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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 10:36 GMT
Should mercenaries have a peacekeeping role?
Mercenaries working for private military companies could be hired for international peacekeeping duties, according to the UK government.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says that "reputable" private firms may be able to do a better, more cost-effective job than forces like the United Nations. Opponents are calling it an ''abdication of responsibility''.

The proposals are outlined in a Green Paper, prompted by the Arms-to-Africa affair four years ago.

This sparked claims that the UK government had connived with the British private military company - Sandline International - in the illegal export of arms to Sierra Leone.

The use of private military companies raises important concerns about human rights, sovereignty and accountability.

Should mercenaries have a peacekeeping role? Would they do a better job than the United Nations peacekeeping forces?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The US argues that the Geneva Convention doesn't apply to the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay because they're not Afghans. Won't these mercenaries fall outside the Geneva Convention in the same way?
Dave Riley, Cambridge, UK

I think using mercenaries is a very good idea - it creates an opportunity of cutting through the red tape this world seems to live in; getting help to people in need a lot quicker can only be good.
Annie, England

A new low in British politics.

Mike Tsoukias, Texas
Nothing new about mercenaries in foreign conflicts of course. The British rented 30,000 Hessians to fight in the US War of Independence (1776-1781), and look how useful they were. Most deserted and stayed in America. To seriously discuss their use in today's world is a new low in British politics.
Mike Tsoukias, Texas USA

All soldiers are either mercenaries or conscripts. I doubt if many 18-year-olds join up because they feel a moral duty to defend their government's foreign policy. They do it because it's a job and they get paid.
Bryan, UK

The experience of Renaissance Italy should put anyone off the idea of using mercenaries as "peacekeepers", ditto the history of the 30 Years' War in Germany. Mercenaries working for opposite sides had a vested interest in keeping wars going for as long as possible, and made "deals" which cut out the governments who (supposedly) controlled them. Mercenaries also have a habit of overthrowing politicians they don't like (i.e. the ones they're sponsored to protect). Many of the major problems faced by the 18th-century British army came about because Regiments were "private property", and less accountable to London than their "owners".
Len Bowley, England

"Reputable Mercenary" is an oxymoron.

Leigh, USA / UK
What a dumb idea. "Reputable Mercenary" is an oxymoron. Where's the accountability? I thought we claimed to fight "just" wars with soldiers who believed in the cause and the morality of the cause - doesn't fit in with people who fight on the side of whoever paid them. Would they get shot for desertion or breach of contract?
Leigh, USA (UK orig)

If the Thatcher government had suggested this in the 80's, Labour politicians like Mr Straw would have (quite rightly) condemned it as a quite insane application of market forces. Shame on a Labour government for even thinking about this.
Andy, UK

I'm not sure the individual mercenaries would be any more bribable than regular soldiers - after all they're both employees who get shot at, one just happens to work for a company, one for the government. As long as the people they work for can be held responsible for their actions (presumably "changing sides halfway through" would be a breach of contract) then there shouldn't be a problem.

I'd worry much more about the corporate aspects of it - the UK has a rather poor record of holding corporate officers responsible in any way for their actions - look at the railway companies for example. (Maybe military "companies" should actually be restricted to being partnerships where the owners have unlimited liability similar to a lawyer's practice?)

Maybe a special class of company needs to be created, for this purpose so they can be audited and tracked and to clarify their relationship with the government (for whom they act). Essentially they need to be allowed to blow up some things but not be able to plead that that gives them carte blanc to blow up anything they fancy... and that the directors of the company can be held responsible for war crimes as would ranking officers in the army. To some extent the "corporate veil" needs to be thinner for these companies.
Katie, UK

Anyone who kills for money cannot be trusted

Ben Page, UK
If the government hadn't made massive cuts in the armed forces then this question would never have arisen. I do not believe we should use mercenaries. Anyone who kills for money cannot be trusted. I would not want anyone like that representing me or my country throughout the world.
Ben Page, UK

Before people get on a high horse about mercenaries, may I remind you that our own Ghurka regiments are technically mercenaries.
Scott, England

What happens when a very rich Saudi-born loon decides he's going to pay more than you are?
Karl, UK

It look like we are going to privatise everything, even war! What next I wonder.
Nigel, UK

Mercenaries carrying out peace duties. I think I have heard it all now. Maybe Mr Blair needs to look back at history and see what mercenaries have done. They are in it for what they can get out of it. Enough said.
Ali Samhan, UK

A peacekeeping role is one that offers much responsibility. It strikes me that mercenaries would not be trained to handle such a position and could easily be corrupted by power.
Daniel, UK

Enough of this designer diplomacy! If the West really wants to look credible, hiring a bunch of "soldiers of fortune", (no matter that they're made up to look respectable), and getting them to patrol some of the world's most tense borders is a disaster waiting to happen. If the problem is not enough British troops, well tell our so-called European "allies" or other countries to get their fingers out and let them put their boys in the front line, rather than it having to be the Brits carrying the can all the time.
Matthew R. Illsley, England

No. By definition, mercenaries work for money and are therefore open to bribery. Changing their title to "private military companies" does little to resolve the issue - they're still hired guns.
Ed Vista, UK

Why don't we go the whole way and just allow multinationals to hire the mercenaries directly cutting out the government/NATO/UN middleman. After all most of the West's wars are fought to further the needs of big business.
Richard P, UK

I welcome any help that is offered

Chris Gower, London, England
Look at the Yugoslavian conflict, the Middle Eastern conflict, other global conflicts - obviously the UN as they currently stand cannot deal with the amount of global problems we have so I welcome any help that is offered. Bring on the mercenaries. Surely they can't do any worse than the current line up?
Chris Gower, London, England

What happens if the mercenaries get offered more cash by a non-peace keeping faction? Would they break their contracts and switch sides? Could they go on strike for better pay and conditions? A complete lack of loyalty to the cause they are fighting for makes both of these possible.
Mark Davies, UK

Surely the situation in Afghanistan has taught us more than anything the value of long-term strategic thinking. To even consider the use of mercenary forces in a theatre such as this strikes one as being symptomatic of the short-term vision of modern leadership.
Chris Kelly, England

Mercenaries should keep out of it. I believe for them to be involved would cause more problems. At the end of the day individual mercenaries could take sides and cause massive conflict. The UN are doing all they can and generally do a good job.
Mark Blackburn, Essex, UK

I can see no problem with using independent, accountable and professional mercenary soldiers for peacekeeping duties. No one could claim that they are invaders or instruments of a foreign government as they would be mercenaries in the employ of the UN directly, or the host nation. Most western nations feel that casualties sustained in foreign actions are unacceptable due to media pressures. The use of Private military companies would eliminate this problem.
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

I suspect mercenaries are infinitely more bribable than professional soldiers. Doesn't that in itself weaken the case for any peacekeeping roles they may be recruited to perform. After all, what is the likelihood of them swapping sides for an increase in salary. Quite a lot probably.
John McVey, Scotland

All this talk of mercenaries not having loyalty and being unscrupulous. Look at the A-Team - they were a lovely bunch of blokes and were always the goodies. And they always won. And they never got shot. Apart from Murdoch that time, and BA made him better.
Fraser, Essex, England

See also:

13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Peacekeeping 'role' for mercenaries
15 Feb 99 | UK Politics
Mercenaries told to stay clear of Kosovo
23 May 00 | Africa
UK to arm Sierra Leone troops
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