Saviors for hire
Owned and published by UMHB, The Bells is a biweekly publication. This content was previously published in print on the Opinions page. Opinions expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff or the university.
Nobody wants to do what is necessary to stop the world’s worst conflicts.
These days, it’s popular to talk about ending genocide in Sudan or rescuing child soldiers in Uganda. United Nations bureaucrats talk of peace through endless “conferences.” Facebook groups urging an “end” to the latest atrocity make people feel better by signing up. Little is accomplished. Wars continue, families still die, and children still fight.
There is one way to end much of it. It is not popular, politically correct, or good for Facebook groups. But it works, and it has been done before.
Elizabeth Rubin, contributing writer for the New York Times, documented the stunning course of a civil war that tore apart the coastal African nation of Sierra Leone from 1991 to 1995. A nasty group of rebels known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) threatened to overrun the country. Composed partly of drugged-up child soldiers, the RUF took particular delight in chopping off the limbs and genitals of civilians they came across. Often they would amputate the breasts of nursing mothers or smash their kneecaps with hammers.
As the homicidal rebels approached the capital of Freetown, help seemed impossible. The UN and powerful nations eagerly sent promises, “concerns,” and platitudes, but no troops. So the president of Sierra Leone turned in desperation to his last resort.
He contacted a private security company called “Executive Outcomes (EO),” composed mostly of former South African special forces soldiers. For $15 million and diamond mining concessions, EO agreed to do what the UN would not: rid Sierra Leone of the psychotic arm-choppers.
Against a rebel force numbering in the thousands, EO deployed 300 elite soldiers and a helicopter gunship. Within a month, they had almost completely driven the RUF from Sierra Leone. No more limbs were chopped off or children abducted. The country held its first presidential elections in almost 30 years. In some villages, people lined the streets to cheer these “mercenaries” who stopped the carnage.
Unfortunately, it did not last, as the UN and the World Bank ordered Sierra Leone to cancel its contract with Executive Outcomes. When the mercenaries left, the rebels returned. Only this time, they took over the country and inaugurated a reign of terror.
Sierra Leone should serve as a lesson. When genocide, civil war, or limb-chopping happens, the solution is not to negotiate, hold conferences or sell T-shirts. The best, most effective response is overwhelming military force. Because the president of Sierra Leone knew that, 300 mercenaries did in a month what the UN, the “international community,” and every advocacy group on the planet could not. Had Executive Outcomes been allowed to stay, a lot of lives—and limbs—might have been saved.
The UN does not have the will to do what is needed to stop many conflicts. Member nations are reluctant to commit troops to peacekeeping operations in active war-zones. Furthermore, when missions are actually authorized, they are often horribly undermanned, poorly-equipped, and operate under such strict rules of engagement they cannot actually fight anyone.
The time has come, then, to stop opposing mercenaries and start paying them to do something useful. For a fraction of the cost of an ineffective peacekeeping mission, a mercenary force could crush the genocidal janjaweed militias in Sudan or destroy the child-kidnapping Lord’s Resistance Army around Uganda.
This is, of course, not a popular solution. It was probably easy for the nitwits at the UN, safe in their offices, to essentially hand Sierra Leone over to the RUF—their arms weren’t going to get chopped off—just as it is easy to condemn using mercenaries as terribly unsafe. But the world is an unsafe place, and it will sooner improve when a consensus is reached that some problems can only be solved at the point of a gun—even a gun for hire.