The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order

By Hammes, T. X. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2015 | Go to article overview

The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order


Hammes, T. X., Joint Force Quarterly


The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order

By Sean McFate

Oxford University Press, 2014

235 pp. $29.95

ISBN: 978-0199360109

At their peak, contractors comprised more than 50 percent of U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, despite complaints about contractor performance, the Pentagon has stated that contractors will make up half of any future U.S. force deployments. Why? Because they work. This reality requires defense professionals to seek a deeper understanding of what contractors do and the implications for future conflict--making Sean McFate's The Modern Mercenary a very timely book. In it, he not only carefully examines contractors, but also describes the changing international environment in which they will operate.

McFate does not claim his book covers all aspects of contracting. Rather, he focuses on the most controversial element: private military companies or, in his words, "the private sector equivalent of combat arms." As he notes, the most disturbing aspect of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on contractors is "the decision to outsource lethal force." He places these companies in two categories. Those that directly apply military force are "mercenaries," while those that train others to do so are "enterprisers." These categories represent two distinct markets. Mercenaries exist as a free market in which each individual sells his or her services directly to the buyer, offering the means of war to anyone who can afford it. Enterprisers represent a mediated market in which the company is an arbitrator between the individual and the buyer. Essentially, the company recruits and organizes personnel to fulfill specific mission/contract requirements as defined by the buyer. For good business reasons, enterprisers are more discriminating in both the clients and tasks they accept. Unfortunately, if business demands, enterprisers can easily slip to the mercenary side of the scale.

McFate does not see mercenaries and enterprisers in the same light. Using Somalia as a case study, he argues that free market mercenaries are likely to contribute to increased instability and will not improve a state's chances of success. In contrast, enterprisers offer a state an opportunity for success. He uses Liberia as a case study where, as a DynCorp employee, he participated in raising and training the new Liberian army. However, his argument for enterprisers is weakened by the lack of success in Iraq and Afghanistan despite the presence of dozens, if not hundreds, of enterprisers.

In one of the most interesting aspects of this intriguing work, McFate applies the concept of neo-medievalism--the belief that the world is becoming increasingly non-state-centric and multipolar--to describe the emerging global security environment. …

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