Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Cote d'Ivoire/Pan Africa: using mercenaries

I mentioned mercenaries very briefly in the last post ... but I've come across so many stories about mercenaries recently that I thought I would point some of them out here.

Just to make clear ... some of the 10 men arrested in France are characterized as mercenaries ... Ibrahim Coulibaly, the former army master sergeant, is reportedly under investigation for "recruiting mercenaries".

Let's begin the story ...

Late last month, a South African man pled guilty and was fined for recruiting mercenaries to fight for the Ivorian government during the civil war.

About a week after that, this opinion piece appeared in the South African paper, "The Star". The writer, Peter Fabricius, posed a provocative argument -- why not use mercenaries in situations where nations aren't willing to send troops to stop the fighting (eg. Liberia)? At the time he wrote this piece, Liberia was in chaos and there seemed no hope of getting any peacekeepers there. Though the situation has gotten better since then, it's still far from ideal as evidenced by recent reports of fresh fighting.

Fabricius offered the following defense:
In 1995, the SA [South African] security/mercenary company Executive Outcomes, hired by the legitimate government, decisively defeated the repugnant RUF rebels in Sierra Leone with a few hundred men and a few helicopters. Then Sierra Leone succumbed to political pressure to get rid of the South African "dogs of war" - and promptly suffered major reversals.

And EO disbanded because of the above-mentioned Foreign Assistance Military Act [1998 law which bans South Africans from acting as mercenaries].

The Sierra Leone/EO deal in 1995 could instead have become a model for future contracts between international organisations like the UN and Ecowas or individual governments, on the one hand, and private military/security companies on the other.

Many would protest that mercenaries cannot be trusted to fight for the right cause. True. But they are going to do that anyway. If the international community wants to get the dirty work of war done when no one else will do it, it may have no alternative but the mercenaries.

These private military companies - as they prefer to be called - would be contracted by the UN, etc, to do a specific job and would be subject to the same penalties as anyone else who breaks the law. The threat of losing future contracts would be a strong incentive to stay legal.
This isn't as crazy as it sounds. Consider the following comment as reported in the lastest issue of Newsweek.
This [using mercenaries] is no longer necessarily a bad thing, says Peter Takirambudde, Human Rights Watch's executive director for Africa. The old notion of the mercenary as a hired killer is outdated. Properly managed and given a specific mandate by international organizations or sovereign governments, Takirambudde believes, private armies can be a useful tool in coping with the world's humanitarian emergencies. "It is not a crazy idea," he says. "Times have changed."
There was a story reported back in early August, which I noted here, about a miliary company offering to arrest Charles Taylor so he could stand trial in Sierra Leone ... and also offering to send in 2,000 men to "enforce" peace in Liberia. The company is under investigation by US and UK authorities. Most interesting bit ... the report said that the company had initially offered its services to Charles Taylor.

It's that last issue, selling your services -- loyalty -- to the highest bidder, that makes people uncomfortable about the whole idea of using mercenaries.

Here's a bit more from the Newsweek article about the extent to which private military companies are being used by the US government.
Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution in Washington estimates that, after the latest gulf war, there are five times as many military contractors on the ground in Iraq as in 1991. Between 1994 and 2002 the U.S. Department of Defense entered into more than 3,000 contracts with private military companies for a total value of roughly $300 billion, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a journalism watch group in Washington, D.C. Contractors are training security forces in Iraq, flying gunships in Colombia, training civilian police in Bosnia and Kosovo and protecting Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.
The idea that you can pay a group to go and stop the killing is appealing ... but also highly problematic as highlighted in this piece titled "Mercenary as Future Peacekeeper?". Here's a bit from the article.
Maj. Roger D. Carstens, an active-duty commander of a U.S. Special Forces company at Fort Bragg, N.C., and former American military official in Bosnia, said that when it comes to peacekeeping matters, private military companies can do both harm and good.

... Carstens also noted that these firms do not necessarily live up to the code of conduct governing the U.S. military and others top forces around the world. This is important because the peacekeeping operations take place in countries where the rule of laws has collapsed, making local law enforcement difficult.

In addition, established international laws for dealing with crimes committed by traditional soldiers do not clearly apply to those without a state, a fact that has resulted in problems in the past.

Several employees of DynCorp working in the Balkans are alleged to have been involved in running a child prostitution ring. The company fired the whistleblower that brought attention to the problem and took the men back to the United States and out of the hands of local law enforcement authorities. They were never prosecuted.

In the case of peacekeeping, private military companies contend they can provide services and do things that Western governments have become unwilling to pursue when strategic concerns are not at risk. However, those that follow the issue see the profit motive as both a motivator and a risk when it comes to humanitarian missions.
I have to point this out .... the group which represents military service companies is called the "International Peace Operations Association".