Christine Stone practised at the English Bar as a lawyer specializing in crime and civil liberties before setting up the British Helsinki Human Rights Group with a number of academic and journalist colleagues in 1992. She has written for a number of publications including The Spectator and Wall Street Journal on Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. Her column now appears Thursdays on Antiwar.com.
Archived Antiwar.com articles by Christine Stone
Today Britain is deploying its largest task force overseas since the Falklands War in 1982. A fleet containing an aircraft carrier and helicopter carrier backed up by gunboats 8 ships plus 2,800 sailors and marines lies off the coast of Sierra Leone while 800 British paratroopers and Special forces (SAS) are now deployed on the mainland. "They have emptied Herefordshire [home of the SAS] for this one" said one seasoned observer.
British troops were sent in to Sierra Leone this month after 500 UN troops were captured by the rebel RFU army in the east of the province. Rebels were allegedly descending on Freetown the capital and the British government claimed that its troops were needed in Sierra Leone to help evacuate British nationals from a worsening situation in the country. To do this it maintained and has continued to do so ever since that its role is to control the airport and supervise the evacuation.
The story has unfolded in the British press according to the rules that govern New Labour's ethical foreign policy. Here is an impoverished African nation whose civilian government is struggling to overcome a cruel insurrection led by 'rebels' who indulge in unspeakable acts of violence such as cutting off people's hands and arms. On Wednesday the Pravda of New Labour The Guardian assured its readers who have been restive at sympathetic interviews with yesteryear's bogeymen like Ian Smith, Premier of White ruled Rhodesia, that Tony Blair knew it was "morally right" to deploy our boys in Sierra Leone.
However, the opposition Conservative Party has not been as supportive as it was last year over Labour's most recent bout of humanitarian intervention in Kosovo. The shadow defence spokesman, Ian Duncan Smith, has warned of "mission-creep" and demanded on several occasions in the House of Commons to know when and how the operation will end. And, at last, the newsprints are beginning to delve into what are the real reasons for Britain's humanitarian concerns in Sierra Leone namely, diamonds.
In its eastern provinces Sierra Leone produces some of the biggest and best diamonds in the world. Mining here is easy the gems lie near the surface of the ground and are extracted by open cast mining often by people scratching the earth with their fingertips. However, the diamond producing areas are under the control of the 'rebels' the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) whose members sell them on to the black market with the help of neighbouring Liberia and Burkina Faso.
When a peace deal was struck last year in Lomé the capital of Togo RUF leader, Foday Sankoh was made head of a minerals' commission with the rank of vice president in the Sierra Leone government. Critics blame the British for allowing this strange appointment as Sankoh was regarded as the major cause of violence in the country. As he had been captured before and threatened with war crimes charges it seemed doubly irresponsible to give him such respectability. However, perhaps the British were not so much guilty of naivety as cupidity: no doubt, they thought they would have to deal with Sankoh anyway as the RUF still controlled the diamond producing areas.
But whatever cooperation was envisaged did not occur. The stones continued to flow on to the market. Attempts to curb the trade through pressure on dealers in Israel and Antwerp also came to nought.
But, if it is true that the British want control of the mines it is not to exploit the sale of the diamonds but to STOP them reaching the markets. An article entitled "Diamond Glut Takes the Sparkle Out of De Beers" in the IHT on 16th May explains why. "De Beers grip on diamond sales is weakening" we learn. Although the company controls world diamond prices via its mysterious cartel, its shares have fallen 19% so far this year. Too many diamonds are being produced and many bypass the South African company altogether. In past periods of overproduction De Beers bought up its competitors' gems and sold the stones to cutters. Now, at the very least, it would dearly love to see operations like that going on in eastern Sierra Leone brought to a halt.
Journalists somewhat naively write that the diamonds fuel the war but in reality it is the other way round: it is a war over the diamonds. All parties in Sierra Leone government and rebels have fought for control of the mines and all would continue to sell diamonds without bothering too much about De Beers. It is here that the British government can make all the difference. If the British military (carefully packaged as another humanitarian mission) succeeds and controls the mines, production can be curtailed or even stopped. Who knows: De Beers might reward New Labour handsomely, just in time for the next general election. No one would be any the wiser as the money would go into one of the 'blind trusts' which fund the Labour Party.
But while New Labour might, as it were, be in it for the money, the tom-toms are beating from other quarters delivering their own message of how situations like the one in Sierra Leone should be handled. Whereas once it would have been the height of racist dogma, it has become acceptable again to talk of Africa as being 'ungovernable'. While leaders like Daniel arap Moi in Kenya and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe have been under attack for some time "the great hopes of Western countries Musaveni, Kagame, Isaias and Meles, all four have disappointed us" says a Western diplomat recently to the New York Times, referring to the leaders of Uganda, Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
What to do about Africa? the pundits moan. Former prescriptions like bringing in the UN are now reviled. Look at what happened in Somalia and Rwanda, critics say. And in Sierra Leone the 500 peacekeepers deployed proved useless: they made little difference, ending up captured by the rebels. The only people who can handle situations like the one in Sierra Leone are mercenaries.
It is no surprise to find Conservative bullies, like the writer Frederick Forsyth rooting for the "dogs of war" in the pages of the Britain's right-wing Daily Mail. Forsyth is an inveterate biffer who wanted thousands of British ground troops sent to Kosovo last year. But more left-wing, sensitive souls are also talking up the virtues of the private army.
"Peacekeeping in Sierra Leone Could be Privatized" pontificates one Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl in the International Herald Tribune on 15th May. After commending the activities of mercenary armies he acknowledges that there are problems like accountability and the fact that anyone with enough money can effectively set up their own private force. But, then the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages because "the deaths of the soldiers of a private military company would not cause the same political problem that the deaths of a country's nationals do."
I was somewhat surprised to read that the above thoughts came from someone working at the T.M.C. Asser Institut in Holland which specializes in international law. Next month the Institute and the Netherlands Red Cross are putting on a conference for Humanitarian fieldworkers some of whom might be less than enthusiastic about deploying 'the dogs of war'.
Another old friend of the UN has also deserted, but this time more in sorrow than anger. Outside powers have failed in their attempts to impose peace, bemoans William Shawcross in the Sunday Times for 14th May, but "is it possible or right to pass by on the other side and ignore the terrible wrongs being done to others?" Nothing as sensible as that could possibly be allowed to occur. No, he continues "If we lack the stomach for such a fight far better to allow the return of the mercenaries. Under proper control [they] have a role to play"
On the same day in The Sunday Telegraph Lt. Colonel Tim Spicer, a former key UNPROFOR officer in Sarajevo whose company Sandline restored President Kabbah to power in 1998 added a personal touch, claiming that his employees could have kept the peace in Sierra Leone if the British government had not terminated their contract with his company in embarrassment over its activities in Sierra Leone during a UN arms embargo. Sandline could also have saved them money "it was a darn sight cheaper for the British government to pay us than the £350m. it is costing to maintain our troops and the UN operation" he boasted. Needless to say, William Pfaff who has found out a year too late that the humanitarian interveners told lies over Kosovo was lapping up the rich cream of mercenary intervention for human rights in the International Herald Tribune on 18th May. The media beat up for an unprecedented army of soldiers of fortune for humanity is already approaching crescendo.
Soldiers of fortune have operated in Sierra Leone on more than one occasion in the past. In 1996 the most infamous group of mercenaries on the African continent, Executive Outcomes, was hired to protect various commercial interests in the country. They arrived better equipped than most African armies with, among other things, Russian helicopter gunships and 2 Boeing 727s.
But there is a darker side to this story. EO also brought along in their expensive armoury fuel air explosives which suck out oxygen upon detonation, killing everything within a radius of one mile. At the time, Martha Carey who worked with Doctors without Borders in Freetown reported that "she had only to see Executive Outcomes' helicopters flying over her house to know that it was time to rush to the hospital and prepare for an influx of the wounded." She claimed that the mercenaries were there to gain control over the diamond mines from which they were paid for their dramatic intervention.
As if the scale of war and natural disaster wasn't enough, then, the West is being urged to hire mercenaries to further plague the poor continent of Africa. Their reputation may be high with strange mining companies in Canada and the United States as well as the penny pinchers in Britain's Foreign Office but many Africans have different experiences. They remember the men who fought in the Congo in the 1960s on behalf of the secessionist Katanga province men like 'Mad' Mike Hoare, Jean Schramme and Bob Denard. While they were often useful (and ruthless) in putting down local rebellions hiring them proved much easier than firing them. Mercenaries have never brought freedom anywhere least of all Africa. There they have been and will be a part of that sad continent's problems not their solution.
Forsyth's romantic view of the mercenary also includes lavish praise for among others, the condottiere in Renaissance Italy. His is a strange version of events. The city states of Italy in the 15th century were plagued by warfare made possible by the hiring of numerous foreign fighters. Machiavelli, for one, saw this as a sign of a state's weakness. In The Prince he wrote that: "The mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous, and if anyone supports his state by the arms of mercenaries, he will never stand firm and sure, as they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless, bold among friends, cowardly among enemies, they have no fear of God, and keep no faith with men."
The Prince is one of the main documents in history advocating a strong, centralized state. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to find that the use of soldiers with no allegiance to any particular flag or nation is recommended by the new globalists, people like William Shawcross biographer of the patron saint of the new world order, George Soros.
Like so much else in the New World Order, its advocates' cult of the mercenary is a denial of the very civic traditions which they claim to preach. As a good republican Machiavelli warned against mercenaries as a threat to civic liberty and national independence in all his writings. It was that Machiavellian tradition of relying on a volunteer, citizen militia for defence which was taken up in England and then America. Standing armies were a threat to freedom in the eyes of all believers in the Constitution of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic.
Of course, critics are right to point out that UN peacekeeping has, on the whole, been a failure. But that is not the real objection to the UN. In particular, some would very much like to see the end of the Security Council itself with its power to veto any proposed military intervention. Although it was successfully sidelined in Kosovo there can be no assurance, particularly with a resurgent Russia, that this would happen again.
Ironically, if the UN is to be further sidelined the state or nation is more vulnerable than ever to attack. But this latest notion which involves abandoning properly disciplined, accountable armies in favour of murky, privately-run freebooters must be the most dangerous idea yet put forward by the globalists. Like all of their flouting of domestic constitutional restraints on war-making powers and their repeated defiance of international law it rests on the despotic and self-satisfied belief that no-one can object to arbitrary power in the hands of men like Clinton and Blair. It should be strenuously resisted and now.
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