Thursday, January 20, 2005

" Kinshasa, CONGO (Reuters) Combat troops from the 2nd Mitsubishi Mobile Infantry arrived today to join those of the Northrup AirCav division fighting under contract with the UN alongside NATO, EU and American forces struggling to crush the New Lord's Resistance Army rebels responsible for an unprecedented genocide in the Congo basin. President Condi Rice welcomed the move today at the White House, declaring that the new troops " Demonstrated the UN's new commitment to action rather than words..."

A fantasy ? Perhaps. Nevertheless the rise of non-state actors, the decline of fully-functional sovereign nation-states and the anarchic conditions of the Gap are all helping revive the age-old tradition of private military service. Even someone as well-connected as the son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has gotten involved in mercenary activity. In Iraq and Afghanistan the United States already relies heavily upon Private Military Companies to do everything from logistical supply work to actual combat-related security. What conditions will exist a quarter of a century from now ?

The grisly pictures we saw from Fallujah of the burned bodies of American contractors being strung up from a bridge by a frenzied Iraqi mob not only shocked much of the world but drew public attention to the increasingly important role played by private military companies (PMC) in the occupation of Iraq. Once an obscure and shadowy fringe associated with Soldier of Fortune reading amateurs and colorful 1970’s thugs like " Mad Mike " Hoare and French supported mercenary Colonel Bob Denard, PMCs have graduated to the ranks of big business. PMCs like Blackwater, Dyncorp, Kroll, Sandline, Erinys, Global Risk, Meteoric Tactical Services and others followed the trail blazed by South Africa’s defunct Executive Outcomes, offering professional military services and advanced training by contract to legitimate governments. The increasing prominence of PMCs in Colombia, Bosnia, Haiti and Iraq has not gone entirely unnoticed on the political Left. Peter W. Singer of Brookings (author of Corporate Warriors) and left-wing Congresswoman Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.) have called for greater regulation of PMCs and executive accountability for their use . ( go here for Singer's views) To the influential blogger KOS, the PMC employees killed in Fallujah were simply "mercs" with all the sinister implications that the term " mercenary " implies.

Despite sporadic attempts to outlaw private military activities by convention or UN fiat, most of what would be commonly regarded as " mercenary " activity is not illegal or even well-defined under American or international law. Numerous loopholes written into the legal definition in Protocol I. to the Geneva Convention permit governments to legitimize the use of mercenaries on the flimsiest of pretexts. The specific and convoluted definition of mercenary activity is as follows:

"Article 47.-Mercenaries

1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.

2. A mercenary is any person who:

(a) Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict; (b) Does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) 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 ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces"

The definition can be easily skirted by state-actors by any number of ways and by individuals who can attest or demonstrate motivations other than financial gain such as ideology. As one scholar noted, it would only be " stupid mercenaries " who would be prosecuted under these terms. The world’s most famous mercenary unit, the French Foreign Legion, for example, are legally considered " regulars". Military historian John Keegan by contrast, defined mercenaries as "…those who sell military services for money – though also for such inducements as grants of land, admission to citizenship…or preferential treatment" and regulars as "Mercenaries who already enjoy citizenship…but choose military service as a means of subsistence" .

Warfare has historically produced armies organized on one of the following models – Popular, Caste and Professional – each having particular advantages and weaknesses. Popular armies are those which Americans are most familiar due to our recent history of large armies of draftees that dominated battlefields from the Civil War to the war in Vietnam. Popular armies are relatively egalitarian in nature and reflect a broad swath of their society where military service is either obligatory for citizens under conscription or highly esteemed. Machiavelli thought the popular basis of military service to be so sound that much of his Discourses on Livy is a paean to the allegedly virtuous legions of the Roman Republic, where command and glory was a prerequisite for political advancement.

Where ambition or patriotism failed, a popular army could be assembled through conscription that provided a steady and enduring base of the great military powers of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, as De Tocqueville predicted, such mass armies of a popular character have proven to result in savage warfare. Total War and War of Attrition became tempting strategies for generals and statesmen who see mass armies as the key to the enemy’s unconditional surrender. Such strategies are becoming ill-suited to a globalized, interconnected world because of the " blowback" in terms of economic damage that results and the political uproar such tactics tend to cause in parts of the Core, notably Europe.

We need more precise trigger-pullers these days - hence the emphasis Donald Rumsfeld has given to SOCOM troops and strategy in the GWOT. This environment also is causing the rise in PMC's by placing an economic premium on professional military talents. Instead of trying to hold back the sea, the United States should try to incorporate PMC's into the fabric of accepted international norms so that the emphasis is more upon setting uniform standards of behavior and accountability for all fighters on a battlefield, rather than attempting to suppress what nations faced with insecurity will do through the backdoor.

UPDATE: The Pentagon decides to pay top dollar to SOCOM's most valuable soldiers.
The Geneva conventions are written in such a way that our substantial non-citizen soldier population is considered "regular" but the other definitions you cite could easily include them under "mercenary". Interesting.
Hi Jonathan,

As I understand the politics of the time that article was written, the definition was driven by the desire of former colonial nations to suppress the freelancing mercs of subsaharan Africa without shutting their access off to these types of characters if they were needed in a pinch.

Or the retired military personnel of the former imperial powers for that matter.
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Mark, this is the best post I have seen written on PMC's. Greatly informative with lots of good links.
In my next PMC post, I must give props to it.

Did you know Executive Outcomes proposed a plan to the UN (at the cost of about 150 million) to stop the genocide in Rwanda?

Finding out how to get PMC's on the ground in the "Gap" in a manner that can begin to address the security issues the UN can't because of the UNSC will be an interesting challenge, if anyone is ever interested in taking it on.

Consider the Genocide Intervention Network, which is a leading Darfur advocacy group that raised money to support the African Union Darfur force. In a future conflict in Sudan, if that money could instead be raised to secure the services of a PMC, I wonder what the reaction of the UNSC (and the USG) would be.
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