The nature and role of paid foreign forces have altered
considerably in the late twentieth century. 'Military companies' -
private firms providing active military assistance, in some cases
involving combat - have exploited the increasing reluctance of
Western governments and multilateral organizations to intervene
directly in civil conflicts. As a result, their influence has
increased. David Shearer argues that the debate over the use of
these companies - notably the South African firm Executive Outcomes
(EO) - has not, however, kept pace with their development.
Companies such as EO are widely seen as merely modern-day mercenary
outfits exploiting violence for private gain. Shearer contends that
the need to recast the debate on military companies is urgent.
These companies are not a passing phenomenon; if anything, their
influence and activities are set to increase in the next century as
Western military retrenchment continues. Efforts to restrict the
activities of military companies by drafting international or
domestic legislation have to date been ineffective, and are likely
to remain so. This paper - the first detailed analysis of the
private military sector - argues that dismissing it as an
unpleasant aberration is misleading and unhelpful. Military
companies can claim success in achieving immediate strategic
objectives. The author cites two examples at length - EO's
operations in Angola in 1993-94, and in Sierra Leone in 1995-96 -
and suggests that military force can stabilize a crisis. Engagement
with military companies may create possibilities for them to
complement international and regional peacekeeping efforts.
Traditional UN peacekeeping is flawed in terms of its speed of
mobilization and lines of authority, and is hampered by
interference from contributing countries. The private sector may
avoid many of these difficulties. Private Armies and Military
Intervention concludes that transparency of operations and business
relationships is a crucial first step towards ensuring the
accountability of the private military sector. However, a coherent
policy towards military companies has yet to be formulated. Current
frameworks under international law are insufficient and
inappropriate. Characterizing the activities of military companies
as 'mercenary' offers few useful means to tackle the issue within a
framework of international policy. What is required is a more
pragmatic approach that assesses the effectiveness of - and engages
with - private armies.
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