- The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is grateful for the opportunity presented by the Green Paper on Private Military Companies. It has prompted a useful debate on the privatisation of a whole range of military services which has been taking place with little comment, high profile cases such as Sandline in Sierra Leone notwithstanding.
- CAAT's comments are essentially those made in its memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee's Inquiry into the Green Paper. Some changes and additions have been made in the light of the evidence given to the Committee as well as its comprehensive Report, including the Appendices.
- The Green Paper sets out six options for regulation:
- a ban on private military activity abroad;
- a ban on recruitment for military activity abroad;
- a licensing regime for military services;
- registration and notification;
- a General Licence for Private Military Companies / Private Security Companies;
- Self-regulation: a Voluntary Code of Conduct.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade is opposed to all military exports, and as part of this has opposed military training and worked for an end to mercenary activities. CAAT, therefore, favours the first option.
- CAAT believes that it would be a retrograde step to licence, and thereby condone, the use of armed force by bodies other than publicly accountable military, security and police forces. There is also a danger that, to distance itself, a future Government could use a private company to undertake an activity that many members of the public might find objectionable.
- In making its comments, CAAT understands that Private Military and Security Companies accept a wide range of contracts. Guarding UK embassies in Helsinki or Dublin is entirely different to the use of armed force. There is, however, no reason why this should make it difficult to ban or control some of a company's activities whilst allowing others to continue without regulation. An obvious parallel is the many companies which produce both military and civil goods, where only exports of the former are subject to controls.
Prolonging the conflict
- Private companies, no matter how well run, have priorities other than those of Government and are finally answerable to their shareholders or owners. The Green Paper, paragraph 42, quotes a report that says that such companies have a vested interest in maintaining instability so there is an ongoing demand for their services.
- The Government argues that performance clauses in contracts will give companies an incentive to complete the tasks for which they have been employed. It says that in practice it is often the employing party which has a reason for prolonging the contract, for example to exploit mineral sources. CAAT would suggest that there could be a temptation to collude between the company and its employer.
- The Government itself admits that the employees of private military companies have been known to switch sides in a conflict.
- CAAT was also interested in the study undertaken by Cranfield University, and reproduced in the Foreign Affairs Committee's report, not least when it surveyed the opinions of those from the developing world. It is difficult to see anything other than negative consequences stemming from the employment of "immoral organisations ... whose operations are littered with human rights abuses" which exaggerate their own capabilities. The companies are seen as part of the problem, and, therefore, cannot be the solution.
Countering the arguments against a ban
- The Green Paper presents five arguments against a ban on military activity abroad. CAAT does not believe that these represent insurmountable difficulties.
- Difficulty in enforcement Legislation covering the extra-territorial activities of UK citizens and UK-controlled companies is increasingly being enacted. Examples include the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Chemical Weapons Act 1996, the Sex Offenders Act 1997, the Landmines Act 1998 and on bribery and corruption in February 2002. All these would have similar enforcement difficulties. More positively, they also have a deterrent effect and show that the UK considers certain activities undesirable and unacceptable.
- Definitional problems CAAT would like the ban to cover training, strategic advice and other support activities as well as actual combat so there would be no question of a charge of inconsistency. It should not, however, be beyond the capabilities of Government lawyers to draft legislation that did not preclude neutral medical or humanitarian assistance, even when given to combatants.
- Interference with individual liberty The opinions of Lord Diplock notwithstanding, this would seem to be a somewhat specious argument as the areas of life where individual liberties are constrained by government are too numerous to list.
- Depriving weak but legitimate governments of needed support If the international community feels support is necessary, it should find the political will to provide assistance, either nationally or multi-nationally. It should not devolve the responsibility to unaccountable private companies. Furthermore, since companies are not altruistic, they can only be used when someone is willing to pay. This would still mean that, for support to be provided, the international community, or some part of it, would have to meet the bill.
- Depriving UK companies of legitimate business Sales of military equipment can often cause instability and conflict, and are certainly no part of any solution. Furthermore, where there is instability and conflict, legitimate civil business opportunities can be reduced.
- Some of the arguments for the use of Private Military Companies involve speed of deployment. For instance, in discussing, and rejecting, the licensing of individual employees of Private Military Companies, Armor Group talks about deploying sometimes in days rather than weeks. However, good political decisions are not always made quickly and governments, garnering information from embassies, are on the whole likely to make better judgements than companies to which financial concerns are paramount.
- The Foreign Affairs Committee has suggested the re-employment of former armed services personnel to carry out non-combatant training, logistics and security roles. If the Government insists there is a need for UK companies and citizens to fill perceived gaps in military support demand, CAAT considers that the Committee's suggestion is preferable to promoting the privatisation of such tasks.
- The advantages over a private company of such a cadre are that the accountability would be clear and it is likely that it would be more acceptable in the developing world.
- Traditional support, such as aircraft maintenance and pilot training, given when military goods are sold overseas was mentioned in the Green Paper. However, this has not featured large in the subsequent discussion. CAAT assumes such support will also be covered by any forthcoming legislation.
- CAAT is pleased that, in paragraph 48, the Green Paper states "an over-reliance on coercive means of achieving security ... will rarely provide long-term solutions. The easy availability of such means through private companies might represent a temptation for states who did not wish to face the more difficult long-term challenges of creating inclusive and pluralistic political communities."
- The use of mercenaries would reinforce the idea that military solutions can resolve conflict.
- Democracy, peace and justice would be better served if the resources which would otherwise be used by the UK government to control or licence mercenary activities are used to give positive support to or impose sanctions on troubled states or regions. Support could include negotiating political solutions, development aid and assistance to establish independent media; whilst sanctions would include arms embargoes.
- Tighter controls on arms exports (particularly small arms), arms brokers and conflict goods could also do much to lessen the demand for mercenaries. CAAT warmly welcomes the Foreign Affairs Committee's recommendation that "the Government apply extra-territorial jurisdiction to the brokering and trafficking of arms at the earliest opportunity."
International action With all these measures, it would, of course, be preferable if action were taken on an international basis and CAAT would urge the UK government to take the initiative on this. However, lack of consensus should not preclude unilateral action by the UK, or action by the European Union or a group of like-minded states.
- CAAT seeks an end to all mercenary activities. If this cannot be achieved at this point, the following controls are minimum immediate requirements:
- a ban on all combat activities;
- all dealings between government departments and agencies and the military companies, other than operational details, to be in the public domain;
- any contract entered into between a military company and a foreign government to stipulate a cash fee and no other benefit. No other business sharing directors or offices with the providers of security should be allowed to have any dealings with the foreign government concerned for a period of, say, five years. The ownership of the military companies should be made transparent;
- companies to be made responsible under UK law for any breaches of human rights or the laws of war that may be committed by their employees.