August 6, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his biweekly “Conservative Columnist” feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, makes the case for turning to the private sector to aid the stalled peacekeeping effort in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Noting both the failure of the United Nations Security Council to fulfill earlier promises to send a peacekeeping force to the conflict which has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced millions of others and the ambiguities in last week’s unanimous approval of a new “hybrid operation” of UN and African Union forces (dubbed “UNAMID”), Dr. Pham observes:

Even if the peacekeepers are really forthcoming this time, it is nonetheless likely that months will pass before the components of UNAMID can be assembled. The most recent UN resolution set October as the deadline for UNAMID to “ complete preparations to assume operational command authority” (emphasis added) over the already-present AU force and December 31 as the target date for actually assuming authority “with a view to achieving full operational capability and force strength as soon as possible thereafter” (emphasis added). In short, it may be well into next year, if ever, before UNAMID is fully up and running.

Dr. Pham proceeds to outline how many of the challenges in the mission “could be addressed quite satisfactorily by the proven capacities of existing private contractors in the military service provider sector”:

An intelligence service firm, for example, could be tasked with real-time satellite and aerial surveillance of the security situation in Darfur, while contractors from a private military company (PMC) could be given take charge of on-the-ground monitoring of the ceasefire and violations thereof.

 There is ample precedent for this sort of tender, including MPRI’s 1994 contract to put border monitors between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to prevent arms smuggling and DynCorp’s 1998 contract to provide weapons inspectors and verification experts to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo. Private security companies might be employed to secure the humanitarian space for relief agencies and displaced Darfuris seeking refuge in aid centers. Finally, private military firms can be used to provide logistical support for and, in fact, possibly accelerate the UNAMID deployment. The U.S. government and the UN itself have done so early this decade in Darfur and East Timor, respectively

 Despite this reality, the UN generally takes an uncompromisingly negative view of private military service providers, effectively equating all of them with rogue mercenaries. In an ideal world, perhaps resources for humanitarian missions like Darfur would be readily forthcoming from the same UN member states that vote to deploy them. However, in a real world where bureaucratic delays can mean the difference between life and death, the international community would do well to leverage all the resources at its disposal, including those offered by the private sector, to fill the security vacuum.

The full text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “Providing Security While Peacekeepers Tarry,” can be accessed by clicking here.