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Debate: Mercenaries

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Are mercenaries and private military contractors a good idea?

Background and context

Mercenaries, or hired soldiers, have long played a part in warfare. The Persians used 4,000 Greek mercenaries against Alexander the Great; the incessant war between the city states of Renaissance Italy was conducted by condottieri, who offered their services to the highest bidder.
The English East India Company employed its own private army to gain control of the subcontinent. It is only with the development of modern centralised nation states over the past two centuries that large national standing armies have replaced mercenaries. However, the use of hired private armies has risen again over the past two decades. Weak states unable to attract, train and pay recruits, as well as developed states forced to economise, increasingly outsource military duties. The use of mercenaries is so widespread that many governments are calling for their official recognition and laws to regulate the conduct of privatised warfare. Those who see the use of mercenaries as legitimate argue that they are an inevitable and effective aspect of modern warfare and that international recognition would open the way for regulation, which would make clearer the lines of responsibility. Opponents stress the difficulty of making private armies accountable for their actions, particularly given their tendency to ignore other areas of international law.[1]

Contents

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Value: Are mercenaries valuable in 21st century conflicts?

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Yes

  • Mercenaries are a flexible, efficient tool in war. Mercenaries, or Private Military Contractors, can be hired at short notice to carry out specific missions, to reinforce traditional troops where greater numbers are required, or to guard contractors during reconstruction after national armies have been withdrawn.[2]
  • Mercenaries are well trained and responsible to national governments. In fact, as mercenaries operate on short-term contracts there exists a strong incentive to perform effectively and carefully to ensure they are hired again. Most mercenary organisations recruit ex-soldiers with combat experience and ex-policemen trained in bodyguarding. In 2004 more SAS soldiers worked privately in Iraq than served in the army. Moreover, governments increasingly recognise the quality of mercenaries. An American PMC - Military Professional Resources Inc - trains the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on behalf of the US Government. The British Ministry of Defence now allows soldiers yearlong sabbaticals to work as mercenaries in the hope they will return having made their fortunes. This official recognition suggests that mercenaries have shed their “dogs of war” image. They are no longer disreputable maverick figures operating in failed states but highly trained professionals endorsed by national governments.[3]
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No

  • Mercenaries are more likely to act lawlessly and without accountability: Mercenaries are not bound by the same rules and standards of conduct as conventional troops. When problems arise it is often unclear whether army representatives or PMCs should be held responsible, leaving a black hole of accountability. Moreover, the lack of regulation means that there is no means to ensure mercenaries breaking laws are disciplined. Currently most mercenaries can operate outside martial law with relative freedom.[4]
  • The possibility of mercenaries pulling out will always remain a risk: PMCs are not fighting for their own country so they can never be threatened with a charge of desertion. If they chose to cease fighting, they could not be brought to account by a national government. As such, encouraging greater reliance on mercenaries is destabilising in the long term.[5]
  • There is no guarantee of the quality of contracted soldiers: Whereas the soldiers in national armies usually receive years of intensive military training and undergo various assessments, anyone can work for a PMC. The desire to increase competitiveness has resulted in PMCs driving down costs by recruiting cheaper, less experienced staff ill-suited for warfare. Even if the mercenaries are former soldiers from national armies, these veterans may have been kicked out for a reason. This problem cannot be solved by regulation, as it is unlikely to extend as far as requiring standardised training.[6]
  • This new responsible image is not entirely justified: Executive Outcomes may have had some success but white South African ex-secret policemen predominantly staff the organisation. One of EO’s chiefs was Eeben Barlow, a former officer in the 32nd Battalion - an assassination squad that operated under Apartheid. Similarly, the alleged involvement of Simon Mann, founder of PMCs EO and Sandline International, in a recent plot to oust President Obiang in Equatorial Guinea shows that even mercenary organisations considered legitimate by the British Government remain staffed by corrupt opportunists. It is highly morally questionable whether organisations with such a profound disrespect for the sovereignty of other nation states should be involved with the training of our armed forces, let alone fighting alongside them.[7]


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Cost effectiveness: Are mercenaries cost effective in conflicts?

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Yes

  • Mercenaries are a cost efficient way of fighting wars: Although expensive to hire, the government does not have to cover the cost of training, housing, pensions or healthcare. Mercenaries, unlike regular troops, are only paid for the days on which they are used. Military commanders can economise by reducing the size of standing armies and outsourcing roles to mercenaries as required. For example, the US army is around a third smaller than it was in the 1991 Gulf War. This saves taxpayers’ money and avoids the build up of conventional troops, which, in the past, has contributed to the development of arms races.[8]


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No

  • Mercenaries are not a good idea to hire for war. Just because they are bound by contract does not mean that they will fight. plus, the mercenaries do not care about the country they fight for, all they do is fight for money. What's stopping a hostile country from just paying them off.


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Locals: Do mercenaries arouse less hostility with locals?

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Yes

  • Mercenaries arouse less local hostility than soldiers. In ethnic conflict they are perceived as less partisan. The fact that civilians to some extent do not connect mercenaries with a particular ideological cause, invasion or civil war makes them ideal for protecting safe areas and policing reconstruction projects. For example, PMC Global Risk Strategies successfully guarded the Green Zone in Baghdad, the sealed off section inhabited by coalition staff.[9]


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No

  • Unfettered mercenaries often cause serious tensions with locals: Whilst mercenaries appear to be less disliked than American troops in Iraq, in parts of Africa their activities have increased tension. The reputation of a national government is often stained by the activities of hired mercenary groups. The involvement in national military operations of white supremacist adventurers and discredited individuals like Simon Mann is used by men such as Mugabe to challenge the legitimacy of British policy in Africa.[10]


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Weak states: Are mercenaries good for weak states without national armies?

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Yes

  • Weak states rely on mercenaries when they lack an army. Whilst over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries many nation states have achieved sufficient unity to rely on their own armies, there remain a large number of weaker states unable to monopolise the use of force. Where no trained army exists mercenaries provide the only way to prevent violent opponents toppling administrations. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw believes that in an era of “small wars and weak states” mercenaries have a “legitimate role”. Executive Outcomes (EO) saved thousands of lives in Sierra Leone by protecting the regime against the murderous rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. Mercenaries may be the only way of providing short term security guarantees to allow a government to establish itself without relying on warlords or one side of an ethnic conflict. This could be the only way out of a pattern of coup and counter-coup.[11]


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No

  • Mercenaries are counterproductive in unstable states: By relying on hired mercenaries weak states encourage private competition rather than reinforcing their own nascent armies. The emergence of powerful local, as well as international, mercenary organisations frustrates the ultimate goal of securing a state monopoly over the use of force. There are many cases where mercenaries have remained in a region long after their official contract ended in an attempt to exploit regional instability in order to further a particular ideological cause or reap financial reward. Colonel Bob Denard fought vaguely “against Communism” in Africa and attempted to overthrow the government of the Comoros Islands off Madagascar on four separate occasions. Similarly, Colonel “Mad” Mike Hoare tried to topple the government of the Seychelles in 1981, arriving with 43 mercenaries disguised as rugby playing members of a beer-tasting club named The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers.[12]


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Law: Are mercenaries consistent with the law?

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Yes

  • Mercenaries should be ensured the protection of the law. This renders them and others highly vulnerable. PMCs are still not allowed to use heavy weaponry, such as bazookas, and cannot rely on help from the military. Unless they are given recognition and protection there is a danger they could pull out of the most dangerous areas, seriously compromising their employers who may well feel unable to continue without their protection. For example, Halliburton could cripple US forces if it withdrew its support infrastructure in Iraq. Mercenaries should, therefore, be given legitimacy and recognition in order to prevent this from happening.[13]


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No

  • Mercenaries are bought, do not protect the powerless. Those without influence and power are at risk of being left without protection. The most influential actors, large multi-national companies, no longer have to pressure governments so hard to provide security guarantees for everyone because they can buy their own. That leaves those without influence or money high and dry.[14]
  • Governments rely on mercenaries at a expense of developing armies. The availability of mercenaries provide invaders and local governments with the unfortunate opportunity to shirk their responsibility to provide trained, national soldiers.[15]
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Pro/con sources

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Pro

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Con

See also

External links

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