Foreign Military Assistance

Our everyday word ‘merchant’ comes from the Latin word ‘merx’ – meaning merchandise. Another everyday word which has the same root is ‘commerce’. ‘Merx’, in turn, has a correlation with the Latin word ‘merces’ – which means, amongst other similar things, wages or hire. This word is also the stem for another Latin word ‘mercenarius’ – which means ‘hired’ or ‘paid’. And that is how we get to the English word ‘mercenary’ – someone who is a soldier for hire.

Mercenaries have featured in wars for centuries. However, general public opinion is to frown upon their activities, which are fuelled not by patriotism but by money. Such opinion is reflected in the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act 1998.

A. Mercenary activities

A ‘mercenary activity’ is defined as being direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain.

  1. It is a criminal offence to recruit, train or use persons for mercenary activity.1

  2. It is an offence to finance mercenary activity.2

  3. It is an offence to engage in mercenary activity.3

B. Foreign military assistance

  1. It is an offence to offer military or military related services to any State, organ of state, or any other entity or person unless specific authorization has been granted by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee.4

  2. If authorization is granted, there may be conditions attached. It is a crime not to comply with such conditions.5

  3. In addition, authorization will only be granted (at least) if there is an agreement in place relating to the foreign military assistance. The agreement must be approved by the Committee. It is an offence to render foreign military assistance otherwise than in accordance with the approved agreement.6

  4. If there are any conditions imposed regarding the approval of the agreement, those must be complied with and it is an offence not to do so.7

  1. Section 2. 

  2. Ibid

  3. Ibid

  4. Section 3(a) read with section 8(1). 

  5. Section 8(1). 

  6. Section 3(b) read with section 5 read with section 8(1). 

  7. Section 8(1).