"The Modern Mercenary" with Sean McFate on Tuesday's Access Utah

Jan 27, 2015

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. Even the U.S. government-the entity that actually pays them-knows relatively little. 

Credit Oxford University Press

In "The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order" former U.S. Army paratrooper and private military contractor, Sean McFate takes us behind the scenes of this secretive industry, and provides a prognosis for the future of war. While the U.S. government and U.S. firms currently 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, he says, necessarily a negative condition, but it will produce a global system that contains rather than solves problems.

Private warfare has the power to alter world affairs. If money can buy firepower, large corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals might combine to become a new kind of superpower. McFate explains what this world might look like and what should be done about it.

Sean McFate is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, an Associate Professor at the National Defense University, and teaches U.S. National Security Policy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. and the National Defense University. Previously, he was a paratrooper in the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division and then a private military contractor in Africa.