A Freer Market for Force

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

For now the market for private military contractors is a monopsony, Sean McFate (The Modern Mercenary) suggests, but we should prepare for a freer market for force:

The result, McFate predicts, will be a return to the Middle Ages, when private warriors determined the outcomes of conflicts and states stood at the sidelines of international politics. This “neo-medieval” world will be characterized by “a non-state-centric, multipolar international system of overlapping authorities and allegiances within the same territory.” Yet it need not be chaotic, he reassures readers, since “the global system will persist in a durable disorder that contains, rather than solves, problems.”

How can the world avoid replicating the problems generated by hired guns in the medieval era? The answer, according to McFate, is to rely less on mere mercenaries and instead foster “military enterprisers.” The former sell their skills to the highest bidder; the latter “raise armies rather than command them” and thus contribute to stability. During the Thirty Years’ War, military enterprisers included such figures as Ernst von Mansfeld, who raised an army for the elector palatine, and Albrecht von Wallenstein, who offered his services to Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman emperor.

But in sketching out a strategy for dealing with a world of privatized power, McFate is too quick to jettison the state-centric principles that have served the world so well since the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The biggest challenges to U.S. security in the years ahead, from climate change to terrorism to cybersecurity, will require more state-to-state collaboration, not less. And U.S. support, tacit or otherwise, for a free market for force will only serve ?to exacerbate these problems.

McFate offers two in-depth case studies of modern contractors: in Liberia, where they played the role of military enterprisers, and in Somalia, where they acted as mercenaries.


  1. Graham says:

    Wallenstein did all sorts of things, but surely “contribute to stability” was not among them.

  2. Graham says:

    Still, the cited article does further contribute to the hypothesis of a ‘neo-medieval’ pattern in IR — a notion that goes at least as far back as Hedley Bull, and which has been fertile ground for SF writers across the board. My favourite example of the latter was PJ Plauger [I think], who wrote a great short story called “Wergild” in Asimov’s [or Analog] 20–25 years ago, about a world in which an obscure US court ruling had made contract killing legal if certain elaborate formalities were observed. Naturally, the hiring entities and loci of allegiance ranged from traditional governments to corporations and private individuals.

  3. Grasspunk says:

    I knew PJ Plauger back then, at least a bit. Weird, I had no idea he wrote sci-fi. We only talked about software engineering and business. Here’s his sci-fi page.

  4. Global politicians are particularly envious of Israeli politicians, because they have a contained and imprisoned boogey-man — the Palestinians. Whenever the political process needs to be manipulated, they ramp up the conflict.

    Additionally, the military industrial complex — increasingly private, though in a corporatist sense — thrives.

    I believe we will see a Gaza-fication. I picked up that concept from some progressive journalists who saw parallels between Gaza and what Brazil did to its poor in order to get the World Cup last year. I think they even hired the Israeli company Rafael to do some drone work or something.

    The progressives notice what is being done to the poor and undesirable, but they don’t realize the clean places these people are kept out of also function like little prisons too.
    I figure America will have a series of little Gazas — Baltimore, Ferguson, etc. — all act as marketing for it. Then there are all the illegals, not to mention those here legally who really shouldn’t be.

  5. SFC Tom says:

    We bring stability at a much lower cost to taxpayers. Research what Executive Outcomes did in Africa. With the insanely high cost of overhead for the military and their inefficiency in hours of work done within their skill set vs time spent doing admin work and the like, we are cheaper too (though part of our reduced overhead is the military trains us while on duty).

    You can always tell propaganda from the dramatic word choices of the author.

    Where that mission failed was training and using locals vs keeping Western security professionals on hand to do the work. Trusting skinnies, hajjis and whatnot is always a losing bet, but my limited experience in Africa showed me that infrastructure and the like protected by White men become areas of stability and prosperity for the locals.

    What drives our industry is a small military and lots of dumbass missions keeping that small military thin on the ground, as well as NGOs wanting to do hippie shit in dangerous places and the government wanting a degree of separation, i.e. ablity to lie about what it’s up to. Also, we are a regulated industry, with rules set by the State Department and what have you, but we have much reasonable rules of engagement and an excellent which infuriates the left.

    At any rate, I have not read the book, and probably won’t given the authors background (doing the training work vs direct action so to speak), but the article shows a political axe to grind and a lack of understanding.

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