Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report



76. Michael Bilton described a "nightmare scenario where a company is licensed by the British Government to undertake training of a foreign army, that the trainers become combatants (as was intended with Sandline's South African mercenaries on Bougainville), and that massive overkill leads to heavy loss of innocent life. Where would the finger of blame point: the British Government would surely be in the firing line."[103]

77. The Sandline International operation in Papua New Guinea was opposed by the United Kingdom's regional Commonwealth allies Australia and New Zealand, as well as by the British Government itself.[104] An important objective of regulation must be to ensure that any operation undertaken by a British-based and licensed company is in line with the United Kingdom's overall foreign and defence policy objectives.

78. In Tim Spicer's view, regulation would "lead to much closer understanding and working relationship between national governments or international bodies and the private security sector,"[105] which would decrease the likelihood of conflict between them. We agree that the possibility of conflict between PMCs and government interests lends support to the argument for closer regulation.


79. During the Sierra Leone operation, British forces personnel aboard HMS Cornwall were involved in the repair of a helicopter owned by Sandline International. This raised questions as to how much co-operation existed between the British Government and Sandline International.[106]

80. Detailed regulation which set down clearly the relationship between private military companies and the Government would help to avoid such confusion in future.


81. PMCs sometimes undertake high risk activities in unstable circumstances. We asked Denis MacShane whether he could envisage British armed forces being deployed if a British based PMC undertook an operation which subsequently went badly wrong. He replied that it was a "tough question upon which I would like to reflect," and compared it to situations in which "the NHS so often has to save botched up operations of private hospitals."[107]

82. We have some sympathy with the view expressed in the Diplock Report that "If a man chooses to embark upon an enterprise that is hazardous to himself we do not think that the State is for that reason alone entitled to stop him doing so."[108] It is, however, possible to envisage circumstances in which some kind of Government involvement became necessary. The Government needs to consider when and how it would react to such situations. One advantage of a tough, contract specific licencing regime, combined with a mechanism that vetted companies for competence, would be that it would inhibit the activities of incompetent PMCs and consequently minimise the likelihood of British forces being pushed into involvement in risky and expensive rescue operations.

103   See Ev 67, para. 10. Back

104   See Ev 66. Back

105   Q7. Back

106   Sir Thomas Legg KCB QC and Sir Robin Ibbs KBE, Report of the Sierra Leone Arms Investigation (the 'Legg Report'), TSO, 27 July 1998, para. 7.21 page 75.  Back

107   Q137. Back

108   Diplock Report, para. 11. Back

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