There have been a number of books published in the last few years that tackle the role that modern mercenary companies such as Blackwater and Dynccorp play on the global stage. The Modern Mercenary by Sean McFate looks at the historical role of mercenaries during the feudal era and how they directly contributed to the formation of national armies. Mercenaries fell out of favor for a few hundred years but are now making a dramatic comeback as the US projects its power into places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
Since the start of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States and other nations have begun to use Private Military Companies to supplement or augment their forces. This shift in acceptance, argues Sean McFate of the Atlantic Council, marks a radical change in how modern wars are fought, and foretell a shift in the balance of power in the world. In The Modern Mercenary, he examines the long history of soldiers for hire and how their presence on the battlefield are an indication of a new political trend: neomedievalism, in which power traditionally reserved exclusively for a central government is spread out among numerous other non-state players.
The modern mercenary of today is contracted to train national armies and to lay down the framework of supply lines and bases. They are hired to patrol the lawless seas off the coast of Somalia and shipping companies get discounts by the Lloyd’s of London to have armed guards aboard their vessels to discourage piracy. The modern mercenary is a corporation based in the US, but the average solider is locally recruited.
What I found interesting about this book is that there is simply no oversight with modern mercenary companies. They are considered civilian contractors and therefore have way more freedom than conventional armies have on the battlefield.
I am sure we all remember the Nisour Square massacre in Iraq. In 2007 employees of Blackwater Security Consulting (since renamed Academi) shot at Iraqi civilians killing 17 and injuring 20. It gained national media headlines and was subject to a probe. On December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity. One employee was fired and the rest are still active.
Why are so many books these days written about mercenaries and their role in the modern world? The industry has radially grown from a multi-million to a multi-billion dollar affair. From 1999 to 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense contract obligations—for both security and non-security functions—increased from $165 billion to $414 billion. In 2010, DOD obligated $366 billion to contracts, an amount seven times the United Kingdom’s entire defense budget.
The Modern Mercenary is the first book that clearly explains the role mercenaries in the current world we live in. The author worked in the private military industry for several years and the book is thoroughly researched. Another thing, the book is very well written and the author is skilled at rendering complex ideas in a readable and concise way. Highly recommended.