Commentary

Outsourcing Peacekeeping

Is the world ready to let private military and security contractors participate in U.N. peace operations? When I ask this, I’m not talking about Hollywood celebrities calling for the firm formerly known as Blackwater to work in Darfur.

In one respect, this is a trick question as contractors have been and are involved in such operations.

In the 1990s Defense Systems Ltd. provided security for the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lifeguard protected World Vision’s operations in Sierra Leone. The U.N. World Food Program employed Hart Security. In East Timor, DynCorp provided logistics for the United Nations while KwaZulu Natal Security and Empower Loss Control Services provided local intelligence. In addition, demining has been contracted out to PMCs like ArmorGroup and Ronco (both bought up by Group 4 Securicor) as well as Saracen in virtually all recent U.N. operations, and DynCorp is one of three main preselected contractors for the U.S. State Department’s mine-action programs.

The U.N. Security Council routinely turns to the commercial sector for the outsourcing of police, such as the International Police Task Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The U.S.-funded Pacific Architects and Engineers along with International Charter Inc. of Oregon provided logistical support to the 1999 Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group missions to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Indeed, if one looks at the Feb. 24 U.N. list of registered vendors, one finds such firms as Aegis Defense Services Ltd., DynCorp International, Hart Security, Ronco, and Steele North America, to name a few.

But beyond that, the subject of contractors being used as soldiers in peace operations, and not just providing support, is getting increasingly serious consideration. Remember that at the height of the Rwanda crisis, the Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Kofi Annan became so desperate for troops that he even considered hiring DSL to stop the genocide. Not one of 19 states then participating in the U.N. Standby Arrangements System chose to contribute military forces. Ultimately, Annan did not hire a private firm, saying, “The world may not be ready to privatize peace.”

While the world still may not be willing to privatize peace, given that the word means not just transferring a capability to the private sector but giving it up entirely, many seem willing to subcontract it out.

Increasingly, military professionals seem to think that the idea is viable.

In a 2005 paper published by the Canadian Forces College, Lt. Col. Daniel Lachance wrote, “The United Nations needs experienced soldiers to fulfill an ever-growing demand for peacekeeping troops but is rarely able to get states to commit to urgent missions. One possible solution is to hire a PMC as a U.N. (Rapid Reaction Force) to stabilize the situation until professional peacekeepers can be deployed. The private military industry is ready and capable for such an assignment as witnessed by the wealth of experience that has been gathered by PMCs in support of U.N. missions.”

Consider that one traditional big problem for a U.N. peace operation is merely getting the Security Council to authorize one. Rare is the day when the council is prepared to live up to its role as the final arbiter for international peace and security challenges.

The United Nations needs to radically change the way it does such operations. Many alternatives have been suggested, but one would be to provide the United Nations with its own RRF to enforce its own resolutions. This is hardly new. In 1992, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced a report titled “An Agenda for Peace.” A key recommendation was the call for the creation of a U.N. standby military force.

Another Canadian Forces College paper, written by Cmdr. Darren Garnier and published in 2006, said that as “PMCs are considered for Standing RRF providers, they would require a level of accountability necessitating strict U.N. oversight on recruiting, training and leadership standards.”

He also notes that the concept of the private sector profiting from peace operations has the potential to radically transform the very nature of peace operations, opening up all sorts of new options. For the United Nations to leverage the potential of an agile and flexible PMC option, the organization must evolve from the institution it is today into something more representative of the dramatic realignment within the international power structure of states.

The benefit of that, while it would send neoconservatives into hysterics, would be to move the United States away from its current role as international policeman, thereby permitting a more cohesive and coordinated U.N. response to addressing security concerns.

Last year, in the Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Malcolm Patterson wrote that contract forces appear constitutionally feasible within the prerogatives the Security Council may choose to exercise in Chapter VII of its charter.

As Article 29 of the charter allows for the creation of subsidiary bodies for the performance of Security Council functions, this would allow for the formation of a contractor directorate. This would have two main responsibilities. The first would be assessment of tenderers. Successful applicants would be graded through a certification system that would accredit those holding competencies required to carry out a wide spectrum of peacekeeping and intervention deployments. Contractor companies would bid on fixed-term contracts for which they would periodically retender to the contractor directorate in open competition.

The second responsibility would be the administration of a criminal-justice apparatus. While states have always been reluctant to allow other authorities to exercise criminal jurisdiction over their troops, the better militaries have created standards of process and substantive law that could be adapted to deliver encouraging results in the contractor context.

Corporate forces would, after all, face many comparable scenarios, although the trial of a civilian (rather than military) contractor within a court having military characteristics will arouse criticisms. But given that the United States has starting using the Uniform Code of Military Justice to investigate and prosecute contractors accused of crimes, it is at least feasible.

Furthermore, contractors deployed in any future U.N. operations could be subject to status-of-forces agreements, just as the United States has done in the one it negotiated with Iraq.

U.S. Navy veteran David Isenberg is a military affairs analyst. He is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and the author of the book, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq