Should the UN hire mercenaries?

The UN has been debating and twizzling around the idea of sending 5000 peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the beginning of the year. Reasoning is to put an end to the Central African conflict before it becomes larger than just the central region. There are lots of reasons and underlying causes which started the war [the Rwanda genocide, rebellions, supporting Kabila who just put his own feet into Mobutu’s shoes, high population density and overpopulation leading to the need to grab more land, economic reasons including the vast mineral wealth of the Congo, the need to institute democratic processes in the Congo etcetcetc]. Everyone agrees that peace must come, but of these folks are calling for peace on their terms only.

The US has offered up funds and indirect support, but given the debacle in Somalia, the Clinton Admin refuses to send troops. Other European countries feel just about the same way. Other African countries, including South Africa and Nigeria, are willing to send their troops. Unfortunately, the horrible mess in Sierra Leone [holding UN troops as hostages] has put a real spanner in the works. Now folks are saying that they will not commit peacekeeping troops until there is an effective ceasefire. Meanwhile, hundreds and thousands of people are unable to be productive members of their community; they are unable to live in peace, they are faced with malnutrition, death by raiding rebels or local militias.

My question: Should the United Nations hire mercenaries to establish peace in areas that have fallen completely out of civic order? The arguments put forth in the press yesterday
a. Mercenaries are killers for hire. They will not flinch in face of real combat. They are also disciplined soldiers rather than 13 year olds just given a gun.
b. They are well-trained and cost-effective. They cost less than a national army and they come with no political garbage to drag them down in effectively getting the job done.
c. Mercenary forces are multinational and multilingual.

South African Executive Choices [?] was cited as an effective force.

Is the act of engaging mercenaries to end bloody, senseless
conflicts in keeping with the general “vision” of the United Nations? On the other hand, don’t we owe Africans the same right to peace as done for Eastern Europeans in Bosnia and Kosovo and if hiring mercenaries is the only way to do it, why not?

That would be my advice to anyone who wants the U.N. to hire multinational troops to intervene in Africa. Mercenaries have a bad reputation. So much so, that hiring them is considered a serious violation of international law (can’t remember which treaties are involved…).

Of course, folks who are just like mercenaries but aren’t called that are sometimes considered perfectly okay. Take the Swiss Guards at the Vatican for example. They totally fit the definition of mercenaries, but hey, they’re protecting the Pope.

I suspect there are a lot of U.N. rule restricting who can fight under U.N. auspices. I think each soldier must be paid by his own national government; this is what keeps him from being a mercenary. So on the whole, I think it would be easier, legally speaking, if whichever governments would be willing to pay for such an operation would just send their own boys to do. Politically, it might not be so easy, of course.

Anyway, a hypothetical, very strong U.N. would already have its own multinational fighting force, composed of volunteers from member countries, but paid and trained under U.N. authority. These would fit the “neutral” definition of mercenaries (i.e., soldiers paid by a country other than their own) but not the “nasty” one (i.e. hired killers who do dirty deeds in downtrodden countries for the highest bidder). The U.N. of the real world has no such force, and must rely on soldiers loaned to it by whoever supports the mission.

This has the makings of a fine thread. I would like to know exactly what UN peacekeeping troops are supposed to do?
For example, take Sierra Leone: there is a civil war going on, largely financed by the export of diamonds. The factions boy weapons, recruit local soldiers, and generally make the country unlivable. So, the UN sends in these peacekeeping troops, who are supposed to keep the warring factions apart. Quite apart from the (natural) reluctance of Western politicians to risk the lives of their countrie’s soldiers, what good does this do? UN troops have been in Cyprus now for 25 years, and the Greeks and Turks are still ready to have a go at it.
I suspect that the interminable wars in Africa reflect the basic lack of national identity in such countries as Sierra Leone. In any case, why not stop the thing that is fueling the war in the first place?-that is, force the diamond buyers to stop buying from Sierra Leone.
I don’t see any sense to intervening in such a conflict, without addressing the basic cause of the war.

It might be illegal for the UN to hire mercenaries as such however everyday we see lawyers, corporations, countries etc overcoming illegal activities by such niceties as splitting hairs, calling something by another word etc. Swiss Guards anyone? There are a million ways to describe what you’re doing - that’s why there’s some many lawyers.

Back to hired guns:
According to the documents drawn up, the DRC peacekeeping
force is to work with the Joint Military Command to enforce the Lusaka peace accord. In other words, the UN troops are to act as ump or referree in separating the various fighting factions - the musclemen who make the warring parties go back to their corners or, in the case of the real army muscle in the DRC, make the nonCongolese forces leave: Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda etc. They have all agreed to this, but they haven’t done it. There are also nongovt forces such as local militia and the Hutu who led or participated in the Tutsi genocide several years ago and the Tutsi who have lived in Congo for over 100 years. These groups would be pushed back into noncombat zones as well.
It seems to me that you would want the best organized muscle to send the combattants to their respective corners. In order to maintain the peace, you would need an organized, nonpolitical force that has the experience, talent, bureaucratic structure and moxie/balls to keep the various groups in their geographic spot without the explotation of those inhabitants living there.

Let’s be realistic: the UN will never get approval from its members to establish a separate armed force on a full time, long term basis. That idea is too threatening. However, why can’t the UN contract with some of these groups to act as their junkyard dog in this particular case the DRC.

It is only then [when the bullies aren’t physically fighting] that the real peace efforts [peace and democracy]can be addressed.

The very question assumes that the UN isn’t now hiring mercenaries. Do a little bit of research, and you’ll find that, in effect, they are.

That is, countries that supply troops to UN peacekeeping missions are compensated from the UN peacekeeping budget at the rate of $1000/soldier/month. See the UN’s web page and look for the peacekeeping FAQ. To developed nations, that doesn’t even come CLOSE to covering costs. To developing nations, it’s a nice way of taking the expense of armed forces off budget.

That’s why places like Pakistan and Bangladesh end up supplying peacekeepers to a lot of places very far from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Now, one might be able to make a coherent case for how this is fundamentally different than Hessians fighting in the American Revolution, or Swiss pikemen hiring themselves out, but the parallel is pretty close.

One must also consider that mercenaries are ruled by money. Machiavelli pointed out that if your whole army consists of mercenaries, they can revolt or get paid a higher amount to attack you. This was a fault in the French when their army depended on Swiss pikemen.

I don’t know if mercenaries are the answer, but it’s very clear that almost NOBODY in Europe or the USA is willing to send his kids off to keep “peace” in places like Sierra Leone, where they might face attack by machete-wielding lunatics.

So… since nobody wants to send his kids into such dirty, dangerous conflicts, but nobody wants to stand idly by and watch butchery take place, it may well be that mercenaries are the way to go.

Remember how the old “Foreign Legion” got its name? Napoleon realized that, while Frenchmen would be outraged if therir own sons were sent off to get killed in the jungle or the desert, they’d be happy to let foreign mercenaries do such dirty work. Well, times haven’t changed much- people would STILL be happy to send troops into places like Rwanda and Sierra Leone, provided that the soldiers were hired guns, and not loved ones.

For the type of missions UN troops are likely to be sent on, a mercenary army might well be the way to go.

DRS, I don’t think the compensation from UN (if it arrives) makes the UN forces mercenaries - it’s not as if they’re fighting on the side of the highest bidder…

I can’t imagine the UN hiring mercenaries (“consultants” ?)because of the moral issues (go ahead, laugh at me). What will the mercenaries do when they’re not employed by the UN ? They’ll go find some other war, surely. Apart from the bizarre scenario that might occur if the UN decides to intervene in this war, their participation on one or the other side will make them unsuitable in a number of other conflicts. (“That officer fought against our traditional allies 5 years ago, and now he speaks for the UN ?”) Besides, I have a feeling that the mercenaries don’t exactly have a sterling record on human rights issues ?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the UN needs to speak with some sort of moral authority in any conflict it intervenes in. And mercenaries don’t really fit that image too well.


Sure, but they haven’t actually had a (serious) go at it. The presence of UN troops is an extra incentive not to fight and to try hammering out a deal at the negotiation table instead. And 25 (isn’t it more like 35, now ?) years without fighting could very well be called a success, IMHO. It’s not as flashy as kicking ass, taking names and being home by Christmas, but it buys time for negotiation.

The rôle of UN troops is always tricky. I personally believe they have a much better chance as “peacekeepers”, enforcing even a shaky peace agreement than as “peacemakers”, moving in to actually stop the fighting.

As for Sierra Leone: If there was a peace to keep, I think there would be more takers. A lot of the former Warsaw Pact countries are eager to demonstrate what they’ve become, and this sort of op might be just the thing to build some pride in a new army. Of course, many of them are too poor to even consider sending troops abroad.

Perhaps a cooperation: Some of the richer countries to provide the logistics and a bit of key personnel, while other countries supply the “warm bodies”, so to speak. (I know - it’s not fair. It might, OTOH, be possible).

But without a ceasefire, the operation has to be based on a massive presence of well-equipped troops, armor, artillery etc. I don’t see that happening.

I actually like the idea of the UN having their own separate military force as someone mentioned. IT seems that, will some restructuring, that the UN has the potential to function as a sort of global democracy, and much like the US keeps its individual states from causing too much trouble (yeah we all get along now, but look at the quagmire we started with in the 1780s) so too could the UN function to establish control. This would, of course, mean governments sacrificing some measure of their autonomy which they ain’t gonna be quick to do, but it is a thought.

Am I wrong in seeing a somewhat shaky consensus that it would be ok for the UN to hire private security corporations [aka mercenaries]to do the dirty fighting as peacekeepers?

My first reaction was similar to Spiny Norman: “I guess what I’m trying to say is that the UN needs to speak with some sort of moral authority in any conflict it intervenes in. And mercenaries don’t really fit that image too well.” OTOH, we can’t just sit on our hands while bullies in Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congos [both countries]
fight for the right to empty the public coffers. It’s clear to me that we need muscled referees to push various sides to the corner while we try to figure out the more complex problem of settling the conflict.

EGKelly said: “why not stop the thing that is fueling the war in the first place?.. I don’t see any sense to intervening in such a conflict, without addressing the basic cause of the war.” I agree thoroughly with this as well.

Rev Robinson [? did I get his name right] was very effective in raising anti-apartheid awareness in the US and particularly public awareness of the role American corporations had in sustaining apartheid. South Africa ended up electing the very individual who represented the anti-apartheid movement as President of the republic, Nelson Mandela. Why not continue the good reverend’s work in identifying American corporations who support the kleptocracies in Africa?

After the surprising good results in East Timor, send us Aussies! But seriously, peacekeepers can’t establish peace, they can only provide space for an existing peace. Mercenaries like Executive Outcomes (last seen being shown the door in Papua New Guinea) are good at fighting. Helping nuture an emerging civil order is not their comparative advantage.

My guess is that too many people and countries would worry about the potential power of a standing UN army for it to happen. A ready force (a roster of willing countries on standby) might have a better chance. I nominate the Ghurkas.


Y’all go anywhere for a Foster’s, right?

Fosters: I’ve lived here since I was five and I’ve yet to see anyone drink the stuff.

One fairly obvious problem: peackeeping generally seems to involve large, multi-service forces: we’re talking divisions (or at least battalions or brigades) of troops backed up by artillery, air support, air transport and even naval support. What mercenary force will supply that? Even if you could muster the numbers from mercenaries, how would you ensure that they work effectively together without even the (assumed) professionalism of national militaries?