Mercenaries: Still a Bad Idea

In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, Max Boot revisits the idea of sending mercenaries to Darfur in lieu of U.N. peacekeepers. This is something of a pet idea among a category of foreign policy thinkers in the United States who are generally skeptical about humanitarian interventions, but nonetheless want to “do something” about Darfur. Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of realist journal The National Interest, for example, raised this idea at a Cato Institute event in March. Advocates of sending mercenaries to Darfur don’t seem to mind that, in practice, mercenaries around the world tend to be former military officers from apartheid South African army. They also don’t seem to mind that these mercenaries would operate under no jurisdiction or accountability mechanisms, and would serve in Darfur only as long as their shareholders consider it profitable. In point of fact, any mission to Darfur will last many years. Some two million people have been displaced, and somehow need to make it home. To that end, I sincerely doubt that private military contractors will have the kind of staying power as blue helmets, which once invited to a region are known to stay until the job is done–even if that takes decades.

The main hurdle facing peacekeeping operations is in their initial deployment. Every time the Security Council authorizes a peacekeeping operation, the Secretary General must convince member countries to pony up the troops. Indeed, Kofi Annan has likened this part of his job to that of a volunteer fire chief who must beg for firefighters, trucks and hoses. In the case of Darfur, Annan told reporters earlier this week that planning for a peacekeeping force was fairly advanced, and that pending contributions from member states, troops could arrive in Darfur by September. Of course, member states could be stingy and deployment could be delayed. What Boot fails to mention in his column is that this fault does not lie with U.N. itself, but of member countries that duplicitously decry the violence in Darfur, but are unwilling to contribute forces to the last best option for stabilizing the region.