10
$\begingroup$

How could mercenaries become a lot more prevalent with well funded & competent militaries still in existence? Basing isn't a problem as there are many areas in this world that aren't (well) controlled by a government. But most of the world is still controlled by a functional government. Most militaries are cold war level large as well as well equipped & organised. National conflict is relatively common. The technology level is ~near future. The biggest issue I see is that why would a government with a well equipped & standardised military want to deal with supplying such a group under their command structure. Most warfare is conventional rather than against insurgents. So why would mercenaries become a lot more prevalent under these conditions?

Edit: When i refer to mercenaries i mean a coherent military unit owned privately & fights for whoever pays them

$\endgroup$
4
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Alexander's answer is excellent, but it underscores a quesiton: what do you mean by "mercenary?" In the good old days, a mercenary was little more than an individual thug with some combat experience, his own equipment, and a desire to make fast cash withou the burden of ethics or morals. Compare this to today's private military company that's basically the same thing but a lot better organized with a strong (if not always politically aligned) sense of ethics (and maybe morals, it is war, after all). Can you clearly explain what you mean by "mercenary?" $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ While it's overkill for this question, a good read for you would be this excerpt discussing the history of mercenaries. Note that a bodyguard is technically a mercenary. Any private contractor hired to do a job for the military is technically (from a very technical point of view) a mercenary. That's why I asked my question. What are the limits of their activities? Can they rape, pillage and plunder, or are they little more than temporary conscripts? Do they adhere to the ethics of the hiring organization, or is this purely contractural? $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 1:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Who says they're not in existence right now? In the news today "Scale of Russian mercenary mission in Libya exposed" bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-58009514 As to why: "the stance of the Russian government was - 'let them join this thing, and we'll see what the result is. If it works out well, we can use it to our advantage. If it turns out badly, then we had nothing to do with it'" $\endgroup$
    – David258
    Aug 11 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ @David258 They aren't really mercenaries. They're more just regular russian forces that have deniability when they do something dodgy. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Aug 11 at 11:24

12 Answers 12

20
$\begingroup$

A private military contractor (PMC) is a glorified service-provider with guns. It follows you'll find some of the same reasons why any company pays contractors rather than hiring people to do the job themselves. And then you'll find other reasons associated to not getting your own hands dirty.

Because it's cheaper. Doing stuff yourself implies building an infrastructure and supply chain, hiring people, training them. It takes time and it takes money. A PMC can potentially do the same instantly for less than it'd cost you. Or they'll take on the financial risk for trying something new if it horribly backfires.

Because you don't have to micromanage. You give them a budget, a desired outcome and they'll figure how to get to the latter using the former. If they don't achieve results, they're liable for it. That also gives you deniability if they do morally dubious activies. You never told them to "enhance interrogate" people in secret black sites.

Because you have someone else to blame. Especially in case of PR problems relating to aforementioned morally dubious activies. I mean, the contract specifically said "no torture please".

Because parliamentary oversight does not apply. Depending on their status, their finances might be even completely opaque, which is useful to cover up morally dubious activies.

Because it's not your boys coming back in pine boxes. Well, it probably is still, but they're corporate drones fighting for money rather than the sons and daughters of the country fighting for the flag, so that softens the blow.

Because technically it's not your military attacking another. Although the country you attack is probably not going to be amused by this subtle difference, other countries might refrain from interfering because, technically, it's a private third-party committing the offence.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for the very realistic reasons. I also must add "because it's safer" - a PMC probably doesn't have all the information on the military strategy, chain of command, etc., so they can't give it away if captured. And they have less value as bargaining chips for a prisoner exchange / ransom demand $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 11:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JulianaKarasawaSouza Regarding the security argument, in a modern military you are told what you need to know, so I don't think it wouldn't change much. A trooper will know just as little regardless of who employs them. Regarding ransom value, perhaps the only real difference is they're not necessarily your citizens, but those who are are still quite valuable. $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 11:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Because it's cheaper" - we have to add "on the short term". Hiring and managing your own people might be cheaper if you need them for a very long time, but hiring contractors is better if you only need them for a small number of projects, despite them having a far higher hourly rate. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Aug 12 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ The last point "other countries might refrain from interfering " is especially useful in cases when those other countries tacitly agree with your objectives (or are weaker than you and aren't all too willing to pick a fight with you), but international contracts or tradition or public opinion would dictate them to interfere. So it's a good excuse for themselves not to interfere, especially if they would have been reluctant anyway to interfere. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Aug 12 at 8:19
12
$\begingroup$

"Army on demand" is becoming a reliable option, and much more viable economically

Building modern military takes a lot of time and money. For an average country, all those efforts are just to ensure that it won't get in trouble if there is any trouble in the future.

But what if you don't have to have your own army in order to fight wars? You don't need a car if you can always call Uber. You don't need your own internet server if you can get it on the cloud. You don't need to learn a thousand professions, if your roof leaks or if your taxes are too complicated. You just call people who are the professionals - and hopefully better professionals in their area that you can ever be.

There are still a few conditions that need to be satisfied

  • Mercenary companies are becoming more professional, with a reputation to protect;
  • Military conflicts becoming more permanent, providing mercenaries with steady income and growth opportunities;
  • Political military alliances (like NATO) are becoming less reliable, with members feeling that they are on their own;
$\endgroup$
4
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So AWS but for violence... rent mass-murderers by the hour. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Aug 11 at 9:26
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ War Crimes'R'Us? $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 11:23
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @user253751 Amazon War Services? $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Aug 11 at 14:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Side effects may include everyone being scared to stop giving Jeff Bezos money. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Aug 11 at 14:32
11
$\begingroup$

Deniability

A government might want to hire mercenaries for dirty work it would be illegal for the government to do itself. It may also be illegal to hire the mercenary to do it, but it adds a layer of separation and deniability between the decision-makers and the deeds.

Cronyism

Politicians and bureaucrats like to funnel money to their rich buddies. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. If there's a lot of military spending going on, setting up a private military contractor such as Blackwater is one way to distribute a piece of the pie to your friends at the golf club.

Cost efficiency

If you have a lot of entities that might war with each other, but are not warring with each other at the moment, then it's inefficient for each of these entities to maintain a large standing army. It's more efficient for them to simply hire the services of a mercenary outfit when it's time to fight. The mercenary outfit spends little time idle, because there's usually someone at war, and the competing entities don't waste budget on an army they aren't using.

In the typical cyberpunk setting, corporations hire mercenaries for all these reasons.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wagner Group is an example of deniability. $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 11:56
6
$\begingroup$

Govenments are broke... but towns and corporations aren't

From a very practical point of view a government is nothing other than an organization empowered to use the threat of violence to impose order on society. As the history of humanity has proven, "order" is often a very subjective term that should be modified to, "someone's interpretation of order." A military is nothing more than a national "police force" with jurisdictional rules that are a hair more complicated (although today's police would very likely take issue with that statement, their jurisdictional problems are nightmarish). In other words, when a government imposes its version of order on its own citizens, that's usually a task for an organized group of people called "the police." When a government imposes its version of order on another government's citizens, that's usually a task for an organized group of people called "the military."

And, yes, I'm oversimplifying to an extent that will make angels weep. But what it lets me do is treat police and military equally, which in a world with an increased mercenary presense, is (IMO) likely to be true. To-may-to, to-mah-to. It's all still berries used in delightful Italian dishes.

You want soldiers for hire to be much more prevelent in your society. That's not as hard as it sounds. Remember, a government's ability to impose order comes from its ability to threaten violence. No threat, no order.

No money, no threat.

Reduce your governments, no matter what kind they are, to the funding level of a large corporation and your problem is solved — because the government would no longer have the ability to organize, equip, and field a military that would keep vigilantism mercenaryship at bay.

This opens to doors to a whole lot of interesting things. Corporations (which today in the real world hire soldiers of fortune private military companies) would need to protect their national and international interestes — and they're suddenly on-par with even the local government to do so. The interest of a corporation is the bottom line, not usually a political ideology. Larger cities and/or towns would be similar, but their focus would be more "protection of resources" than a nation's would be (IMO). I say this because the larger the organization, the more that organization's focus is the preservation of its own power and not the promotion of a particular issue. (But, to be fair, I may be really, really optimistic with that statement.)

So, when you're talking about soldiers of fortune, it's all about the money, honey. And you need to have it to hire them. They may work occasionally for food or new equipment, but I believe that would be the exception and not the rule. But so long as a more powerful military and/or police force is unable to stop the mercenaries, your political landscape will remain... complicated.

NOTE: You need to understand that by equaling the field with the use of mercenaries, what you've done is make everything a government. The three kids who run the local Lord of the Rings fan club are a "government," they just don't have the resources to threaten enough violence to impose any more order than throwing little billy out of the treehouse. In other words, your world isn't really any different from today's world — your just calling some governments "corporations" and other governments "outlaw nations" and yet others "The Town of Wichita." In fact, given how much violence the world (and notably the U.S.) has seen in the last two years, your world might not end up looking a whole lot different from the real world. :-)

Having said that, the precense of mercenaries is IMO easy to justify. What's a bit more complicated is writing in the ethics and morals. How does a corporation stop their PMCs from killing everyone in a small sub-African village? Does it matter if the stock doesn't drop? Would the ability for the PMCs to march in a victory parade in the walled town's refounding day matter? I think that's what will be more fun: figuring out how to control what has, in many ways, proven to be uncontrollable, and thereby bring greater chaos.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is basically what happened in the 30 years war. The governments were broke, they couldn't sustain the armies, so the war degenerated into an almost entirely mercenary conflict, where armies of mercenaries were "supported" by rich cities. It was more like a protection racket than real support, but still, technically the armies were financed by rich cities instead of the central government. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Aug 12 at 8:44
2
$\begingroup$

Local and/or experienced mercenaries would have invaluable insights.

Fictional foreign powers may not look kindly on you mobilising your standardised military into contested territories. However, they may accept you mobilising a group of respected mercenaries.

Some countries may produce excellent trained soldiers, but not be well equipped. If these countries aren't proper allies they might loan out such soldiers as sort of mercenaries for a v.high fee.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Historically, soldiers coming home from a war had 3 life paths: poverty, crime, and mercenary. You can look into why this is from a psychological or economic point of view, but I am only going to do the latter since that is what I am good at.

During a massive war, the economy needs to remain functioning while a large section of the population is not participating. In other words, while the soldiers are fighting, their jobs are taken by non-soldiers. For this reason soldiers returning home will usually not be able to reclaim the job they had before leaving. They will also have difficulty finding new jobs because their work experience as a soldier does not translate to many other careers.

All of this leads to poverty, which if extreme enough leads to crime, which if often enough leads to organized crime, which if large enough governments and NGO will hire rather than fight. Ta da, we have the first privateers! Alternatively, groups of soldiers skip the crime part and go directly to governments and NGO offering their services as privateers, or mercenaries in general depending on what is needed.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

They are the well funded and (slightly less) competent militaries ... which lost, and have no country to go back home to.

This happened a lot in the times of the Jacobite uprisings in Scotland, or rather, just after, when being seen in your home country was punishable by death. Lots of Scottish soldiers ended up on both sides of the contemporary wars between Austria, Russia, and Poland for example.

Post defeat, the losing side still exists, and has to eat, and has to go somewhere. They have one profession, and (under slightly better command) do it well; and can undercut any other bidder. And that profession is WAAS : Warfare As A Service.

Plus, they are somebody else's sons, so using them on the tougher missions causes less adverse reaction back home.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Specialty

Your armies are cold-war big and competent with current/near future tech. But that DOESN'T mean all-knowing and all-conquering. In fact, the current/near future aspect means it's probably too hard for countries to keep on the cutting edge of technology EVERYWHERE. And as NATO/US forces have proven on numerous occasions, being cutting edge MATTERS.

The problem is staying cutting-edge across the whole spectrum of warfare is a trillions-of-dollars enterprise. But states need to play that game, or else their Gen 7.5 tanks/aircraft/ships/subs/missiles will be near-worthless in a standup fight against a rivals Gen 8 equipment. Or maybe even their gen 7.5.1 equipment. It's a rat-race nations have learned can bankrupt them without a shot being fired. So instead they specialize. Maybe in just a few things, maybe in all but one major aspect. Depends on the budget/politics involved. But for the rest, high-tech merc companies slot into the gaps. Maybe New USSR decides it can't match Federated North America's aircraft research. But Blue Wolves merc company in Mongolia has state-of-the-art fighters so New USSR hires them. Maybe Iran figures out it can't keep pace with the Israeli attack subs, so it hires an Indonesian outfit to provide ASW.

As to how a merc company could keep state of the art, they'd only be dealing with one specific aspect of warfare. This group ONLY does surface to air missiles. This one ONLY does Main Battle Tanks. That one ONLY does transport helos. With developments in computer design the timeframe to create a new gen of aircraft has been WILDLY reduced (down to maybe a year or two from 20+ seeHERE and other types of military hardware are going the same way. Given you also have some serious factories that are willing to make designs and otherwise supply merc companies, the rest is doable.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome again Dario. I wish you'd register, you'd probably have been elected a mod by now. ;) $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 15:22
0
$\begingroup$

Mercenaries are disposable

By law the government must care for the wounded, assist the veterans pay the retirement of those who served for a long time. For the mercenaries a cheap medical insurance and some pension funds that would end up being eaten by the managers by the time they are needed can do.

Mercenaries represent a smaller political problem

Mercenaries will be recruited all over the world, the death of a foreigner will not make the news as the death of a fellow citizen. Mercenaries after serving will go back to their own country where the media voice is muffled, if they start talking too much about what they were ordered to do on the field it would be easier to cover it up.

Mercenaries are more controllable

Mercenaries can be signed up with contracts full of fine print. It will be easier to stop paying them and get rid of them if they complain too much.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Multiple reasons could trigger the use of mercenaries by many governments, and thus existing mercenary companies.

So you can choose your own solution between those given by all the answers, but it is important to consider some points:

Mercenaries were most of the time in history the way to have soldiers

Especially, in Europe during all king's wars, mercenaries (either from the nation or foreign) were the bulk of the army.

  • So overall, your justification should onlybe about why the societies have a path different from us. There is no difficulty in the justification of mercenaries

The use of national army is heavily linked to the idea of citizenship

In history, having an army made of citizens of the country was often triggered by heavy consciousness of citizenship and it triggered important debates about the place of the army in the society.

  • This is a good reason: our current country, with small professional armies (example of Europe), might easily come to use mercenaries because of less involvement of the civil society.

Existing mercenaries are previous professionnal soldiers

Current technologies might favour mercenaries

Imagine for example Google (or an other big computer company) creating a cyberdefence mercenary branch: they will surely be better than most of cyberdefence department of common states. Other example: you could imagine a national army turned for defence (interception, control of national sky... for the air force) and the mercenaries come in for the offensive part (cruise missiles, bombers....)

Opening cost is high

The most important difficulty for your mercenaries will be to be viable with the heavy cost involved for acquiring hardware and training with that.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

"Optics"

You need/want to help the people your government freed from a dictator, but your army is an army, not civil engineers. So, you've hired contractors to do this type of rebuilding work, from new roads to new buildings, new schools to new hospitals, new hydroelectric dams to water purification systems.

However, a military presence is still needed in these hostile/disputed areas to protect the people working these sites, as well as the equipment and the sites themselves from death and destruction.

If you leave your own military personnel there to provide this protection, you do 2 things:

  • It looks like you are (only) protecting the assets of the company you hired
  • Your trained army isn't doing battle on the front lines

This looks bad in the papers, since you're apparently draining resources to support the greed of companies as well as having to deploy ever more troops to the battle. This last bit on it's own looks bad since you are depleting your reserves, needing to continually recruit more people, and your training programs eventually can't keep up with the demand.

So instead, you approve the/a civilian company to hire it's own militia/bodyguards/defenses and get your people back where they are fighting the bad guys again. The civilian company doesn't have to worry about training, since they can simply hire veterans that already have the training, but were retired, medically discharged, or simply didn't re-enlist.

In some/many cases, the pay and benefits is better for civilian mercenaries than the government's military, so after an initial stint in the military, people specifically don't re-enlist to become mercenaries.

Real life

In fact, most of this is pretty much how the USA works in Afghanistan and other countries it's been fighting in for the last 100 years or so. Yes, the Army has the Corp of Engineers, but they are generally there to build temporary structures or to help civilian governments design/build infrastructure, not to do it all. The CoE is also tasked with demolition, so they can also be needed on the front lines to help figure out the most economical/fastest way to destroy an enemy stronghold.

$\endgroup$
-3
$\begingroup$

State militaries are incompetent in several ways.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-army-police/

But in a trove of confidential government interviews obtained by The Washington Post, U.S., NATO and Afghan officials described their efforts to create an Afghan proxy force as a long-running calamity. With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would remain private, they depicted the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated, poorly trained, corrupt and riddled with deserters and infiltrators.

In your world (and ours) many countries have militaries that are terrible. Units cannot be relied on to fight and even if they stay and fight, they are bad at it. There are multiple reasons for this and the reasons might vary from one country to the next. The bottom line: if you need competent soldiers, you need to hire them.

$\endgroup$
9
  • $\begingroup$ That sound more an excuse than the real reason why things didn't work there. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Aug 11 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ There are several reasons very specific to the situation in Afghanistan which caused the formation of an Afghan army to fail. You can not extrapolate that to armies in other countries. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Aug 11 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ I did not intend for this answer to be a referendum on the Afghan military. I am sure people differ on their competence. There are many other militaries one could use as an example but the quote about the Afghan army was handy and concise. The idea here was not to bag on the Afghans but to propose that a military (for any of a number of reasons) might be incompetent, and so the country with such a military might need to hire mercenaries. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 11 at 13:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Willk Trouble is that stupidity or incompetence is used too often to cover up corruption or treason. In a big and organised group where many people put together different expertise and check each other rarely mistakes happen because of stupidity or incompetence. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Aug 11 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @FluidCode - agreed! Stupidity is curable but corruption and treason are willful. Those 2 are even more important reasons why a state might want to work around the military it is saddled with. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 11 at 15:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.