Book Review: The Modern Mercenary

“The unraveling of the state’s monopoly of force has begun, not over centuries but over decades. The market for force’s trajectory is uncertain; it could develop into a mediated market, which is safer, or a free market, which is dangerous.  The market’s future depends on what is done now.”
~ Sean McFate

By Catherine Austin Fitts

The Peace of Westphilia in 1648 is credited with establishing principles of international law operating through a systems of sovereign states. One of the ramifications of that principle was that sovereign states would maintain a monopoly on force. Thus ended the Middle Ages.

In The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, Sean McFate argues that:

“The reappearance of private armies is a harbinger of a wider trend in international relations: the emergence of neomedievalism….The erosion of the taboo against mercenarism heralds a shift in this world order, from the state-centric Westphilian system back to the status quote ante of the Middle Ages. The medieval system was not dominated by states but was polycentric in nature, with authority diluted and shared among state and non-state actors alike. States were just another actor on a crowded state, an no one had a monopoly of force to enforce their will. Instead, there was a free market of force, and actors – kings, popes, princes, city-states, rich families and so on – commonly employed mercenaries to settle disputes in contract warfare.”

McFate is not just another talking head. He is currently a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, Associate Professor at the National Defense University and also teaches national security policy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Before joining academia, he lived and worked in Africa for DynCorp International where he helped build an army for Liberia after serving as an officer and paratrooper in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Mr. McFate has been “boots on the ground” for both public and private armies. His personal experience has fueled his ambition to understand history and to make sense of what is happening and where we are going.

The United States’ sponsorship of private intelligence, security services and armies has blossomed with extraordinary expenditures for those services in the Middle East. This has created a significant private capacity to bring force to bear and to wage war. McFate argues that, as a result, (4) significant trends are now underway:

  • The private military industry is here to stay, led and populated by a highly international employee
  • As the conflict markets in the Middle East dry up, the private military industry is going global in search of new opportunities
  • The private military industry is also going domestic: as the US has outsourced force, local force capacity is seeded and trained and it is turning entreprenurial
  • The industry is bifurcated between actors who build (versus those who employ force directly) and mercenaries who engage in contract warfare

While the next round of military automation is still young, McFate points out that drones, robotics and cyber-hacking will place significant capacity into private hands. He underscores the need for global regulation of private military companies (PMCs).

McFate is absolutely correct – the growth of private armies will significantly impact global geopolitics and economics. And that impact has just begun. Richard Maybury recently wrote that US policy appears to be specifically designed to “maximize blowback.” Perhaps the greatest source of blowback will be the previous (12) years of outsourcing force in the Middle East and around the globe.

This is a well-written and well-researched book addressing a critical topic. I recommend it.

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