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Mike Hancock MP: speech on Private military and security firms and the erosion of the state monopoly on the use of force, at the PACE session on 29th January

It is quite clear that the activities of private military and security firms are sometimes driven by events. However, sometimes, and more importantly in order to ensure that the industry continues to grow, you need to continue conflicts. It becomes a vicious circle you wind something up and then invite yourself in to solve it. There are numerous cases where that happened.

Sadly, there is a plethora of weak and fragile states. Some say there are more weak and fragile states than stable states in

the world nowadays. I do not know whether that is quite true, but it cannot be far off. You do not have to look very far under the surface of a nation's fabric to see weakness, instability and people trying to get a bit of leverage, either to topple the government or to take control of events. In some countries there is now abundant evidence to suggest that such firms are so much part and parcel of the state machinery that they are actually more powerful than the state itself. Such organisations not only control events in war zones; they control the ability of states to work.

This issue is not a new phenomenon. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s will remember the stories of mercenaries, who appeared first in the Congo, and then Rhodesia and Namibia. Many of them were employed by the diamond and gold-mining companies, which hired private security companies to deliver the goods for them, which meant protecting their assets. Things developed from there to taking over entire countries. We must recognise that the problem is not a new one. It has been with us for a long time and we need to look at it.

However, we must also consider whether we can regulate such companies so as to have an influence on them. Let us suppose that a British company employs four or five different nationalities, from different parts of Europe, and is hired by an African state or an Afghan warlord. Who has overall responsibility for the behaviour of those individuals? Is it the company that employed those mercenaries that commits a crime, or is it the individuals themselves who commit the crime, and if so, how do you take them to court? Would they not just use that token excuse, which is used time and again, and say, "We were just following orders"?

I do not think that the companies that operate in our countries are beyond the law, but I think that there are companies in our countries that operate way beyond it, where they go unchallenged, by either national or international laws. We must sign up to addressing that problem.

I remember seeing an advert for one of these companies that said something like: "We go where others fear to tread. We do the things that you don't want to know about." What an advert! What did that company do that we would not want to know about? That advert strikes fear in me these people will do anything if the price is right. "Come on down, the price is right! Go and kill a few people, teach them a lesson and overthrow a government."

We ought to be principled enough to say, "We have to draw a line here." No one should be beyond the law states cannot and should not be, and neither should any organisation in any member country.

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