Small Wars Journal

Force for Hire: The Private Market for Special Operations Forces

Force for Hire: The Private Market for Special Operations Forces by Taylor Clausen - Georgetown Security Studies Review

Uniformed military forces today are widely considered to be the primary individuals tasked with employing the use of state-sanctioned force. However, in the history of warfare, the soldier has rarely had this monopoly. Mercenaries – today called private military contractors – have continuously been employed by states for a variety of reasons. In the first book of modern political science, The Prince, Niccoli Machiavelli issued a stark warning for rulers who chose to employ such forces.


Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.


Despite the long-held belief that soldiers for hire are not only useless but counterproductive, states have continued to employ them well into the present day. Several high-profile incidents regarding private military contractors have captured the front pages of newspapers, including the bizarre event in Syria where Russian mercenaries attacked an established US Marine base in Deir Ezzor, Wagner’s (a Russian military provider firm) activities in Ukraine, and the UAE’s employment of Latin American contractors in Yemen.  This begs the question, why are so many nations ignoring the advice of Machiavelli?


In the age of near-pear competition, private military contractors provide deniability and a way for governments to cloak the extent of their involvement in conflicts, not just to other actors but toward their domestic audiences as well. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trace the loyalties of these corporations to a particular nation state – as the individuals employed, where the company is incorporated, and the employing actor often differs. Congress should take an interest in where its current and former special operations reservists are employed by requiring those service members to disclose their work by military contractors…

Read on.