Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Are Private Military Companies the solution to Africa's insecurity? (By Nkanyiso Sibanda)

The role of Private Military Companies (PMCs) in the implementation of defense, development and security in Africa is the subject of much contentious debate from different people. In some circles, PMCs are seen as necessary and major role players in the implementation of defense, development and security in Africa. This is more so “given the lack of interest by key powers in solving conflicts in Africa” as well as the inability of states to contain or counter internal violence. As a result, many governments in Africa have engaged the services of internationally operating PMCs such as (among others) the American firms Military and Professional Resources International (MPRI), Dyncorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE), while more ‘traditional’ security companies such as Saracen, Gray Security and others were active in a number of countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Africa (Gumedze, 2007).

The ‘success’ of Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone, in contrast to the failure of key powers to solve the conflicts therein, is often cited as an example of how PMCs can be a solution to Africa’s insecurity. United Nations peace-keeping missions in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have outsourced their supply and needs to PMCs (Gumedze, 2007). The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea contracted a commercial de-mining team to replace the Slovak military de-mining group. PMCs are considered by some as more reliable, effective and neutral than state security services controlled by African governments (Brooks, 2002:1).

While PMCs have been central to peace efforts in some African conflicts, this has not been entirely the case with others. Mercantilism, coup plots, the proliferation of arms, Human Rights violations, War Crimes, lack of accountability and the worsening structural paralysis in Africa’s weak states have been cited as the darker side of PMCs, which has threatened stability to African countries. They have been blamed for instigating conflicts, human rights abuses, for intensifying wars, for dealing in conflict diamonds, for landmines, for child soldiers, selling small arms to warlords and even for neo-colonialism (Brooks, 2002:1).

Evidently, the usefulness or not, of PMCs regarding solving Africa’s conflicts is a topic of much debate. This paper seeks to engage that debate and analyze whether or not PMCs provide the solution to solving conflicts in Africa. It will proceed as follows: a brief definition of PMCs will be given. Here, the differences between PMCs, Private Security Companies (PSCs) and mercenaries will be highlighted. Focus will then shift to the advantages and disadvantages of PMCs in solving some conflicts in Africa. While reference will be made to the involvement of PMCs in some other conflicts in Africa, attention will be specifically on the involvement of Executive Outcomes (EO) in Angola and Sierra Leone. The paper will then conclude by showing that PMCs can be the solution to African insecurity, more so given the lack of interests by key powers in solving conflicts in Africa.

What are Private Military Companies?
According to Spear (2006:7), PMCs are “corporate entities that provide military expertise and other professional services essential to combat and warfare.” Gumedze and Baker (2007:2) proceed further to state that “other professional services” is a reference to activities that are extremely open ended and in some cases, uncomfortably close to mercenary activities. Singer (2001:2) forwards that PMCs are “corporate bodies that specialize in the provision of military skills – including tactical combat operations, strategic planning, intelligence gathering and analysis, operational support, troop training and technical assistance.” Makki (et al) (2004:4) is of the opinion that PMCs are corporate entities that provide “offensive services” designated to have a military impact in a given situation that are generally contracted by governments. Vines (1998:1) defines PMCs as
“[T]hose organizations which do more than provide passive assistance in areas of conflict. They may provide training and equipment to extend the capabilities of their client’s military resources, providing them with the strategic or operational advantage that is necessary to suppress their opposition or, going even further, play an active role alongside the client forces, as force multipliers, deploying their own personnel in the field of conflict, but with the strict caveat that they are acting within the chain of command of the client’s military hierarchy.”
Beyani and Lilly (2001) identify PMCs as registered corporate bodies with legal personalities that often provide military and security services of a different nature and for a different purpose to the activities of mercenaries. They however often employ mercenaries, but they differ in that they are often hired by governments, ostensibly to provide public security where as, non state armed groups, aiming to undermine the constitutional order of states generally hire mercenaries (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:16).

Gumedze and Baker (2007:2) identify a PMC as “an entity that offers services aimed at addressing security concerns through a variety of security engagements”. PMCs are different from mercenaries based on the work that they do. PMCs normally consist of retired military personnel, who are no longer active in security forces and who offer a wide range of services from combat and operational support or advice and training, to arms procurement, intelligence gathering, hostage rescue and other services (Gumedze and Baker, 2007:2).

Mercenaries are perceived symbolically as foreign individuals fighting for, and motivated by gain (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:15). A negative stigma is attached to mercenaries because they profit from the scourge of war without regard for the suffering that it inflicts on communities (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:15). Article 47 to Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (1977) defines a mercenary as any person who:
a. Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
b. Does in fact take a direct part in the hostilities;
c. Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain, and in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that party;
d. Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
e. Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
f. Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

The Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (2004:2) defines mercenaries as “individuals who fight for financial gain in foreign wars … [and who are] primarily used by armed groups and occasionally by governments. Goddard (2001:8) gives a broader view of a mercenary as “an individual or organization financed to act for a foreign entity within a military style framework, including conduct of military-style operations, without regard for ideals, legal or moral commitments, and domestic and international law.” It is important however to note that there is not a single and solid definition of what actually constitutes a mercenary (Messner, 2007:58)[1].
PSCs share the same corporate attributes and command structures as PMCs. A major difference between them lies in the range of services that they both provide (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:18). PSCs provide protection services for individuals and property and are used by extractive national or multinational companies, humanitarian organizations and individuals, mainly in situations of armed conflict, violence or instability (Mpako, 2002). They are mainly concerned with crime prevention and public order concerns: they might provide private guard services for prisons, airports, installations, and private individuals, as in the case of Group 4 and Securicor in the UK (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:18). Their services are not intended to influence the outcome of a conflict as they provide mainly guard and police type services. PMCs on the other hand, do have a major impact on the course and outcome of armed conflict.

Generally speaking, most PMCs have refrained from signing contracts with non-State armed actors (stating that they will only work for internationally-recognized governments) although the fact that there are few legal safeguards to prevent them doing so is a cause for concern (Makkie (et al) 2001:5). PMCs provide services that are designed to significantly influence a given situation for the benefit of a legitimate government (Mpako, 2002). According to Messner, (2007:58).

The nature of the client is a key difference between the operations of the PMCs and the activities of illegitimate actors. PMCs are bound by a mixture of laws, industry ethics and accountability to owners or shareholders. As a result, they only contract with legitimate governments. Even then, companies will tend to turn down contracts that do not fit their corporate ethos, and may impact on their long-term reputation or ability to win future contracts. Others will not conduct services that are of questionable or unclear legality. Generally, incentives ensuring appropriate behaviour are very strong.

PSCs on the other hand, are usually used by multinational or national companies or by humanitarian agencies in situations of conflict or instability while mercenaries are simply after profit with no regard for democratically elected governments or civilian suffering.
From the above definitions, evidently there are areas of overlap between these three groups of actors, particularly when PMCs hire mercenaries or where certain companies provide ‘dual services’ including both defensive security and offensive military capabilities (Makki (et al) 2001:6). PMCs are different from mercenaries and Private Security Companies (PSCs) in the services that they provide as well as the activities that they engage in – including their target clients, which may be governments, multinational corporations or humanitarian agencies (Makki (et al) 2001:5). However, some pundits argue that they act in such a manner indistinguishable from classic mercenaries at the behest of their economic or political paymasters (Cilliers, 1999:2).

Criticisms against PMCs
The numerous similarities and overlapping duties between the services offered by PMCs mercenaries and private security companies have brought a tirade of criticisms against PMCs. The distinct lack of transparency in the operations of PMCs obviates proper public scrutiny of their activities and causes controversy (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:17). They have been labeled numerous disparaging terms ranging from “dogs of war” to “mercenaries.” They have been accused of fueling conflict and promoting ‘clientalism.’ PMCs have also been singled out for human rights abuses and war crimes, looting and rampaging communities.

According to Foaleng (2007:47), the presence of PMCs in conflict torn countries poses the risk of militarizing the society. PMCs facilitate arms proliferation in societies and influence the balance of military power, exacerbating tensions among protagonists – furthermore, the dividing line between trading in arms and military training is difficult to determine (Foaleng, 2007:47). This is because procuring and brokering small arms and light weapons for use in conflict is a central role of PMCs. The link between PMCs and arms trade relates not only to their role in obtaining or facilitating the purchase of weapons but also how the military and security services that they provide contributes to the demand for, and misuse of, weapons in the regions where they operate (Makki, 2001:7).

Musah (2002:913) argues that what is known as a PMC is in effect, the logical transformation of traditional mercenary activities into a new form altogether. These PMCs can be better understood as private mercenary contractors because they organize mercenaries into temporary armies for combat operations in foreign conflicts on behalf of a party to that conflict (Musah, 2002:913). This is confirmed by the blurry divide between PMCs and mercenaries. They are neo-mercenaries that have become the advance shock troops that pacify rich enclaves for resource exploitation by extraction companies which are closely tied to them (Musah, 2002:913).

PMCs have also been accused of taking away the responsibility of a state to provide security and monopolise force. In his lecture, ‘Politics as a Vocation,’ Weber (1919) defined a “state” as a territorial entity which claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, which it may nonetheless elect to delegate as it sees fit. Although primeval, this definition is accepted and used in modern day academic discourses to define and understand what a state is. One of the four aspects emphasized by Weber (1919) is ‘monopoly of the means of physical violence.’ Some African countries in Africa do not fit into this definition because they do not have a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. PMCs are increasingly supplanting the primary responsibility of the state to provide both security for its people’s and for lucrative multinational and domestic business activities (Cilliers, 1999).

Another area of concern regarding the operation of PMCs has been the violation of UN and other regional arms embargoes (Makki, 2001:8). For example, in 1998, Sandline International signed a contract with the then-exiled President of Sierra Leone, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, to supply a 35 tonne shipment of arms from Bulgaria which led to controversy about whether this was in contravention of the UN arms embargo on the country at the time[2]. While most arms embargoes do not cover military services, the UN Security Council sanctions on Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000 made such provisions (Makki, 2001:8). The resolution prohibited any sale or supply or aid in procurement of arms and related material of all types or related material as well as the provision of technical assistance or training related to prohibited materials.

PMCs have also been accused of failing to provide long lasting solutions to African conflicts. They ignore the deeply embedded and complex situations and causes of conflicts and address only the surface and shallow causes of fighting. They only bring peace which vanishes immediately as soon as they exit the country of operation. The so-called stability and security brought by PMCs is often fragile and does not address the fundamental political and socio-economic issues that prompt conflicts (Francis, 1999:329). For example, the security provided by EO collapsed like a pack of cards soon after their departure from Sierra Leone, which culminated in the overthrow of the civilian government while is Angola, the so called security only exacerbated the conflict after EO’s departure (Francis, 1999:329).

The need for PMCs in Africa
Despite the negatives associated with PMCs, there are also positives regarding the employ of PMCs in Africa’s conflicts.
With the end of independence in many African countries, security has been an exception. There was a much greater degree of security in pre-independent African countries where security was designed to primarily protect the European colonists, not the indigenous people (McGowan, 2001). Colonial police and military were instilled with a strong sense of professionalism and duty by the colonial powers. Security personnel in pre-independent Africa were paid regularly, were adequately equipped and were guaranteed a pension when they retired and in the early days of independence, they were critical to the stability of African states (Brooks, 2002:3). With independence, the capability of these military forces declined and the professionalism that characterized them disappeared. African leaders, fearing coups, deliberately weakened their militaries by purging out the best officers (McGowan, 2001). Subsequently, post independence militaries in many African states deteriorated quickly and corruption has abounded. Most African militaries are little more than show pieces for annual independence celebrations and disintegrate quickly when required to perform tasks (Brooks, 2002:3).

Numerous examples[3] exist of military ineptness in Africa. For example, the performance of the Zairian army in the final months of the Mobutu regime – which was unprepared for actual combat, ran and looted unarmed civilians rather than face even the most feeble of attacks from the rag tag rebel factions walking west from Rwanda (Brooks, 2002:3). Zambian troops participated as a part of the UN’s UNAMSIL peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. However, they did not have even the most basic equipment and had to be completely resupplied before they could be deployed into the field – when the RUF rebels attacked UNAMSIL in May 2000, the Zambians were quickly decimated, with hundreds being captured or killed in a matter of hours (Brooks, 2002:4).

Key powers have been loath to intervene militarily in African conflicts because of a number of reasons; the danger and complexities involved have caused pundits to argue that the underlying causes of conflict must be first addressed prior to any sort of armed intervention – no matter how horrendous the cost of delay in human terms (Richards, 2005:123). Others are against this argument and point out that in too many conflicts, the average age of the combatants is younger than the wars themselves. For these and other reasons, military intervention is rarely utilized even in the most pressing cases such as Rwanda or in cases where the need was glaringly desperate. This has also been exacerbated by the new war against terrorism which is seen as requiring more military manpower. Instead of direct military intervention, key powers in the West have focused on addressing some of the symptoms of African wars, while doing little to end the wars themselves (Brooks, 2002:5). Numerous campaigns have been held against “Blood diamonds”, “Landmines”, “child soldiers” but these have not had much (if anything at all) to do with the actual conflicts, and the shocking lack of security for the average African (McGowan, 2003). This apparent lack of interest by key powers to get involved in solving conflicts in Africa has left PMCs as the only willing, able and competent military forces to intervene in African conflicts (Brooks, 2002:5).

A significant reason for utilizing PMCs in conflicts is the fact that some services, such as heavy aviation, are not readily available to most militaries in the world, let alone in Africa. Therefore, it is only sensible to outsource these to PMCs who can do the job efficiently and faster (Messner, 2007:61). In peace operations, PMCs provide services needed in military operations in a professional and efficient manner – services that African militaries themselves are lacking in capacity or will to provide (Messner, 2007:62). The UN, for example, relies on member countries for troops. Events such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide which happened before the very eyes of UN peacekeepers, is a grave testimony to the severe shortcomings of UN peacekeeping capacities. As some countries have become disillusioned with UN intervention, scandals such as the UN Oil for Food Program, and regular allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Congo, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and elsewhere only add to the apparent limitations of the UN and emphasise its inability to adequately train, control and even vet its peacekeepers (Messner, 2007:62). PMCs thus can be utilised to make operations more capable and cost effective, thus reducing the required size-and problems-of interventions and dependence on member states’ militaries.

PMCs have their reputations to preserve for future contracts and as such, they offer greater accountability and professionalism. They strive to fulfil their contractual obligations because successfully fulfilled tasks increase the likelihood that they will be employed again in future. Most of them comprise ex-military and professionally trained personnel equipped with the appropriate skills and expertise and vasts levels of experience (Messner, 2007:62). Since jeopardising the lives of employees is highly unwelcome and very unprofitable, PMCs allocate greater attention to risk management in conflict situations.

Case Study - Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone
The notable role of the PMC Executive Outcomes (EO) in the conflicts in Angola and Sierra Leone demonstrates the potential superiority of PMCs to providing security guarantees in African conflicts when compared to traditional UN military forces. This is because of the comparatively robust structure and interest based capabilities of PMC forces (Fitzsimmons, 2005:1). Their involvement in African conflicts has shown that they are better suited to provide strong security guarantees in peace operations.

Angola held its first democratic elections on the 29th and 30th of September, 1992. Immediately after the elections however, there were tensions in the country after the close of polls, when government media began to broadcast results, not released by the National Electoral Commission, reflecting victories for the Movimento Popular de’Libertacao de Angola (MPLA) and President Dos Santos in many constituencies (Cleary, 1999:153). A number of opposition parties protested to the National Electoral Commission, citing irregularities and varying degrees of inaccuracy and inconsistencies.

Opposition parties called for the UN to investigate the claims and after the investigations, when UN representative, Margaret Anstee declared victory for the MPLA, however and a plurality for Dos Santos – requiring a second presidential ballot in elections that, despite irregularities, were said to be generally free and fair – tensions rose (Cleary, 1999:153). There were clashes between different political party supporters. In an effort to avert a crisis, negotiations were arranged in Luanda in the last week of October between teams representing the government and Uniciao Nacional para la Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA) (Cleary, 1999:153). However, between October 31 and November 2, while the negotiations to resolve the crisis were still under way, the riot police and units attacked and destroyed UNITA’s residences and party offices in Luanda, leading to the death of many and the capture of almost all its military and civilian cadres in the capital (Joras and Schuster, 2008:44). UNITA’s troops had by now occupied more municipal areas as well as the strategically important towns of Uige and Negage (Cleary, 1999:153).

By January, the UN estimated that UNITA controlled 105 of the country’s 164 municipalities. By February 3, the Christian Science Monitor was quoting diplomats in Luanda who said that UNITA controlled between 60 and 70 per cent of the country (Joras and Schuster, 2008:47). Government forces began to drive out UNITA’s supporters from Angola’s main cities. A civil war was now officially on with UNITA being condemned for violating Angola’s peace accords. The UN did not commit its troops to assisting in the war. Soon, Savimbi’s UNITA controlled 80 per cent of Angola’s country side, and the MPLA desperately sought help, which it could not obtain from Cuba and the Soviet Union (Howe, 1998:311).

As UNITA continued with the offensive throughout much of Angola, Heritage Oil and Gas introduced EO to the increasingly desperate MPLA government. Escalating fighting prompted the MPLA in Angola to contract with EO to fight against UNITA for which some EO personnel had previously fought (Howe, 1998:311). EO acted as a force multiplier, a small group whose specialized skills enhanced the effectiveness of a much larger force (Howe, 1998:312). It fielded a maximum of about 550 soldiers and trained about 5 000 government troops and 30 pilots (Joras and Schuster, 2008:48). The purpose of EO’s engagement was to recover the territory captured by UNITA between January and August 1993 and to shift the balance of military power in the Angolan government’s favour (Cleary, 1999:159). EO’s major turning point occurred in June 1994 when the EO trained 16th brigade triumphed over a strong UNITA force at N’dalatando, a strategic town outside Luanda (Howe, 1998:312). EO also helped recapture the diamond areas of Cafundo in mid July 1994 and the oil installations at Soyo by November (Cleary, 1999:160).

EO’s intervention greatly strengthened the government’s forces and ultimately forced Savimbi to the negotiating table. The approximately 500 men initially deployed by EO in Angola had a significant effect on the overall operational efficiency of government forces. The series of military defeats suffered by UNITA as a result of EO’s direct military assistance forced the rebel movement to the negotiating table (Francis, 1999:329). In effect, EO’s immediate strategic impact created the conditions for negotiations and a peace settlement, something which the UN and OAU had not been able to achieve throughout the conflict (Francis, 1999:329).

Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1992, championed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of Foday Sankoh (Hirsh, 2000:33). The RUF launched its first campaign into eastern Sierra Leone on the 23rd of March 1991 at two points across the Liberian border (Richards, 2005:122). The conflict was waged by terror. Village chiefs were sent letters predicting when their settlements would be attacked (Richards, 2005:122). Thousands of people died and more than two million people were displaced by the conflict. Houses were burnt, community leaders tortured and killed. Neighboring countries became hosts to huge numbers of refugees attempting to escape the war.

A divided and inexperienced Sierra Leone national army failed to stop or deal with the rebels (Richards, 1996:1). According to Richards (1996), the RUF’s signature terror tactic was physical mutilation. An estimated 20 000 civilians suffered amputation with machetes and axes being used to sever arms, legs, lips and ears. Levels of atrocity were high. The poorly equipped and poorly trained Sierra Leone army was pushed back and the RUF gained control of the diamond mines in the Kono district (Hirsh, 2000). The RUF, aided by a general breakdown in order and disloyal government soldiers, had advanced by May 1995 to about 20 miles from Freetown (Howe, 1998:313). The Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces evinced many of the limitations which have encouraged the growth of private militaries (Howe, 1998:313). It hardly qualified as an army, despite its size of about 14 000 poorly trained and hastily recruited soldiers who lacked basic military professionalism and sometimes fought against each other (Howe, 1998:313).

The RUF’s political and economic paralysis of Sierra Leone reached crisis point when it occupied the diamond mines of Sierra Rutile and Sieromco in January 1995, nearly ending the government’s ability to repay IMF loans (Montague, 2002:233). One month into the RUF’s occupation of Sierra Rutile and Sieromco, the government was pressured into seeking out an alternative military arrangement (Montague, 2002:233). EO was formally introduced to the Sierra Leone government by Tony Buckingham, the CEO of Heritage Oil and Gas (Howe, 1998:313). Subsequently, in May 1995, Sierra Leone contracted EO to help its faltering four year campaign against the RUF as well as to drive RUF out of the diamond mining areas (Howe, 1998:313).

EO’s military progress was rapid. Once again, EO as a force multiplier provided technical services, combat forces and limited training. EO entered Sierra Leone with a small battalion of soldiers. Their use of helicopter gunships, pre-assault mortar barrages, and ground assaults proved to be effective against the RUF. Within a month of Sierra Leone’s hiring of EO in May 1995, the government had regained control of the diamond-rich Kono district. EO pushed RUF away from Freetown and re-opened roads to Freetown for food and fuel transport. By late January 1996, EO-backed forces had retaken the southern coastal rutile and bauxite mines, notably those belonging to Sierra Rutile and Sieromco (Pech, 1999:94). EO trained groups of inept soldiers to become far more capable fighters (Pech, 1999:94).

EO’s involvement in Sierra Leone facilitated a cease fire just like what had happened in Angola. The intervention by EO brought about a succession of military reverses for the RUF. There was a clear link between EO’s military operations and RUF’s willingness to negotiate (Francis, 1999:329). Military successes against the RUF made elections possible and most of the people who had been displaced by fighting were able to return to their homes (Francis, 1999:329). A handful of men had repelled thousands of RUF soldiers and left the country relatively peaceful.


Much has been said about whether or not PMCs are a solution to Africa’s insecurity, given the lack of interest by key powers in solving conflicts in Africa. In virtually every instance of their use, PMCs were specifically invited and welcomed by African governments (Brooks, 2002:1). They have assisted regional stability, supported fundamental law and order, protected threatened communities of civilians, curtailed the malicious activities of insurgents, and created conditions beneficial to economic growth and political development (Brooks, 2002:1). They have been very effective in re-establishing order in some cases and this has had huge positive implications for the livelihoods of innocent civilians plagued by the spread of violence or for state who can not themselves create stability and impose order (Leander, 2002:9). The cases of Angola and Sierra Leone are notable examples in this regard. Embattled governments have successfully turned to PMCs to help overcome vicious internal armed conflicts.

Subsequently, PMCs have become an important component of peace and stability in Africa’s conflicts. They possess the ability to respond to critical situations in a faster and impartial way. Their participation in conflicts has had significant consequences on the advent of democracy. They have facilitated conducive environments for democratic elections in some countries. The legitimate demand for PMCs in peace and stability operations has resulted because of the poor security personnel in countries utilizing the services of PMCs. In conflicts that they have participated in, PMCs have contributed profoundly to the implementation of democratic reforms and aided in ending suffering to some of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.

The case of EO in Angola and Sierra Leone demonstrated that PMCs can have advantages over state military companies. They have a clear line of command, more readily compatible military equipment and training, and greater experience. They are also less expensive than other foreign forces (Howe, 1998:309). PMCs have also accomplished tasks which both African and Western governments have approved of but hesitated to attempt themselves because of financial or political costs (Howe, 1998:309). Therefore, given the lack of interest by key powers, PMCs are the solution to Africa’s insecurity.

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[1] The International Convention against the Recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries adopted by the UN in 1989 also gives another definition of a mercenary. It defines a mercenary as
[A]ny person who:
· Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
· Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar rank and functions in the armed forces of that party;
· Is neither a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a party to the conflict;
· Is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict; and
· Has not been sent by a State which is not a party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

2. A mercenary is also any person who, in any other situation:
· Is specially recruited locally or abroad for the purpose of participating in a concerted act of violence aimed at: Overthrowing a Government or otherwise undermining the constitutional order of a State; or Undermining the territorial integrity of a State;
· Is motivated to take part therein essentially by the desire for significant private gain and is prompted by the promise or payment of material compensation;
· Is neither a national nor a resident of the State against which such an act is directed; Has not been sent by a State on official duty; and Is not a member of the armed forces of the State on whose territory the act is undertaken (UN Mercenary Convention 1989)

[2] UN Security Council, S/RES/1132, 8 October 1997, paragraph6.
[3] Although there are exceptions.