The Modern Mercenary

Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order

by Sean McFate

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 the world, similar scenarios are playing out daily. The United States can no longer go to war without contractors. Yet we don't know much about the industry's structure, its operations, or where it's heading. Typically led by ex-military men, contractor firms are by their very nature secretive. Even the U.S. government-the entity that actually pays them-knows relatively little.In The Modern Mercenary, Sean McFate lays bare this opaque world, explaining the economic structure of the industry and showing in detail how firms operate on the ground. A former U.S. Army 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.The Modern Mercenary 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.

  • Oxford University Press; November 2014
  • ISBN: 9780199360116
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: The Modern Mercenary
  • Author: Sean McFate
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand a new component of modern warfare. The prevalence of privatized military forces raises serious political, economic, and moral questions. In The Modern Mercenary, Sean McFate applies his years of experience as a US army paratrooper and private military contractor to explore these questions through invaluable case studies and penetrating analysis." --General Stanley A. McChrystal, co-founder, McChrystal Group
"The Modern Mercenary is an adrenalin-fueled jaunt through today's battlefields, where we find not just the armies of the state, but 'security professionals' whose considerable skills are available for hire. Writing from first-hand experience as a contractor in the field, Sean McFate helps us understand this complex world beyond the cartoon criticisms and film-inspired lore to see both the obvious dangers and the potential benefits provided by a shadowy industry." --Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret), Former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and Dean, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
"The Iraq War and Blackwater may seem like yesterday's headlines, but the private military industry is still going strong. In The Modern Mercenary, a book powered by deep research and filled with fascinating details, Sean McFate deftly explores both the historic parallels of today's trade in military services for hire, and its likely future." --P.W. Singer, author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry and Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know
"McFate understands his subject from the inside. His excellent book shows convincingly the urgent need for our governments, and those who work for them, to grasp the consequences of their frequent use of private military companies before they lose control of them." --General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM
"Private Military Companies are now part of the security landscape. Sean McFate's thoughtful study of who they are, what they do and how governments interact with them will benefit all engaged in foreign policy, military activities and humanitarian efforts." --General Carter F. Ham, U.S. Army, Retired. Former Commander, U.S. Africa Command
"At last we have a serious academic study of the role of military contractors in the execution of modern warfare. The analysis of neo-medievalism and the privatization of conflict is especially thought-provoking--a must read for political leaders who are drawn into having to fight today's wars." --Sir Richard Dearlove KCMG OBE, Master, Pembroke College and former head of MI6
"McFate's persuasive, unsettling, and nonpolemical account describes the way PMSCs are changing the face of war." --Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"A fascinating and disturbing book . . . Mr. McFate writes with an insider's knowledge . . . the worrying trends he describes make this book a powerful call to arms to those who do not want a world awash with mercenaries."--The Economist
"While making the case that contractors are a here-to-stay force, McFate points out that this has deep implications, both positive and negative, for modern warfare and international relations, and believes it's important to consider both sides."--The New York Post
"The Modern Mercenary is filled with fascinating stuff, and its bottom line is that there is no stopping the continuing development of the market for force."--Strategy and Business
"What McFate does best in this book is to add structure and sobriety to the discussion by classifying different types of mercenary services and firms, and to carefully and dispassionately lay out the arguments for and against a 'free market for force.' " --Scholars and Rogues
"The Modern Mercenary will reward anyone looking for a deeper understanding of market-driven contemporary conflict." --War on the Rocks
"A thoughtful, interesting read that may turn out to be scarily prescient in the years to come."--io9
"Thought-provoking . . . Some of [McFate's] stories have never been told before, which makes the book particularly valuable." --Foreign Affairs
"[The Modern Mercenary] is a highly provocative and enriching addition to the literature on the private military industry and stands apart from much contemporary scholarship on the subject . . . McFate does a good job interweaving a rich and easy-to-read historical analysis with his overall thesis, drawing fascinating parallels between our medieval past-complete with mercenaries, military entrepreneurs and privatized warfare-and their post-modern contemporaries in an emerging neo-medieval present." --International Affairs


About The Author

Sean McFate is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, an Associate Professor at the National Defense University, and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. Previously, he lived and worked in Africa for DynCorp International, a company that provides international security services. He was also an officer and paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division.