The Four "Civilian Contractors" Appear to Have Been Mercenaries
The Problem of Civilian Commandos

Let's Define Mercenary

I've had a few requests for a more specific definition of mercenary. What exactly are we talking about when we speak of mercenaries here?

When I started writing about mercenaries a few weeks ago, it was much more clear cut: those guys aboard N4610 detained in Zimbabwe are definitely mercenaries; they were hired by someone to overthrow a government. (Whether the government in question is in need of a regime change does not bear on the question of whether they are mercenaries.)

I ignored the matter of Private Military Companies operating in Iraq for quite a while, since it was my assumption that what they were replacing were cooks, stock boys, delivery men, the kind of security guards that stand in the same place all day with a gun, etc.  But I was disturbed that I kept encountering facts suggesting a lot more was being outsourced.

Defining mercenary is difficult and there are a variety of definitions. The short version is that when I say mercenary, I mean either a professional soldier or someone (regardless of professional qualifications) hired to act in that capacity and not formally enlisted in any state's army.

I have been reading P. W. Singer's excellent book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. He devotes considerable discussion to the precise definition.

His definition of mercenary is on p. 43:

What Makes a Mercenary?

Seven essential characteristics distinguish modern-day mercenaries from other combatants and military organizations:

Foreign: A mercenary is not a citizen or resident of the state in which he or she is fighting
Independence: A mercenary is not integrated (for the long term) into any national force and is bound only by contractual ties of a limited employer
Motivation: A mercenary fights for individual  short-term economic reward, not for political or religious goals
Recruitment: Mercenaries are brought in by oblique and circuitous ways to avoid legal prosecution
Organization: Mercenary units are temporary and ad-hoc groupings of individual soldiers
Services: Lacking prior organization, mercenaries focus just on combat service, for a single client

My definition conflicts with his on only two points. Recruitment and Services. While the non-Anglo-American mercenaries in Iraq may have been recruited against the wishes of their home countries, as a group, they seem to have the blessing of the Bush administration. To me, this does not make them any less mercenaries. But rather, this is a problem with the Bush administration. Also, the very fact that they are called "civilian contractors" seems to me a deliberate attempt to conceal the military nature of their mission. Regarding their services, this point seems most useful for distinguishing traditional mercenaries from private military  companies, not mercenaries from true civilians.

He also defines Private Military Firm on p. 47:

How Are PMFs Different?

Organization: Prior Corporate Structure
Motives: Business Profit-Driven rather than Individual Profit-Driven
Open Market: Legal, Public Entities
Services: Wider Range, Varied Clientele
Recruitment: Public, Specialized
Linkages: Tied to Corporate Holdings and Financial Markets

For the most part I would consider the soldier employees of PMFs to be mercenaries.

I'm planning to review Singers book and so I don't want to go on and on about all the illuminating information in it right now, especially since I'm only 1/3 through it. But there is one further passage I think of as a definitional touchstone (p. 64):

While economics has always played a role in conflict, the end of the twentieth century saw a new type of warfare develop, centered on profit-seeking enterprise. It was organized mass violence, but of a type that involved the blurring of traditional conceptions of war (what Clausewitz defined as violence between states or organized groups for political purposes), organized crime (violence by private organized groups undertaken for private purposes, usually financial gain), and large-scale violations of human rights.

BACK FROM PETER'S YOGA CLASS, WHERE I READ FURTHER: Singer does a nice job classifying the role of "security" provided by private military firms (p. 73):

Some [firms], such as Vinnell or Booz Allen, are relatively hidden as divisions within a larger corporate structure. Others such as Armourgroup, identify themselves as outside the military field, using the more legitimate-sounding moniker of "private security firms." Their claim is that they provide only passive services for private clients in domestic situations. However, they are far different from the security guard s that work at the local shopping malls. A number of "private security firms" are neither quiescent in their operations, nor are the settings in which they operate either peaceful or even civilian in nature. From offering training in special forces tactics to providing armed units designed to repel guerrilla attacks, both their services and impact are definitely military in nature.

AND FOR THE TRUE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS OUT THERE,  here's a tidbit to feed your fancies: Armourgroup (remember, these are the guys who mention the ex-KGB guys on their staff in a press release) owns NTI, the company that does computer security for CNN, Ebay, and Yahoo (p. 84).

ANOTHER GOOD BIT FROM SINGER, (p. 23 & 25): Niccol Machiavelli looked down on the use of mercenaries:

I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. 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.