Academic journal article Parameters

The New Condottieri and US Policy: The Privatization of Conflict and Its Implications

Academic journal article Parameters

The New Condottieri and US Policy: The Privatization of Conflict and Its Implications

Article excerpt

"The mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous, and if anyone supports his state by the arms of mercenaries, he will never stand firm or sure, as they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless, bold amongst friends, cowardly amongst enemies, they have no fear of God, and keep no faith with men."

Machiavelli, The Prince

Machiavelli's warning against the privatization of conflict is almost a cliche of international relations. And yet conflict at the beginning of the 21st century is in many ways reminiscent of the Italian philosopher's time, long before the emergence of the European state system at Westphalia in 1648. Niche wars, for instance, are on the rise around the globe, pitting governments and nongovernmental forces against each other. "As new forms of armed conflict multiply and spread," Martin van Creveld has observed in this regard, "they will cause the lines between public and private, government and people, military and civilian to become as blurred as they were before 1648." (1) Already, the new era is marked by a decrease in conventional warfare with large armies and an increase in conflicts characterized as Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW). Added to this are a growing number of nations unable to provide security for their citizens as well as the increasing demands by civilian leadership around the worl d for leaner, less expensive military forces. These developments have fueled a surge of interest in the privatization of conflict. An increasingly important manifestation of this trend is the private military corporation (PMC), organized to provide often-specialized military expertise to its clients.

PMCs are different from other private means of violence in scope, purpose, and legal form. They differ significantly, for example, from mercenaries, the familiar traditional soldiers for hire. In addition, recent world events in Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Balkans have publicized another type of privatized means of conflict--the private army or militia led by a warlord. These organizations, representing a step above the mercenary, manifest themselves as transnational terrorist groups, drug cartel forces, and religiously motivated combat groups like the Islamic Brotherhood. A more conventional means of privatized violence is the private security company that provides personnel and installation protection at home and abroad. In this hierarchy, the private military corporation represents the ultimate evolution of private means of violence. A PMC is a legally chartered company or corporation organized along business lines and engaged in military operations across the spectrum of conflict. (2)

The initial task of this article is to examine this evolution against the historical backdrop of state efforts to suppress violence. Why, despite these efforts and the time-honored resonance of Machiavelli's warning, have PMCs emerged in the post-Cold War era? In what type of future operations could these organizations be most effective? What are the advantages and disadvantages of their use by the United States? The purpose of this article is to provide answers to these questions.

The Rise and Demise of Conflict Privatization

The privatization of conflict is not a new phenomenon; it was widely practiced until the 1800s. As kings and princes tried to extend their control over new tracts of land, the feudal system of military service prevented them from raising the required larger armies. This constraint led them to employ mercenaries. (3) Although the use of mercenaries and other privatized means of violence proved successful, the price for that success was a continuous state struggle to regulate their behavior and performance. This conflict ultimately was about the authority and legitimacy of the state versus the very real power of these privatized means to wage war on anyone they chose. …

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