Peacekeeping Accountability and Private Military Companies

Conventional wisdom has been going away from general war for a while now. Low-intensity warfare impacting all four networks of power (economic, political, religious / ideology, and military / violence) will be the dominant form of conflict. In this age of instant communication, increasing diasporas, and short travel times, conflict even in remote regions have some trickle-down effect on the US. Kofi Annan, writing in Foreign Affairs, in discussing his proposed changes to the UN Security Council acknowledges the clear and present dangers of ignoring challenges in the periphery. Thomas P. M. Barnett is apparently making a living, at least in part, on the actual and perceived division between the 'core', 'periphery', and 'non-integrating' gap in his new map.

In the ever expanding area of peacekeeping and policing operations, should the world then rely on private, non-state forces for humanitarian interventions / peacekeeping operations?

Conventional wisdom has been going away from general war for a while now. Low-intensity warfare impacting all four networks of power (economic, political, religious / ideology, and military / violence) will be the dominant form of conflict. In this age of instant communication, increasing diasporas, and short travel times, conflict even in remote regions have some trickle-down effect on the US. Kofi Annan, writing in Foreign Affairs, in discussing his proposed changes to the UN Security Council acknowledges the clear and present dangers of ignoring challenges in the periphery. Thomas P. M. Barnett is apparently making a living, at least in part, on the actual and perceived division between the 'core', 'periphery', and 'non-integrating' gap in his new map.

In the ever expanding area of peacekeeping and policing operations, Kofi Annan's assertion that 'no nation can defend itself against these threats entirely on its own' is apparent with the rise of transnational criminal enterprises and other non-state threats such as terrorism. Coordinated and integrated pre-emptive and reactive counter-measures are required to effectively and efficiently deal with these threats.

Political will is always in short-supply in the democratic West, especially when polls do not show the requisite short-term benefits. The French, despite their rhetoric, has adopted a security policy surprisingly similar to the US: prevention, protection, projection, and dissuasion. However, where is the international community when there are clear signs of genocide or human trafficking or piracy?

Could, or should, the world then rely on private, non-state forces for humanitarian interventions / peacekeeping operations? Considering the identity and role of state, or flagged, soldiers, political friction to deploying troops, and disappearing frontiers, and the blurring of the boundary between peace and war, what really is the difference between a mission staffed with IGO-sanctioned troops and troops from a PMC?

It is important to include factual background information to frame the argument for or against using private military companies, especially considering the recent example of what was bound to happen (see ZapataEngineering). The best starting place is examining one of the most frequent counters to using PMCs: accountability.

In a UN humanitarian intervention, multinational forces are operating outside of their original purpose and identity: territorial defense and protection of their own state's well-being. While this may not seem like much, consider the states providing forces after the flash-bang of the initial  deployment. In the industrialized, democratic West, the civil-military relationship is firmly entrenched. The military is subjugated below the civilian leadership (something clearly absent from other regions, notably the entire Middle East) suggesting the military ultimately receives its identity from the civilian leadership. This mission is usually framed as central to the interests of the state, albeit in recent decades this has been more of a tangential relationship to the state than direct. Assuming this raison d'etre is adequate, what of the state that is not as necessarily enjoined in the transnational threat because it is far removed from the threat (an extremely unlikely target for example, bringing the question of what is neutrality in this modern era)?

Are Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, and Nepal altruistic or mercenarial because in a period spanning the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 they provided over forty percent of all UN military and civilian police contributions? These states are disengaged from the horrors the PKO is preventing or cleaning up by their own needs, similar to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. So why do they participate with soldiers without first-world, professional training, without a first-world professional officer corps, and typically without proper equipment and training to carry out the mission effectively.

Before considering the motivation and ethics of PMC soldiers, let's further the review of HI missions with state military troops suffering from political restrictions on equipment and rules of engagement, and motivation (what has their mission got to do with their identity and purpose?). For example, the Dutch and UN response later known as the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995 resulted in the death of thousands because the protectors were inadequately armed and not capable of mounting an effective defense. 

When balancing benefits and drawbacks of the state solider operating under IGO authority and a PMC operating under IGO authority, the PMC can be more efficacious. The state soldier is at a greater disadvantage, and therefore at greater risk of casualties and failure, because of political restrictions on equipment and engagement policies. The PMC, on the other hand, is allowed to operate with fewer restrictions from less political fallout from appropriate rules of engagement, use of force restrictions, and equipment selection, assuming, of course, proper controls are placed on the company.

In response to another 1994 incident involving criminal behavior by Blue Helmet soldiers, the UN explicitly stated that it is not bound by the Geneva Conventions or the Additional Protocols because it is not a signatory.  While the UN forces ‘are bound to respect the 'principles and spirit' of the laws of war…peacekeepers are not combatants.’ A subsequent bulletin by the UN in 1999 attempted to address this, but it still left major gaps in its application.  In effect, there are no special provisions in international law differentiating UN troops or flagged troops.

The legal oversight, monitoring, and enforcement on IGO soldiers are therefore the equivalent to that over the troops if they were deployed solely by the state. Further concerns about criminal behavior of private forces are common, but flagged troops are not immune to criminal violations. Examples include Bosnia, involving both UN and PMC troops, and the Congo.

The accountability and legal regimes applicable to private military companies, while seemingly absent, do not in and of themselves represent a novel gap. This missing oversight is part of the international system in general and is not explicitly exploited by PMCs. The concern of PMCs should not be accountability but the causes of their re-appearance in the first place. Fixing the leaky pipe is not the issue when there isn't supposed to be water in the water in the first place.