Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Mercenary Activities as a Source of Insecurity, Instability and Destabilization in Africa

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
February 4, 2019


Mr. President, thank you for convening today’s session, which is focused on African countries, but relevant throughout the globe. Thank you Secretary-General and Chairperson Al-Baki Mohammed for your remarks today, and welcome to the ministers who are joining us in the Security Council.

The United States congratulates Equatorial Guinea on its Presidency of the UN Security Council, and we look forward to working closely with your delegation on pressing matters of peace and security this month and throughout the remainder of your term on the Security Council.

We also congratulate the Dominican Republic on its excellent work as presidency of the Council in the month of January.

Mr. President, we share your concern that Central Africa’s stability is undermined by the activities of mercenaries and terrorist organizations that both foment internal and international conflicts.

Private military companies or mercenary groups who act without mandate, oversight, or accountability have played a destabilizing role throughout history, and in the most extreme cases, have sought to take power from sovereign governments.

In conflict areas around the world, there are instances of private military actors conducting operations that are detrimental to peace and security. Two examples? In Syria, we have seen private military actors conduct offensive combat operations to attempt to seize territory in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, and in the Central African Republic, private military actors are operating in mining areas to exploit that country’s natural resources.

Mr. President, I would like to make three points that place today’s debate in the broader context of peace and security challenges facing this Council.

First, we must remain focused on the concerning trend of terrorist and violent extremist activity on the African continent, where in recent years ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist organizations have increased the lethality of their attacks and expanded their area of operations. The deplorable attack on civilians at a business and hotel complex in Nairobi on January 15 was a stark reminder of the threat posed by such terrorist groups.

Second, state fragility leaves many countries more vulnerable to terrorism, violent extremism, and armed conflict. When we encourage accountable, transparent governance, promote the rule of law, and support fiscal transparency, we are doing the essential, security-promoting work of strengthening state capacity and fostering self-reliance.

And third, given the growing youth populations of many African countries, it’s essential to foster economic opportunities that offer young people the chance to thrive and prosper. We know armed groups, rebel leaders, and terrorist organizations recruit young men with few alternatives. We must encourage the adoption of policies that improve the business climate, grow Africa’s middle class, and provide a path forward for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Finally, the United States would like to draw a sharp contrast between illegal, destabilizing mercenary activities and the legal, legitimate role that private military and security companies can play in many places, including in Central Africa. Private security actors train national militaries, provide logistics support to UN and AU peace operations, and protect facilities. Actors operating in these roles, in accordance with all applicable laws and the consent of host governments, contribute positively to the maintenance of peace and security across the continent.

For example, the U.S.’s Global Peace Operations Initiative has invested nearly $1.2 billion since 2005 – frequently operating with private security contractors – to build the capacity and readiness that forces to take part in UN and AU peace operations.

Mr. President, we again thank you for convening this important meeting and look forward to continuing to work together on this topic that is central to the future of international peace and security.