As the United Nations launches a high-level review to
address how it can better keep the peace in the 21st
century, a new initiative has emerged that proposes
fielding forces of private soldiers to prevent
conflicts in Africa and elsewhere from spiralling out
The initiative is aimed at addressing the widely
acknowledged failings of current UN peacekeeping
efforts while avoiding the drawbacks of deploying
private mercenary forces.
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, announced the
creation of a 16-member review panel this week that is
expected to include a new look at the possibility of
hiring private security forces in UN-led peacekeeping
The proposal for dealing with low-intensity conflicts
in Africa and elsewhere comes from a group called the
Global Security Partnership Project. Its principals
are two Britons, Edwyn Martin and Tobias Masterton,
and a Canadian, Michael Hepburn.
UN officials privately concede there are severe flaws
in UN-led peacekeeping efforts, agreeing that it takes
too long before forces deploy and that the quality of
the peacekeepers, most now drawn from poor countries,
is often questionable.
But many governments are opposed to using private
soldiers, some fearing what they call the
"Frankenstein Problem" - that mercenary groups, once
in a conflict area, are difficult to control and
barely accountable. According to Mr Martin, the
private soldiers now offering peacekeeping services
are "there for either money or adventure, not for the
benefit of the international community".
Under the proposal, the missions would be run by a
private not-for-profit company established under
English law, rather than a traditional
non-governmental organisation. This "would bring the
procedures and disciplines that come with the private
sector without the baggage attached to being an NGO",
Mr Martin said.
The company would establish a database of up to 5,000
former soldiers willing to work for UN daily rates,
from which 200 or so could be drawn at short notice to
deal with "brush fire" disputes before they get out of
hand. "Two hundred armed men deployed early on can
make a big difference," Mr Martin said. He said he was
confident there would be no shortage of people who
would make themselves available on a voluntary basis,
in the same way that mountain rescue teams and
Britain's lifeboat crews were volunteer forces.
The decision of when to deploy would be taken by a
council of trustees composed of respected people from
around the world. Equipment would be leased under an
arrangement with Repaircraft, a British company.
To try to cut down the response time of peace
missions, the UN opened an emergency logistics base
and storage site in Brindisi, Italy in 2001. About
$130m of equipment was purchased, but it has been
used. "The cookie jar is now empty," said one UN
official. "Another mission would leave us with a big
While many member governments oppose the use of
private companies in combat roles, they have not
objected to their use in supporting peacekeeping
missions. Yet the line between support and combat
operations is blurred. At least two companies
supporting UN missions have used deadly force: DSL, a
British subsidiary of Armor Holdings, which provided
armed guards in Angola, and Dyncorp of the US in East
There is a precedent for private sector intervention
in peacekeeping by non-profit groups. The Centre for
Humanitarian Dialogue, a Swiss foundation funded
mostly by European governments, brokered a ceasefire
agreement in December 2002 between the Indonesian
government and rebels in the province of Aceh.
The centre also ran the agreement's international
monitoring operation, using about 50 out-of-uniform
troops seconded mainly from the Thai and Philippine
armed forces. The monitors were withdrawn in May as
the agreement collapsed.
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