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UN should pay mercenaries to keep peace Print

By IAN BRUCE -  December 04 2006
The Think Tank

Darfur has become the new Rwanda while the United Nations dithers. The world looks on and does nothing as hundreds of the most vulnerable die daily in squalid refugee camps.
Britain has committed just five military advisers to help alleviate genocide in Sudan and the 7000 African Union soldiers there are too few and incompetently led to counter the twin threats of militia killers and disease.

The UK and the US are already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. France deploys troops only when it suits its national interest. Germany only has a few thousand deemed capable of overseas missions.

Bosnia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the Congo are bloodsoaked reminders that current "civilised" international peacekeeping solutions are pathetically inadequate.

The UN possesses the legitimacy and the moral imperative to intervene. What it lacks are the political will and competent soldiers to make it work. It has money, but the only manpower available comes from poorly-trained armies from the developing world.

It has no quick-reaction force to stamp out the first flickering flames of ethnic cleansing or even to protect aid workers who put their own lives on the line to bring food and emergency medical assistance to those who need it.

In Rwanda an entire people faced annihilation because no-one had the courage or political will to intervene. More than one million died while the UN debated.

There is another way. In Sierra Leone, it spelled the difference between descent into anarchy and holding the line for legitimate government and the rebirth of hope. Its architects called themselves Private Military Contractors. They used to be known as mercenaries.

Executive Outcomes, a South African company, stepped in with a handful of ageing Soviet military helicopters to stall the advance of rebel tribesmen on Freetown.

They ferried ammunition to wavering government forces and carried out airstrikes with a single, overworked gunship. Their action bought time for Britain to intervene with a few hundred well-armed paratroopers.

The difference between modern PMCs and the soldiers-of-fortune who devastated the Congo in the 1960s and Biafra in the 1970s comes down to organisation, discipline and international regulation of their operations.

Dozens of PMCs are operating on official US and UK government and commercial contracts in Iraq, providing bodyguards, advisers and risk-assessment services. Many are former British, US or South African special forces.

While these firms are trying to live down the reputation gained by freebooters such as "Black Jack" Schramme and "Mad Mike" Hoare, the captains of Africa's European soldiers-of-fortune four decades ago, they now emphasise the expertise and speed of response they can bring to bear. By conventional military wisdom, the swift deployment of a 3000-man brigade as trouble brews often defuses a situation which might later take the combat power of a 15,000-strong division. Using PMCs would be faster and less fraught politically. Governments fear the electoral impact of young men coming home in bodybags. PMCs accept the risk of death or injury as part of the contract. PMCs are also cheaper than conventional armies. The UN force in Sierra Leone reached a peak of 15,000 men and cost £450m a year to support. The mercenaries who finally did the job the Blue Helmets could, or would, not, cost less than 10% of that sum.

PMCs do not maintain standing armies or expensive barracks. They keep a core staff of veterans and recruit the bulk of their manpower as and when required.

The UN may have to overcome its natural aversion to hired guns to achieve its aims. As long as they are properly regulated, and subject to the international laws of war, PMCs are no different from any other army and better than most.

Privatising peacekeeping would be a logical and cost-effective step. It is morally unacceptable to watch genocide and do nothing, even if the solution comes in the shape of groups which have been described as "Oxfam with guns and attitude". 

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