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

ISBN : 9780199360109

Sean McFate
272 Pages
163 x 236 mm
Pub date
Jan 2015
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It was 2004, and Sean McFate had a mission in Burundi: to keep the president alive and prevent the country from spiraling into genocide without anyone knowing that the United States was involved. The United States was, of course, involved, but only through McFate's employer, the military contractor DynCorp International. Throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, similar scenarios are playing out daily. The United States can no longer go to war or carry out covert operations without contractors. In 2010, the Pentagon's budget for private contractors was seven times the entire U.K. defense budget. How did this state of affairs come to be? How does the shadowy world of military contracting actually operate? And what do trends suggest about the future of war and international relations? We simply don't know much about the structure of the industry, how private military companies operate, and where this industry is heading. Typically led by ex-military men, such firms are by their very nature secretive. Even the US government-the entity that actually pays them-knows relatively little. In Private Armies, former industry insider Sean McFate lays bare the opaque world of private military contractors, explaining the economic structure of the industry and showing in detail how firms operate on the ground. As a former paratrooper and private military contractor, McFate provides an unparalleled perspective into the nuts and bolts of the industry, as well as a sobering prognosis for the future of war. While at present the U.S. government and U.S. firms dominate the market, private military companies are emerging from other countries, and warlords and militias have restyled themselves as private security companies in places like Afghanistan and Somalia. To understand how the proliferation of private forces may influence international relations, McFate looks back to the European Middle Ages, when mercenaries were common and contract warfare the norm. He concludes that international relations in the twenty-first century may have more in common with the twelfth century than the twentieth. This "back to the future" situation, which he calls neomedievalism, is not necessarily a negative condition, but it will produce a global system that contains rather than solves problems. A decidedly non-polemical account (a rarity in this field), Private Armies is the first work that combines a broad-ranging theory of the phenomenon with an insider's understanding of what the world of the private military industry is actually like.


1. Peace Through Profit Motive?
2. Understanding the Market for Force
3. A Growing Dependency
4. How Did We Get Here?
5. Why Private Armies Have Returned
6. The Murky Side of Private Force
7. The Modern World Order: A Brief History
8. Neomedievalism
9. Neomedieval Warfare
10. Liberia: Building Better Armies
11. Somalia: A Neomedieval Tale
12. Medieval Modernity
Annex A: IDIQ Contract (S-LMAQM-03-00034)
Annex B: Contract Amendment (raises contract ceiling)
Annex C: Liberia Military Program Timeline

About the author: 

Sean McFate is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and the National Defense University in Washington DC. He is also a social scientist at the RAND Corporation. Previously, he was a Program Manager for DynCorp International, a company that provides technical services for the US government, where he managed unique programs in Africa. He also served as a paratrooper in the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

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