this Committee on a private military company possibly breaching a UN arms' embargo by taking military equipment and weapons into a country in Africa in return for a concession for diamonds which subsequently became known as blood diamonds or war diamonds or whatever. We seem to have gone from a situation where there was international outcry and national outcry in relation to that incident, to a position now where we are setting out the rules and regulations for the licensing of private military companies. From my point of view we have similarly moved from looking at the PMCs at the time of the Sandline affair, the Sierra Leone affair if you like, as being organisations running pretty close to the wind, to now being peacekeeping forces for the United Nations and NATO, being contracted as the good guys in every scenario. I am finding difficulty in coming to terms with this and in thinking that this is going to work. Even if we had a regulatory regime in the United Kingdom for private military companies, that they could only contract to the UN, to NATO, that they could only go into situations of conflict which did not conflict with our own Government's foreign policy, what is to stop a company setting up outside the UK or setting up in Africa where that regulation did not exist and flouting those rules and regulations? What guarantee is there that these private military companies are going to stick to the rules, bearing in mind how we got to this situation from the Sandline affair?
  (Mr Howitt) A broad question. The requirement for provision of security is ever increasing and central Asia, Indonesia and Africa in themselves have more than enough potential to keep the process of the UK armed forces busy for the foreseeable future. My own view on it comes again from a slightly different angle. The international community has a crying need for the provision of basic services in the provision of security which are not met by the national contributions to peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. Those needs are not being met and that is making the task of the international community impossible. It is a very simple equation that in order to stabilise the post-war environment there needs to be the provision of security. The combatants themselves are not in a position to provide the security for the opposing parties. Herein lies the nub of the question in terms of the international community's requirement for the provision of various services. The UK has been successful because it is adaptable, not because it is ideally suited to each of these individual circumstances. If you ask how we have come from 1998 to today, we have come through to here because of Kosovo maybe, because of that big sea change in terms of the nature of an intervention, of what was happening and that was a humanitarian intervention. Increasingly, there is a void in the international community's toolbox or there are tools missing for adequate nation building and stabilisation. I hesitate to use the term but in these circumstances it is probably appropriate: in many respects the market is demanding these services and will continue to demand these services. Surely it is preferable to have a regulated environment where that is measured rather than an environment where anyone who is available is going to be used to conduct those tasks: a vehicle through which international best practices can be transferred to the given polities, entities or nation state or region. I would say that is the process whereby we have come to where we are.

  95. I can understand that but I am thinking of a situation, if we go back to Sierra Leone, where if we have a private military company licensed by this country, who is going to employ it? Is it going to be the United Nations, which is strapped for cash at the best of times anyway and is probably always calling on other countries to provide peacekeepers? Or is it going to be the country where the conflict is taking place? Will the United Nations say to Sierra Leone that they can employ these mercenaries or this private military company under the rules and regulations agreed with them and under this licensing regime? Or would Sierra Leone say to the United Nations that they do not want that and they are going to go to this company which is set up in another country which is not subject to that licensing and over whom they have more control and whom they are paying because they want this type of task to be done? It seems to me that you can always find a way around the regulatory framework. I appreciate what you said about the need. It throws up the question that if this need was there, then basically what Sandline were doing in Sierra Leone can be looked at in a wholly different light in terms of the approval and permissions they were saying they had. Surely all this regulation could be circumvented by a country who did not want an army or a private military company which was subjected to that type of regulation.
  (Mr Howitt) Yes, but then that company would choose to put itself outside the definition of "legitimate" and that would be the choice of that company.

  96. But only in countries where there was regulation.
  (Mr Howitt) Absolutely; that is the case, but there is no regulation here at the moment.

Mr Chidgey

  97. May I draw your thoughts back to some responses you gave to Mr Mackinlay a few minutes ago where you were talking about accountability and the audit trail? I am not sure whether you were here to hear the responses we received from the good Colonel this morning.
  (Mr Howitt) Yes, I was.

  98. You will recall that I questioned him to some extent on the accountability of armed service personnel employed by PMCs in extreme conditions of danger to themselves. You may recall also that he did agree at the end of the discussion that the commercial sanctions which were imposed on a company like his, whilst they were effective in terms of the way the company was managed, could not be as effective in dealing with the individual personnel as the Queen's Regulations and the Armed Forces Act, that they did not give him the same confidence in knowing that his personnel would act in a way they would as professional armed personnel under the Queen's Regulations and the Armed Forces Act. Do you agree with him?
  (Mr Howitt) Yes, I do, but one is not comparing like with like. A national army is a different thing from a PMC and part of what this process should be about is actually drawing—

  99. May I stop you there? One is not comparing like with like? Surely if we send a force into Afghanistan or wherever, they are doing the same duties? Why is it not like for like?
  (Mr Howitt) I am sorry, in fact, and I draw it out in the evidence submitted, part of this process is drawing the lines of legitimate activities of PMCs and those of national armies and that is a process which I think has some way to go in terms of defining what the functions of a PMC should be.

6   See Evidence, pp Ev 21 to Ev 23. Back

7   Note by witness: In such cases, for example, PMCs could be used in a combat capacity. Back

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