Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  From the outset it is essential to realise that there are many state or government agencies within the United Kingdom who have a vested interest in seeing PMCs regulated. Some of these agencies require this to happen to ensure that they can make legal and effective use of PMCs, whilst others see it as a way of putting tortuous pressures on PMCs and thus driving them out of what is a highly competitive and lucrative market. The Government of the UK now accepts that it must work towards a positive international legal framework aimed at conflict prevention and support of human rights, but concurrently does not result in unreasonable operational restrictions. It accepts that it must display greater transparency about defence activity if it is to convince the public that its defence policies are responsible and that it is operating an ethical foreign policy. This has been laid out in the paper "The Future Strategic Context for Defence" within the chapter "Legal Dimension, International Law and Ethical Considerations".1


  International Law governs both the ability of states to resort to armed conflict, and the way in which they conduct it. The obligations of states in their conduct of armed conflict are derived from relevant international conventions such as the Genocide Convention 1948 and the Geneva Conventions 1949.2 States can expect that their actions will be the subject of ever increasing judicial scrutiny in international courts in the future. Once fully established, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will focus on the criminal responsibility of individuals rather than states. The development of the ICC reflects a growing awareness and acceptance of the need to have an enforcement mechanism that can address serious violations of human rights anywhere in the world and international humanitarian law. International Law may develop in ways that impose further limitations on methods of warfare and this may impact on the development and procurement of weapon systems. The Government will also need to be alert to the possible impact of other areas of the development of international law, such as the Law of the Sea and of domestic legislation.


  In defence, as in other areas, recent years have seen growing scrutiny of the ethics and morality of Government policy, partly fuelled by the amplified numbers of pressure groups and NGOs. Both at national and international level, such organisations have proved ever more influential in shaping policy, the most notable defence example being the accession to the Ottawa Convention banning anti personnel mines. Other areas of defence activity coming under scrutiny are the rights of civilians in conflict, the morality of certain types of weapons, the use of child soldiers,3 and the control of defence exports and small arms proliferation.4 It is therefore important that the MOD and Government work together along with NGOs in a number of areas to help enhance international security and stability. These areas include tackling the funding of conflict through illicit trade, improving democratic accountability in the defence and security sphere, combating small arms proliferation, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, controlling the activities of PMCs, and efforts to relieve potential aggravators of instability such as poverty and resource shortages.


  It is important that we first examine the United Kingdom's Defence Diplomacy and Defence Management and what it encompasses. The Defence Diplomacy Mission statement is as follows:

    "to provide forces to meet the varied activities undertaken by the MOD to dispel hostility, build and maintain trust and assist in the development of democratically accountable armed forces, thereby making a significant contribution to conflict prevention and resolution."5

  There are three specific military tasks that underpin and contribute most directly to the Defence Diplomacy Mission they are as follows:6

  Military Task 16—Arms Control, Non Proliferation, and confidence and security building measures.

  Military Task 17—Outreach Activities designed to contribute to security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, but also extending to the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asia, through bilateral assistance and co-operation programmes.

  Military Task 18—other Defence Diplomacy activities, covering military assistance programmes with overseas military forces and defence communities not covered under outreach.

  The Government therefore has policy in place to deal with the pursuit of the nation's interests abroad, but for some years now it has openly harboured concerns regarding the regulation and legislation of the PMC industry. This industry has hubs in the United States, South Africa and the UK. The UK Government also feels PMCs that supply personnel or related military products and services "could have, and in some cases would have an adverse impact on the implementation of its foreign policy objectives"7. Rather than "force the industry offshore" the Government therefore needs to regulate, and where possible, utilise PMCs to pursue its overseas objectives in support of the nation's armed forces. Many PMCs came into existence as a direct result of the chain of events following the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the demise of Apartheid in South Africa. This in turn saw the worldwide downsizing of military forces and with it the associated reduction in military capability. This threw a large number of military personnel onto the world job market and additionally saw large amounts of surplus military equipment becoming available to arms dealers, particularly from Eastern European Countries. The end of the Cold War effectively introduced the new era of "Hot Peace" and western democracies such as the UK have had to deploy forces to "fire fight" around the globe. Due to the increased inability of the MOD to reconcile its deployable armed forces with its global commitments, the government is having to explore ways of managing its defence resources thus ensuring that its military "books can be balanced". The key features of defence management thus encompass the outsourcing of military contracts to commercial companies including anything from catering and administration to telecommunications and logistics. Other features also include leasing, perhaps as a substitute for arms sales, and Private Finance Initiatives. As a result of these defence management policies, commercial companies are not only becoming increasingly interested in this profitable industry but are actively being encouraged to competitively tender for these government contracts. This subsequently encourages the growth of companies specialising in the military environment and the rapid expansion of PMCs offering their goods and services to the FCO, MOD and DFID.


  The Defence Advisory Team (DAT) consists of both civilian and military personnel including a DFID representative. The advice and assistance supplied by the DAT is funded jointly by the MOD, DFID and the FCO from the Conflict Prevention Fund.8

  The DAT exists to provide "in country" advice on defence management and security sector reform issues to countries that request such assistance. The areas in which they target their assistance includes Defence Reviews, Force Structures, Financial Management, Governance and Civil-Military Relations, Human Resources Management and Development, Change Management, Organisation and finally Procurement and Logistics.9 Most of these are areas in which some PMCs also imagine that they can target their expertise. By forming the DAT, the UK Government sees itself as being able to make a significant contribution to conflict prevention, reduction and resolution. The creation of the DAT is therefore seen as a tool to assist in the wider process of security sector reform and contribute to the UK's overall conflict prevention, development and defence diplomacy initiatives. In comparison to PMCs, DAT sees itself as being able to offer long term support in order build the internal capacity of the state that it is advising, whereas it sees PMCs as being an unaccountable risk and not in line with good governance practice. The major PMCs operate in a highly commercial, professional and corporate manner, cultivating reputations for skill, efficiency and cost effectiveness. It is this type of PMC that makes a profit by forcing an end state to the conflict it is involved in. This contrasts directly with the traditional mercenary ethos that is intent on ensuring a profitable income only by prolonging wars. In order to achieve this desired end state, the PMC will act as a force multiplier dramatically enhancing the effectiveness of the client's existing military forces.

   DFID's goal is in conflict resolution and the eradication of world poverty, therefore any form of conflict management that involves a UK PMC in prolonged combat, could be perceived as being in conflict with that goal. As the DAT is accountable to the UK Government, it is able to receive support from the FCO, DFID and the MOD should it so wish, but currently PMCs do not enjoy such good civil-military cooperation and sustainability. The typical client of a PMC is likely to be a poor and vulnerable sub-Saharan country that is rich in mineral deposits and is looking for a "quick fix" solution. These countries are unable to afford the costs of developing armed forces as supplied by western democracies and therefore the cheaper less nationally overt PMC is a more attractive option. The problem is consequently that the host nation's lack of funds could ultimately lead to corruption of its own forces by the PMC and ultimately economic exploitation of the mineral deposits. DFID has however employed PMCs in a non-combat role to carry out de-mining activities in Kosovo.10 This is seen as neither suspicious nor unethical as the company has been sponsored and contracted by the UK to carry out activities to train and equip a nation's armed forces to de-mine their own country post conflict. This directs that there must be a different form of regulation for those PMCs who want to engage in combat roles and those who want to be involved in training, equipping and through life support.

  Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties of employing PMCs is the type of message that it sends to the rest of the world. On the one hand it is either advertising the abrogation of governmental responsibility, or is it suggesting that the UK really is not serious in it's intent or pursuit of it's foreign policy objectives. In the early 1980's prior to the Falklands Conflict, the Government of the United Kingdom declared that she was to withdraw the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance from the Falkland Islands. This sent a message to the government of Argentina that Britain was not that interested in its sovereign territory in the South Atlantic, whilst far from being the only factor in encouraging the Argentinians to seize the Falklands, it certainly contributed to their precipitative behaviour. Whilst on the other hand the US PMC, MPRI, is seen by many as merely agents of US foreign policy. This then calls into question what the real aim of the US is and why does the US Government want to train a country's armed forces or re-organise that country's defence ministry?

  DFID sees a degree of utility in PMCs but current individual opinion suggests that their employment and regulation must be strictly on a case by case basis and that the PMC needs a form of encouragement to ensure that the job is completed. PMCs must have a willingness to be accountable for all their actions and there must be a demonstration of cost versus benefit in comparison to those operations carried out by national armed forces and mandated for by the United Nations. Ultimately a country's indigenous armed forces should be used and the onus must be on those countries not to employ PMCs. Whilst there have been stories of success by PMCs, there have also been rumours of deceit, corruption and unaccountability. In essence the world and the UN in particular is almost certainly not yet ready to see the image of PMCs fulfilling the traditional roles of professional national armed forces operating under a legislated and democratic UN mandate. Inroads must be made into PMC regulation but in a methodical, comprehensive and coherent manner.


  In the current operational climate the majority of British forces will inevitably end up operating alongside PMCs contracted by local governments and multi national companies in most African and some Asian theatres. The foremost difficulty is that each situation will probably be unique and the companies so varied, that legislation regulation and in military terms, a set of Standard Operating Procedures for dealing with PMCs would be extremely hard to formulate. The difficulties are compounded by the fact that some western nations are reluctant to become embroiled in third world disputes and as multi-national corporations move into regions of instability so their need for security increases. In the past this has manifested itself in UN sponsored operations that have been delayed by months due to the apathy of the sponsoring nations. It is also accepted that most of the PMCs do not involve themselves directly in combat operations but focus on military training, logistic support, high technology intelligence gathering, procurement and static site defence or key point protection. Most of which can be utilised by the military. In recent times it has only been Sandline and Executive Outcomes that appear to have been directly involved in combat operations.

  There is currently a study within the MOD with regards to those companies supplying military logistical support to operations. At the war-fighting end of the conflict spectrum there is little room for contracted support other than the armed forces of a nation state. PMCs that attempt to get involved in combat operations may have no moral interest as to the outcome, and are likely to be involved in it only for financial gain. After the fighting has been completed and a peaceful situation restored, it is then that the PMCs can be employed. The areas of particular benefit are the logistics and service sector which have already proved their worth. After the Kosovo campaign the military logistic supply chain was downscaled and civilian companies were employed to transport and deliver fuel. In an era of scarce military resources it is here that non combatant PMCs can prove their worth. It is in the middle to upper end sector (combatant roles) where there is concern. Many African and Asian governments have problems with indigenous rebel groups sponsored by third parties. Such governments often cannot afford, or even rely on their own armed forces. In most cases the forces are badly paid, poorly trained and undisciplined. The costs of maintaining an effective standing army are prohibitive and consequently a short term contract with a PMC financially attractive. This however can turn out to increase the problem as it is effectively a short term solution to a long term problem, because as soon as the PMC has got its payment and can withdraw, a power vacuum could be left behind. This then has the potential to destabilise the country, either sending it into a downward spiral of long term conflict or requiring further intervention of external forces.

  There have been times when PMCs have been successfully employed along-side national forces . The most recent example of which has proved to be in Sierra Leone. In this case the Sierra Leone government had possession of two MI 24 Hind helicopter gun ships left over from the days of Executive Outcomes. Similarly to the British IMATT troops, Sierra Leone did not have the pilots to fly them. They therefore drafted in a PMC called Express Air to fly the Hinds. The Pilots were drafted into the Sierre Leone armed forces and also given citizenship thus giving them accountability to the Sierra Leone armed forces. They had a rank structure, worked hard, admittedly only for money, and took orders from the commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone.11 Elsewhere examples were seen in the early days of the Balkans conflict in the Croatian international brigade where ex-patriot Croats and any other "mercenary type" soldiers were enlisted directly into the brigade thus giving them accountability.

  The general military view and opinion is that because PMCs are motivated purely by money, the companies involved and their personnel must always be accountable to a nation state and sustainable over a period of time. If PMCs are to be regulated and legislated for, legitimacy and legality should be conveyed in an appropriate and transparent manner. This should involve, the UN, EU or a nation state sponsoring PMCs that have no "murky past" and no grounds for being suspected of sponsoring illegal activity. Where applicable, the companies should then be exposed to all the usual tendering for competitive contracts and made accountable for whatever it is that they are going to be involved in. Those companies subsequently employed will be accountable to international laws such as the Geneva Convention, Human Rights Act and UN Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries 1989.12 Once legitimately "employed" by a country, the PMCs activities could be monitored on the ground by organisations such as UNMOs, observers from Civil Affairs and other neutral organisations. This way the companies that persist in exploiting vulnerable countries can be driven out of the industry by the legitimate organisations.

  Almost unanimously accepted by military personnel, is the thought that PMCs can offer a significant advantage over national armies in terms of speed of response and are able to fulfil such roles as the security of aid agencies if so wished. Providing there is open competition PMCs should be able to compete quite happily for logistic contracts. For countries in need of PMCs with a more lethal capability, the alternatives are UN forces and international police forces that would have to be contracted and set up with funds from the International Monetary Fund and UN. Whatever happens, the funding must go to the right place in the recipient country, corruption by the recipient must be stamped out and there must be a commitment to the future and long term restructuring of that country. The final aspect viewed by the military has to be the question of what message is it that you are sending. It is all very well employing a PMC to do the work that the UK's Government either cannot or do not want to participate in, but how will this be viewed by the international community? The Government is operating a policy of risk and gamble and what is the price of failure by that company? Will that failure be viewed as acceptable or will it be viewed as national embarrassment? The military view concludes therefore that in benign situations maximum use must be made of private contractorisation. The current MOD policy champions this approach, as can be seen from the following quote:

    "MOD Ministers have endorsed the use of the PFI to provide services throughout the Department. Only if PFI has been demonstrated to be unworkable, inappropriate or uneconomic should IPTs consider the MOD's own capital funding resources."13

  There will be a trade off of cost and performance versus reliability but small amounts of force, properly targeted, where a lethal capability may be required, can prevent a crisis escalating into full scale conflict. Finally there are concerns should Britain's armed forces find themselves deployed alongside PMCs that there could be a conflict of interest manifesting itself in several areas, primarily in the field of intelligence and security. During the Sandline affair it is accepted that both the MOD and FCO received extremely useful intelligence from that company, but at the same time reliance by PMCs on a network of old friends and loyalties within the government departments can cause particular difficulty.


  There are various other Governmental departments who have an interest in the potential regulation of Private Military Companies, not least the FCO, The DTI and within the MOD, the DESO. When Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said "The Government is committed to the maintenance of a strong defence industry which is a strategic part of our industrial base as well as our defence effort, Defence exports can also contribute to international stability by strengthening bilateral and collective defence relationships with the right of self defence recognised by the UN charter. But arms transfers must be managed responsibly, in particular to avoid their use for international aggression or internal repression". This statement makes the point that defence exports contribute to our international security policies and objectives, so it is vital that any legislation involving PMCs looks closely at the minutiae of the international arms trade, currently worth over £5 billion a year in foreign exchange. So it is vital that the United Kingdom exercises careful controls of defence equipment exports.

  The FCO, DTI, DFID and MOD are each involved in careful scrutiny of export licence applications, therefore any PMC wanting to be involved in the international arms trade must be subject to exactly the same scrutiny. Export licences are not approved if to do so would fail to comply with the UK's international obligations or if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or may affect regional stability in any significant way. It is reported that the problem with Lt Col Spicer and the Sierra Leone Sandline Affair was not the supply of personnel and expertise, but with the supply of weapons.14 The MOD now publishes the Government's Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls jointly with the FCO and DTI which ensures a new level of transparency to the Government's export licensing decisions. It also includes details of surplus small arms destroyed by the Government and information on the number of small arms covered by the standard individual export licences agreed on a country by country basis. For PMCs this level of transparency and accountability is of paramount importance to obtaining successful legislation and regulation and prevents companies such as Paines Wessex Defence15 from attempting to sell munitions that could be considered as anti personnel mines.

  In the year 2000 the Government announced the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria that is used in considering all individual applications for licenses to export goods on the military list. In summary the eight criteria and other factors used to assess export licence applications address the following issues:16

    (1)  Respect for the UK's international Commitments, in particular sanctions decreed by the UN Security Council and those decreed by the European Community, agreements on non-proliferation and other subjects, as well as other international obligations.

    (2)  The respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination.

    (3)  The internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts.

    (4)  Preservation of regional peace, security and stability.

    (5)  The national security of the UK, of territories whose external relations are the UK's responsibilities, and of allies, EU member states and other friendly countries.

    (6)  The behaviour of the buyer country with regards to the international community; in particular its attitude to terrorism, the nature of its alliances and respect for international law.

    (7)  The existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.

    (8)  The compatibility of the arms exports with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country, taking into account the desirability that states should achieve their legitimate needs of security and defence with the least diversion for armaments of human and economic resources.

  In short these criteria will have to be signed up to by any British PMC wishing to export arms from the United Kingdom. If a PMC wished to act as an arms broker between two countries who were not members of the EU, under any proposed PMC legislative system of notification, the contract could still be vetoed. Therefore, when examining this, it was decided not to consider further Arms Brokering legislation when considering options for PMC regulation, as it is already accounted for in the Consolidated EU and National Arms Licensing Criteria.


  Attitudes towards PMCs vary depending upon which government department is involved. The FCO appears suspicious of PMCs and views them as nothing more than mercenary and arms dealing organisations17 but it is thought that this stance is easing slightly. However, DFID has employed PMCs on contracts in the past and continues to do so. It is widely accepted that PMCs are able to deliver fairly rapid strategic success on a local scale because of their avoidance of bureaucratic inertia. However, due to their limited resources they are unable to address regional security problems or the underlying causes for instability and unrest. Unless the PMC has access to massive resources it could not possibly tackle a nation's poverty or corruption. It can only stabilise a security situation, allowing other organisations to deal with the causes of instability. PMCs are medium sized businesses, but the very nature of their work and the clients to whom they are contracted means that they sometimes do not get paid. However, their links with mineral extraction companies ensure their parent corporation will usually show a profit in the long run. It is accepted that until there is legislation the very legitimacy of PMCs will continue to remain unclear. Their relationships with the Government are a mixture of tacit support and public indignation. However, it is very possible that military operations in politically sensitive areas such as sub-Saharan countries will increasingly become the target for PMCs due to the lack of appetite from Western Democracies to become directly involved. Until there is legislation, PMCs are "entitled to carry on their business within the law and, for that purpose, to have access and support, which Departments are there to provide to British citizens and companies."18


  1  DFID. Conflict Reduction and Humanitarian Assistance.—reduction.htm (29 April 02).

  2  DFID. Conflict Reduction and Humanitarian Assistance.—reduction.htm (29 April 02).

  3  MOD. The Future Context for Strategic Defence. The Legal Dimension and Ethical Considerations.—context/index.htm. (10 Jun 02).

  4Makki, S. Private Military Companies and the Proliferation of Small Arms: Regulating the Actors. International Alert (01).

  5MOD. The Future Context for Strategic Defence. Defence Diplomacy'. (10 June 02).

  6MOD. The Future Context for Strategic Defence. Defence Diplomacy. (10 June 02).

  7  House of Commons. Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Second Report. (10 Jun 02).

  8  In 2002 the Conflict Prevention Fund amounted to £118 million with a divide of £68 million across the globe and £50m to sub Saharan Africa. In 2003 the fund rises to £138 million with the extra £20 million being split equally between the two areas.

  9  The Defence Advisory Team. Publicity Leaflet . Tailored Assistance in Defence Management. Cranfield Defence Academy.

  10  A subsidiary of the PMC Exploration Logistics Group called Mine Clear and DSL were used for mine clearance in Kosovo.

  11  Brigadier J Riley DSO late RWF.

  12  United Nations. International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries 4 December 1989, Adopted by GA Resolution 44/34 UN GAOR sixth Commission, 44th Session, 72nd plenary meeting, Annex, Agenda Item 44, UN Doc. A/44/766 (1989), Reprinted in UN GAOR 44th Session, Supp No. 49 at 306, UN Doc A/44/49 (1990).

  13  MOD. The Acquisition Handbook. Edition 4, Pages 22 to 23—Tactica Solutions Limited (January 02).

  14  House of Commons. Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Second Report. (10 June 02).

  15  Landmine Action Press Release. UK Arms Company attempts Illegal Landmine Deal. (25 June 02).

  16  MOD. HMG Export Policy. Arms Exports: Licence Criteria. (10 June 02).

  17  House of Commons. Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Second Report. (10 June 02).

  18  House of Commons. Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Second Report. (10 June 02).

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