Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Dogs of Peace

I said I'd write more about mercenaries later. Now it's later.

I should say up front that unlike a lot of other bloggers, I don't have any actual experience as a soldier, mercenary, police officer, etc. I am one of those punk academics who sits in an ivory tower and spouts off untested theories. (If it helps any, I feel a little guilty when I do it.) So, caveat lector imaginarius.

In the nineties, mercenary companies (like Executive Outcomes and Sandline) achieved success in a number of difficult military operations in Africa, including peacekeeping and intervening in civil wars.

Sub-Saharan Africa is perhaps the perfect place for mercenaries to be used, for three reasons. First, African states rarely meet the Weberian standard of having a monopoly on the use of force within their borders. Often, there are non-state armed forces operating with impunity in the hinterlands. Often these forces are ethnic militias led by local strongmen.

Second, even within the state, military capability is rarely concentrated into one body. Because of the ever-present risk of a military coup, 84% of Sub-Saharan African countries have some formal counterweight to military power, such as a presidential guard, gendarmerie or national police force, or some other governmental paramilitary organization. (I gleaned this information from the CIA World Factbook 2002. The 7 states without a counterweight are: Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda.)

Third, it is common in Africa to have foreign military forces operating in one's territory. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Congo Republic currently relies on Angolan military forces to control his country. Idi Amin depended heavily on Libyan troops in the final days of his reign. Leon M'Ba and Omar Bongo, both of Gabon, have relied on France to defend them from overthrow. As Machiavelli wrote five centuries ago, using foreign auxiliaries is a dangerous strategy, since foreign forces are ultimately not responsible to the host government. Unfortunately, in Africa external forces are often more trustworthy than domestic forces.

Mercenary companies, in particular, have proven themselves surprisingly trustworthy. Consider the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002). In 1994, mercenary firm Executive Outcomes was hired by Sierra Leone's government, and they soon brought peace and stability where before had been violence and chaos (although they controlled only parts of the country). After elections in 1996, new president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was pressured by the international community to evict the mercenaries, one of the conditions asked for by rebel forces. Kabbah did so, and formed a unity government with the rebels, who returned the favor by throwing him out in a coup in 1997. Kabbah then hired another mercenary company, Sandline, who with aid from Nigeria restored him to power in 1998. But they did not stay, and Sierra Leone once more became hell-on-earth. UN peacekeeping troops were sent in, but rebel forces routinely humiliated them. Frequent interventions by Britain eventually succeeded in chasing rebel forces out into neighboring countries and ending the civil war. The situation remains tenuous, however, and the UN Security Council voted a few weeks ago to keep UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, fearing that their departure would result in open war breaking out again. Conclusion: the people of Sierra Leone would be much better off today if Executive Outcomes had been allowed to stay.

The funny thing is that UN peacekeeping troops are mercenaries, too. Member states volunteer their armed forces for peacekeeping duty, for which they are compensated. Renting out soldiers to the UN is a big money-maker for third-world countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Jordan. So the blue helmets are mercenaries, too. It's just that they're not as cheap, and arguably not as effective or as trustworthy.

Mercenary soldiers have brought peace to some of the most troubled spots in the world. Especially when considering the alternative, I am happy to know that the Coalition is employing mercenaries in Iraq. Cry reconstruction and let slip the dogs of peace!


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