Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from General Sir David Ramsbotham GCB CBE

  1.  Immediately after retiring from the Army in July 1993, I was tasked by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Malcolm Rifkind, with writing a paper on improving the UK contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations. This followed a report I wrote on a visit, as Adjutant General, to our contingent in Cambodia, where I was disturbed to find that its administrative and other nationally provided support was inadequate.

  2.  During the course of my study, which was conducted with the Head of the UN desk in the FCO, now Dame Glynn Evans, I visited a number of other UN operations including those in Somalia and the Lebanon, where I found involvement of private sector companies such as Brown and Root. They delivered logistic support to the US Army in peace and war, and so in peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations.

  3.  This interested me because I knew that, following Options for Change, which had resulted in a reduction of the size of the Regular Army by 1/3, the British Army lacked logistic and administrative support, which was bound to affect its ability to sustain such operations over any length of time.

  4.  Arising from this work I was asked by Kofi Annan, then Under Secretary of State General for Peacekeeping Operations at the UN, to take part in a similar exercise on behalf of the Security Council, looking at improvements to the management of peacekeeping operations in general. Most of the other members were people who had commanded UN operations. We were all agreed that not only was there a need for the private sector to provide what military contingents could not, but that liaison with the private sector was an essential part of any command and control machinery.

  5.  Soon after this, and as a result of articles that I had written about the subject, I was approached by Defence Systems Limited and asked to become Director of International Affairs, with particular responsibility for liaising and working with the UN. DSL was a security company, specialising in the protection of mining companies working in high-risk areas, during which they had been approached by the UN and a number of UN agencies and NGOs, asking for similar support. This included training UN staff in security and other practical requirements in Afghanistan, providing camps to house those rebuilding the railway line between Moputu and Malawi in Mozambique, protecting the UN Special Representative (Dame Margaret Anstey) in Angola, and training policemen in Somalia. At the time DSL was providing over 200 people, from over 20 countries, in support of UNPROFOR. These included a Vietnamese mechanic, a Nepali driving instructor, a Bosnian and Croatian mixed ration team on Zagreb airport and a number of staff officers in the Headquarters.

  6.  DSL had also put forward a proposal to the UN for the rehabilitation of some sugar plantations in Mozambique. This included deliberate employment and subsequent disarming of militia for which ex-soldiers were particularly suitable. Initially the militia were used to clear up the detritus of war—unexploded munitions, mines etc—as had been done on the railway line. This allowed the building of villages in which clinics and schools could be built, and from which renovation of the sugar plantations could be carried out. This began with the infrastructure—roads, bridges, canals, communications—and then spread to the planting of crops. The militia stopped carrying arms once they realised that they were not necessary. They were trained to repair the infrastructure and then work on the plantations.

  7.  This led to increased involvement with demining. DSL ran a UN course in Mozambique for four years, training managers and quality controllers of demining programmes. Its policy was always to train and manage, leaving demining itself to the country concerned. In particular ex-militia were used to clear up the "mess" that their military operations had created.

  8.  My work took me regularly to the UN and also to the World Bank. At that time demining operations generally were bedevilled by lack of funds. Those carried out by the UN depended on pledges from donor nations, which were not forthcoming. The World Bank's policy was that mining was military, therefore so was demining. It did not fund military operations and so could not fund demining. The line I tried to push was that, as we had found in Mozambique and elsewhere, there could be no development without clearing up the detritus of war, which included mines. This line was taken by the current head of the World Bank, James Wolfenden, following a conference in Geneva that he attended in 1995. From this moment on my work included working with the World Bank, DSL being contracted to carry out work, such as the demining of the bus station in Sarajevo, the first such operation that they had agreed could be funded from one of their loans. DSL was also the first company to set up an office in Republica Serbska, from which we could manage the demining that we were carrying out there as well as in Bosnia.

  9.  Our support of UNPROFOR increased until we were providing over 400 people from 31 nations, none of whom carried arms, but all of whom were carrying out vital support tasks that the military could not provide. These included maintenance of communications was well as expansion of other tasks mentioned above.

  10.  One day Kofi Annan asked me if DSL could do something which it was proving impossible to provide from member state contributions, namely take over the running of the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire. He knew that we had a subsidiary company in that country, which provided protection for a number of embassies as well as mining companies, and also ran a clinic for expatriates in Kinshasa. I said that we would look at the problem, which we did, putting forward a proposal that included the provision of expatriate management of Zairian guards. This was the first time that the UN had asked a private sector company to carry out such a task. In the event our proposal was not accepted because Ms Ogata pointed out to the Security Council that such camps were the responsibility of UNHCR and not Peacekeeping. I have often wondered what would have happened had it been, because it involved the use of more people, the separation of militia from others, and better controlled feeding and medical support arrangements than those provided.

  11.  But, of equal interest as far as the employment of private sector companies in the provision of support operations is concerned, is the history of the small British contingent in Rwanda, which could be provided for only six months because of the lack of replacement personnel. It was tasked with water supply, road repair, provision of communications and running a medical clinic. All these could have been provided by DSL, using ex-military personnel, not just for six months but for as long as the UK government was prepared to pay. Had that approach been adopted the military infrastructure would not have been affected, and the UK contribution to the rehabilitation of Rwanda could have been enhanced.

  12.  We were also involved in a number of other activities that are essential in post-conflict reconstruction, such an essential follow on to peacekeeping operations. These included formal partnerships with firms contracted to rebuild accommodation and communications, the repair of airfields and docks, and the provision of camps from which people could work on construction projects. We offered the provision of police and the training of indigenous police forces to take over from initial UN provision. We discussed the same for prison staffs, about which I was approached by the Commander in Kosovo, not only as Chief Inspector of Prisons but also because of my association with DSL.

  13.  My reason for mentioning all this is to demonstrate that there are many roles for private sector companies, employing ex-military, that are essential in any peacekeeping or national reconstruction project. The key word in their employment is sustainability. Regular forces have been so reduced, or are so overstretched in the number of military operations they are required to conduct, that they cannot provide trained and experienced people to conduct what is required. Companies such as DSL can, for as long as they are contracted to do so. What is more quality control is always possible because, if the provision does not come up to the standards required, it can be ended. Furthermore it is not up to the employing nation to try to keep numbers up to those required; that is the responsibility of the providing company.

  14.  In my opinion it is unfortunate that the activities of some companies have been military in content, attracting the "mercenary" tag, with all its overtones. I am disturbed to see some of DSL's work so described, because it was never mercenary in the general understanding of that word. Those who carried arms were not UK personnel in countries overseas, but nationals of the country concerned, such as the Angolan guards of the UN special representative.

  15.  I hope therefore that, in its deliberations, the Foreign Affairs Committee will consider the wider role that such companies can play in operations to which the UK contributes. It must be right to question the legality of mercenary activity. It must be wrong to limit the effectiveness of peacekeeping or reconstruction operations for the wrong reasons.

General Sir David Ramsbotham

May 2002

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