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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A DISCUSSION ON THE PRIVATISATION OF WAR AT DE BALIE

I was recently invited to partake in a discussion on the Privatisation of War at De Balie in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This discussion was the culmination of a series of talks on the battlefield that had been held at De Balie.

Prior to my departure, I was warned by several people to be wary of such a discussion. I must admit that my own thoughts on the matter also warned me that I was about to walk into an “ambush”. But, having done my appreciation of the situation, I packed my bags and duly flew out of Johannesburg to Amsterdam.

The day I left South Africa, temperatures at my home were in the mid-30 degrees Celsius and it was raining. When I arrived in Amsterdam, it was 2 degrees C – and it was raining.

I had hardly checked into the hotel when Jacob Derkx of De Balie arrived and the rest of my day was taken with media interviews. I must admit that the end result of these interviews was pleasantly surprising. I was even more surprised to be met on the street by strangers who wanted to shake my hand and congratulate me on the work EO did.

Jake Allen who runs the very popular The Combat Operator (http://combatoperator.com) and Private Military Herald (www.privatemilitaryherald.com) arrived the following day to meet me and we had a good time together. Not only was it great to finally Jake in person, we also had time to cover some important ground of mutual interest. Sadly though, it was very limited time but I am extremely grateful to Jake for making the trip from Norway just to meet and talk to me.

The discussion at De Balie, chaired by a very professional and competent Wilbur Perlot (the entire series of talks was also his brainchild) was indeed refreshing and fun. Not only was there a genuine desire to learn about Executive Outcomes and its work as a PMC but it was, in my opinion, very objectively handled. The audience was equally interested in the role of the PMC in support of operations and many very good and relevant questions were put to me. This was followed by a panel discussion which included Prof Avril Mcdonald who lectures on International Humanitarian Law and Dutch journalist Arnold Karskens, a war reporter.

Prof Mcdonald gave some extremely valuable input into the role of PMCs and she is of the belief that PMCs are here to stay but that there needs to be accountability – something I fully agree with.



Later, mingling with the audience, I was struck at just how very interested everyone was in EO and the work the men of that company did. This was confirmed by Adrian Miskelly, the creative director of Plug Creative (www.plugcreative.co.uk) who had flown in from the UK to film the discussion.

Wilbur then took me to The Hague where I addressed an audience of the Dutch Foreign Ministry and members of the Defence Ministry. Also in attendance was a journalist who had written his fair share of misinformation on both me and EO. His question was aimed at determining the “secret shareholding link” EO apparently had with multi-nationals – it appears that no time and effort will be spared at proving a lie to be fact. But, Dr Roel van der Veen who chaired this discussion was likewise professional and objective and there was great interest from the real audience in EO’s work in Africa and some very relevant questions were put to me on EO, PMCs and Africa. (By the way, Roel has written a contemporary history book on Africa titled: “What went wrong with Africa” and he gave me a signed copy of his work).

I left The Netherlands with the realisation that De Balie is certainly on the cutting-edge when it comes to discussing PMCs and their role on the modern battlefield. I commend Wilbur and his team and thank them for the opportunity to give my views on this highly controversial subject. They were very professional in their actions and treated me incredibly well during my brief visit.

Whereas it will be impossible to thank everyone by name, I would like to make special mention of De Balie’s staff - Wilbur Perlot, Jacob Derkx, Jenneke den Bol and Dieuwertje Scheringa. Also to Prof Avril Mcdonald and Roel van der Veen (MFA), Jake Allen and Adrian Miskelly as well as the numerous people who attended my discussions and spoke to me afterwards. Please accept my sincerest thanks.

When I left The Netherlands, it was raining and the temperature was – cold. On arrival back home, it was also raining...

It is good to be back in Africa, even if I came back with a severe bout of flu.

15 comments:

matt said...

Bravo Eeben, and I wish I could have been there to listen and hang out with you guys.
That is great that they were so receptive to what you had to say. There needs to be a rational discussion about the role of PMC's in the modern world, and it starts by being open minded and unbiased and actually listening to those who have something to say about it.
I was curious, what was the most surprising or thought provoking question that you got from the audience? Or what was the common theme of the questioning?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I decided not to publish your comment James, as it contains information that may give someone else an idea on usurping your business plans.

I remember you very well and as I promised, I sent you a mail the day after I arrived back in SA. Please check your email as I am sure you will find my mail there.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It would have been fun to meet you as well Matt, but Jake explained to me that you were otherwise engaged.

The folks at De Balie were great and I am really pleased that they discussed a controversial topic on an open forum without any bias. I believe that is a very good place to start and they should be commended for that.

There were so many questions put to me/the panel but two that come to mind: why was EO so successful and what makes EO so different form today’s PMCs? My answers were that EO had to earn its contracts as it did not have any government-backing from SA – as you know today’s PMCs are mainly government-backed. Secondly, EO was contracted to win wars in as short a period as possible at the least cost.

There were many more good questions but those two spring to mind.

Rgds,

Eeben

Gatvol said...

Could it be the interest was based on current events in the DRC and maybe the ability to pick your brain. Norway has a bit of a problem with Public Relations down that way and it will be interesting to see how far they go to save a couple of hides and maybe some face.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That is very possible Gatvol, but I don’t mind giving what I know if Africa in particular will benefit in the process with PMCs that can actually do their jobs. In that respect, I will assist any government who wishes to get my thoughts on the matter.

As far as the DRC is concerned, I think the UN has a much larger PR problem (and complete operational failure) to contend with than Norway. The two Norwegians who bumbled their way into trouble may just have to face the consequences of their actions. In the process however, their actions have just made it a lot tougher for PMCs to be taken seriously.

When are you in SA again?

Rgds,

Eeben

Snouck said...

Unbelievable. Mr. EO comes to The Netherlands and I did not see and hear him speak. Why did you not post something in advance on your blog? I would have been thrilled to hear you speak at De Balie. Will you be coming to The Netherlands again?

Kind regards,

Snouck

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am sorry about that, Snouck but I did not think too many people would be interested in my 2-cents worth,hence me saying nothing about it. All I can really say about the folks at De Balie is that they were great – and they did advertise it.

I don’t know when I will return to The Netherlands again but if I do, I shall post something on the blog before I make such a trip.

Rgds,

Eeben

Christian said...

Eben, I was talking to an Army officer (US) about the PMS industry and he brought up that very recently (with in the last 2-5 years) there were some Belgians who operated in the Congo. Not sure if they were a company or a band of old school mecenarys.

He said that they helped put down some sort of insurrection or a rebel group. He didn't go into detail as maybe he had heard scant details as well. I was wondering if you had heard anything about this?

Also can you recommend any good books on the border wars between SA and Angola?

Thanks and have a good day,

Chris

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There have been several stories of such groups in the Congo, Chris, but I must say that I doubt that the UN would allow such groups to operate there as they want to claim sole responsibility for the failure there. I will however scratch around and see what I can find on such possible involvement.

As regards good books on the border war: please look at my previous posting “Books I recommend” under African military History where I list several such books. I hope that helps.

Rgds,

Eeben

Kaye said...

@ Snouck:

De Balie shows their debates both live and as a kind of 'back catalogue'. Here they have their live broadcasts as all sorts of video formats.

You can view it here: http://www.debalie.nl/terugkijken.jsp

Mind you, as I write this they're current 'till 2 december 2009, so Barlows' performance isn't online yet. I assume (I know :-( ) it will soon be.


Cheers,

K.

Robby said...

Chris... Any Belgians left from the Congo war have to be somewhere south of 70 years old "putting down some sort of insurrection" seems to a be stretch. Unless of course if they were talking about events there some 40 odd years ago

Katerie said...

Congrats Eeben!
I have just finished your book on EO,what a refelation it was to finally the truth about what EO was
all about. As a scolar of International Relations I am very interested in PMC's and hopefulle we will one day get the chance to meet. Are you stil operative in any way?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I should be the one congratulating you for reading the book, Kate. I am pleased if the book shed some light on what EO was about and what we tried to do in Africa and elsewhere.

I am a firm believer that PMCs have a role to play. However, they need to act professionally and need to be held accountable for their actions.

I still do some “odd jobs” for some selected African governments as I am still passionate about Africa and if I can assist in some small way, I will do so.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alias said...

Hello Eeben,

I want to say I think it's great that you are so accessible via this blog and that you take time to answer every post.

I'm a student of International Relations in Holland and am currently writing my bachelor thesis about the difference between the approach of the American and the South-African government with regard to the use of PMC's.

If I'd known you were coming to Holland I'd definitely have been there! Well, too bad, I'll just have to wait until De Balie brings the video of the debate online.

Eeben, do you have an opinion on why the South-African government cracks down so hard on PMC's in e.g. the Foreign Military Assistance Act? And do you think that in the future there'll be a niche for legal combat companies like Executive Outcomes again?

Thanks in advance for your time, and happy holidays!

Kind Regards,

Govert

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for visiting the blog, Govert. I somehow suspect that your government will need people with your qualification in the future so I wish you the best of luck with your studies.

I think first of all, the major difference is that EO was non-government sponsored – the US PMCs are given their contracts by the US government. We had to earn our contracts by giving results within the shortest time possible. In fact, we were contracted to end the conflicts for those governments that contracted us as quickly as possible. I don’t see any PMCs doing that anywhere.

The SA government was ill-advised by European governments to clamp down on PMCs. This has allowed SA to be out of the picture in terms of projecting any stable influence on African conflicts. The irony is that if one looks at the governments that shouted the loudest about EO, one is struck by the many PMCs those governments have working in Africa – with exceptionally poor results. An irony to me at least.

But as you will know, it all revolves around influence and projecting that influence. South Africa, by writing the law into the law books, wrote itself out of being able to project any real influence in Africa – something African governments are well aware of. Whereas I agree with the SA government that there should be some form of regulation – and especially accountability, I do not entirely agree with the manner in which it is applied as there are SA companies working outside of SA as PMCs but are doing so without any authorisation. Had EO done that, we would have encountered problems. By the way, the media disinformation that EO closed due to the law is a lie as EO was granted a licence to operate by the SA government.

I believe that there is a niche for a PMC that will take the conflict to the rebels and end it once and for all. One cannot allow these conflicts to enter into a ceasefire period and then simmer, waiting like a boil to erupt. Many of these so-called rebel groups are nothing but thugs, murderers and criminals of the worst kind who do not hesitate to murder, rape, dismember and terrify the locals who are caught up in the conflict.

A very Merry Christmas to you and I hope that your studies in 2010 will be very successful.

Rgds,

Eeben