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Mercenary / Private Military Companies (PMCs)

The term mercenary is applied to a variety of historical situations which do not appear to have elements in common. Casca, the eternal mercenary, pulled the duty of nailing Christ to the Cross and was doomed to spend eternity as a soldier, a career that can lead to billets like sitting on five-gallon water cans in the cold desert wind on Christmas Eve in Saudi Arabia.

The recruitment and use of mercenaries is legally defined in international law, in the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, as well as the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, to which Ukraine is a party. The criteria for a mercenary are taking part directly in hostilities, motivated primarily by the desire for private gain, being paid substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of the party to the conflict, and not being a national of the party to the conflict or a resident of the territory controlled by a party to the conflict. The recruitment and use of mercenaries is prohibited by international law.

With regard to foreign fighters, there is no internationally agreed legal definition of foreign fighters, nor a specific regime governing them. A foreign fighter is generally understood to refer to individuals who leave their country of origin or habitual residence and become involved in violence as part of an insurgency or non-State armed group in an armed conflict. Foreign fighters are motivated by a range of factors, notably ideology, but can also be attracted fight for financial reward. Foreign fighters are obliged to respect applicable rules of international human rights and humanitarian law during armed conflicts.

In Deccember 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the "International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries", which noted that "the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries should be considered as offences of grave concern to all States and that any person committing any of these offences should either be prosecuted or extradited..." This convention defined a mercenary, as a person, who among other attributes "Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar rank and functions in the armed forces of that party..."

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination was established in July 2005 pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/2. It succeeded the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries, which had been in existence since 1987 and was serviced by Mr. Enrique Bernales Ballesteros (Peru) from 1987 to 2004 and Ms. Shaista Shameem (Fiji). In March 2008, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Working Group for a period of three years. In September 2014, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Working Group for a period of three years.

Given that the “modern” national state military dates back only 200 years, the privatized military industry (PMI) is not the departure from tradition that it first seems. But PMIs are not purely mercenaries. They come in three general types: providers, consultants, and support services. Executive Outcomes was a provider (i.e., a combat force). Consultants are more accurately designated military advisors and trainers; for example, Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), a spin-off from the Lockheed-Loral merger, built the Croat army. A representative support PMI is Brown & Root Services, the Halliburton subsidiary that is currently a major contract rebuilder in Iraq.

Estimates of the number of private international security personnel range from 15,000 to 20,000. That is as much as 15 percent of the total US presence of about 130,000 soldiers. These private contractors -- who most often work for corporations, diplomats, or journalists -- have no accountability to the US military. These private security contractors can earn up to $1,000 a day. NATO forces have used private soldiers for security in the Balkans. But the proportion of private security personnel to regular military soldiers was no greater than 10 percent.

Part of the US Occupation force in Iraq, the in-country commander, LTG Sanchez decreed that federal civilians will not carry weapons. But being well acquainted with some fellow federal civilians, if they were armed over here it would scare the "you know what". Consequently, every time civilians leave their "safe area", they must have what are called "shooters" with along. They are sometimes the mercenary security teams who are hired and paid by the contractors. Other times they are young American men and women in the US Army.

Since the end of the Cold War there has been a disproportionate growth in the tail to tooth ratio on the battlefield; that is, a marked escalation in the number of support functions relative to actual combat power. As weapons and equipment become more complex and challenging to maintain and operate, there is a greater willingness to rely on civilian contractors who can provide services ranging from monitoring advanced weapon systems to rendering technical assistance and logistical support. No longer restricted solely to acquisition and logistical functions, contractors often accompany the military into war zones and even into battle.

Is the battlefield contractor, in a sense, a corporate soldier and is the US military becoming increasingly commercialized, privatized, and outsourced? The presence of civilians accompanying the force on the battlefield has legal and ethical ramifications and raises troubling questions relating to issues of chain of command, authority, accountability, force protection, and, ultimately, mission effectiveness. That presence, too, provokes discussion about the growth of the privatized military industry and the reliance on civilians in the realm of military training, international security missions, and peacekeeping operations.

The post Cold War world has given rise both to new problems and new opportunities. In many areas we need to test the received wisdom against an evolving post Cold War reality. The global confrontation of the Cold War and its massive military establishments have been winding down; instead we find ourselves in a world of small wars and weak states. Many of these states need outside help to maintain security at home. There may also be an increasing need for intervention by the international community. At the same time, in developed countries, the private sector is becoming increasingly involved in military and security activity. States and international organisations are turning to the private sector as a cost effective way of procuring services which would once have been the exclusive preserve of the military. It is British Government policy for example to outsource certain tasks that in earlier days would have been undertaken by the armed services.

The demand for private military services is likely to increase. The cases that attract most attention are those where a government employs a private military company to help it in a conflict - as the governments of Sierra Leone and Angola have done. Such cases are in practice rare and are likely to remain so; but we may well see an increase in private contracts for training or logistics. Some of this demand may come from states which cannot afford to keep large military establishments themselves. But demand may also come from developed countries. It is notable for example that the United States has employed private military companies to recruit and manage monitors in the Balkans.

A further source of demand for private military services could be international organisations. The private sector is already active and effective in areas that would once have been seen as the preserve of the military - demining for example. And both the UN and international NGOs employ private companies to provide them with security and logistics support. A strong and reputable private military sector might have a role in enabling the UN to respond more rapidly and more effectively in crises. The cost of employing private military companies for certain functions in UN operations could be much lower than that of national armed forces. Clearly there are many pitfalls in this which need to be considered carefully. There are, for example, important concerns about human rights, sovereignty and accountability.

A private military advisory and training company has the ability to assist a dysfunctional state by providing the initial professional and neutral framework to serve as a core around which new security forces can be formed and moulded. The client government may well have trained and capable personnel, but may lack functioning structures and systems and may be plagued by the lack of mutual trust in the residue of an internal conflict. A professional and neutral (impartial and a-political) organisation can fill those gaps and simultaneously create an opportunity for the client country's own surviving professionals to recover and begin to rebuild.

A private military advisory and training company can equally assist a functioning country that is recovering from a conflict, or which faces a sudden threat and must quickly build up armed forces. More often than not a country in such a position will need foreign assistance, but may not be keen on committing itself to any one country and may then opt for a private company. It may also be acquiring equipment from countries antagonistic to each other, which could create real practical problems where training teams of those countries were to encounter each other on site. A neutral training team from a private company can offer real advantages in such a situation.

Today's world is a far cry from the 1960s when private military activity usually meant mercenaries of the rather unsavoury kind involved in post-colonial or neo-colonial conflicts. Such people still exist; and some of them may be present at the lower end of the spectrum of private military companies. One of the reasons for considering the option of a licensing regime is that it may be desirable to distinguish between reputable and disreputable private sector operators, to encourage and support the former while, as far as possible, eliminating the latter.

MPRI was purchased by L3, DynCorp was purchased by CSC, and Vinnell was purchased by Northrup Grumman.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:24:09 ZULU