Mercenaries are outlawed under Article 47 of the Geneva Convention. In December 1994 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 49/150 urging all nations ‘to take the necessary steps and to exercise the utmost vigilance against the menace posed by the activities of mercenaries’. The un International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries has been signed or ratified by twenty-one counrties.

Yet the opportunities for mercenary contracts are now at a level unprecedented in modern times. In the uncertain political environment of the post-Cold War world in which countless military specialists have been released onto the free market, the professional soldier of fortune has again become a key player in the business of death. The modem condottieri are not the lawless guns for hire who turned the Congo into a freefor-all thirty-five years ago. Men like Mike Hoare, Jacques Schramme, and Bob Denard have been phased out in favour of new corporate identities which are, in effect, the logical extension of a borderless global business environment.

The mercenary organization which was the first to take advantage of the opportunities available in post-Cold War Africa came to public attention in the South Pacific recently when its first venture outside its home continent collapsed. Executive Outcomes (eo) is one of mote than eighteen firms, including international oil, gold and diamond mining ventures, a chartered accountancy practice, an airline, foreign security services, and offshore financial management services, managed from a modern, glass-fronted building at 535 King’s Road, London, known as Plaza 107. The mirror site in South Africa is the Strategic Resources Corporation Ltd. (src), based in Lynnwood, Pretoria. eo was sub-contracted by Sandline International of the Plaza 107/src group to provide aircraft, equipment and training to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (pngdf) on 31 January 1997. eo arrived in early February and began conducting training sessions at the Urimo base near Wewak in East Sepik province.

Then png Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan’s argument for hiring foreign professionals was simple; his own military has failed over the past eight years to put down the secessionist Bougainville Revolutionary Army (bra). In June 1996 the png government had ordered an offensive: Operation High Speed 2. It was a complete failure. In September that year eleven pngdf troops were killed and five captured in a skirmish at Kangu Beach. On 13 October Bougainville interim government premier Theodore Miriung was assassinated. A subsequent png colonial inquiry implicated the pngdf and pro-pngdf guerrillas in his death.

In defending the Sandline contract Chan stated, ‘We. . .have requested the Australians support us in providing the necessary specialist training and equipment. . .They have consistently declined and therefore I had no choice but to go to the private sector’. According to Noel Levi, the head of the png Prime Minister’s Department and chairman of the National Security Advisory Committee, two offers of private military assistance, one from Australia and one from Russia, were rejected before the Sandline proposal was taken up. The fee for the eo services was set at us$36 million. The 125-strong eo team would be employed for an initial period of three months or until the bra was defeated.

We shall look at the military and commercial aspects of this operation in more detail below. Briefly, however, before offensive operations could commence, pngdf Army chief Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok refused to cooperate, and called for the resignation of the Prime Minister. The ensuing power struggle brought the country to the brink of civil war and did indeed culminate in the Prime Minister’s resignation.footnote1 Meanwhile, the eo special forces, temporarily detained by the defence forces they were supposed to train, slipped quietly out of the country. Sandline director Tim Spicer was detained on guns charges to guarantee his participation in a commission of inquiry investigating the affair.footnote2 As a reflection of the professionalism now inherent in the contract military business, the press conference held upon Spicer’s return to the uk was organized by pr agency Sara Pearson Associates.

This setback in eo fortunes is likely to be temporary. Their services are always in demand. The glossy eo brochure advertises that it ‘provides a highly professional and confidential military advisory service to legitimate governments’. It promises ‘sound strategic and tactical advice’ and ‘the most professional training packages available to armed forces’. These packages include basic and advanced battle handling, sniper training, clandestine warfare, armoured warfare, and combat air patrol.footnote3 Most of eo’s approximately one thousand soldiers (70 per cent of whom are black) are veterans of South Africa’s four elite apartheid-era counterinsurgency special forces: 32 ‘Buffalo’ Battalion; the Reconnaissance Commandos (‘Reccies’); the Parachute Brigade (‘Parabats’); and the paramilitary ‘Koevoet’ (‘Crowbar’). Their assignment was the destabilization of the apartheid regime’s southern African enemies.