This is an alternative Earth-like world, which has just entered the rough equivalent of Cold War. The primary contenders are the large quasi-socialist country with a strong command economy, opposed by the Coalition. Both have yet to develop nuclear weaponry, but on the other hand, many countries have already mastered advanced information technologies, comparable to today's Earth IT level.

The "Coalition" - is a transnational union of numerous small island states. These states are formally independent from each other, but they share a lot of things, like common internal market, free movement between islands, transnational legislation and so on - just like the European Union today. But unlike EU, these states are held together not by a supranational government-like body, but by a group of wealthy transnational companies.

The archipelago's individual island states do not have their own armies (it's too costly for them), so they rely on the protection from private military companies. These PMCs defend the entire Coalition from outer threats, while member countries pay for their services, so they don't have to deal with their own military spending. Unlike it's neighbour, the Coalition's military isn't large, instead coalitional PMCs rely on cutting edge technologies and small, expensive, but highly trained special forces, consisting of contract servicemen.

The Coalition's rival - the local equivalent of USSR - doesn't really have advanced military tech (its army and navy are like early 1950s level, compared to the corporatocracy's 1970-1980s technologies). However, the continental country's got a large population (the populations difference between these two are like between modern China and Japan), and thus it can afford to recruit and maintain quite a large army. Plus, having an authoritarian regime and universal conscription system also helps.

My question is, would the described factions make equal opponents in terms of military strength in a somewhat realistic setting?

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    $\begingroup$ Does the continental economy depend on the output of the corporations? Do the corporations 'own' most of the production and manufacturing capabilities of the continental country? In that sense, do the corporations own all of the IP rights, the patents, on the technology, and thus control all technology? $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2021 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ There is some trade going on between the continent and islands - both parties have certain resources and goods, that "corpos"/"commies" have limited or no access. But in general, both aim to be as autonomous as possible. Still, these trade relations is the primary reason, why the war hasn't started yet. $\endgroup$
    – Khangodr
    Dec 4, 2021 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ You mention 'trade'. Are there other population centers non-aligned? I am not clear on the population figures that indicate these corporate islands have sufficient population and wealth to support huge mega-corporations, without there being substantial populated areas elsewhere to support it, if the main population center is 'the enemy' and in competition. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2021 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ I think the answer is, "Yes, if you want it to, and it fits your story." It's opinion, like if you love or hate socialism, private military organizations, or confederations as economic systems. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Dec 5, 2021 at 5:59

2 Answers 2


Ok, no nukes (that would change the picture !)

Two remarks

Islands will be difficult to conquer

When a large population (=large land army size) is the only danger, the Coalition will have a strategic advantage.. A huge land army with artillery, jeeps and tanks will be useless against islands. Taking a single island close to the coast will be easy. But a battle over distant islands in the open sea requires lengthy marine operations, invading via beaches, without cover.. The American-Japanese war, as well as D-Day Omaha Beach showed how expensive that will be in terms of casualties on both sides, winners and loosers.

Modern free enterprise and casualties don't fit well...

A state government has the actual responsibility to keep its population safe. In your scenario, states would pay companies to provide safety. But that will be a vulnerable construct in a really big war. Military operations sometimes fail. A state will not immediately dismantle its army when a single failure occurs, a company will probably not survive any error. When a battle goes wrong and thousands of body bags return home, instead of employees, their stock price will take a dive, their military experts will leave.. and the owner runs the risk of not being payed, or worse.. default and get prosecuted. This will not be an incentive for free enterprise to join in !

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    $\begingroup$ "Islands will be difficult to conquer" - since none of the islands can be self-sufficient, disrupting the goods exchange between them will bring them to their knees quite soon - no need to invade them to conquer them. It will be a costly exercise (because logistics at sea, far from the mainland), but a lot less expensive than occupying them island by island. Any idea how to counter that? $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2021 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi If there exists a Coalition technological advantage, like the OP indicates, blockade tactics in open sea will be difficult. Such operations need air support. The ships that maintain a blockade would need to be sitting duck for months, they would face a superior enemy air force, and also missiles and artillery defense on the near islands. They could resort to piracy, e.g. deploy torpedo's against trade vessels, like the Germans did in the North Sea during WW-II. Nasty and harmful tactics, but it gave them little economic or strategic advantage. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 4, 2021 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ Please note, 'nuclear weapons' and 'nuclear energy' do NOT go hand in hand. You can develop one without having any notion of the other. Canada was well on the way to developing nuclear energy (without any interest in 'the bomb') long before America started to develop the nuclear warhead. It was a particularly American thing to weaponize it. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2021 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ If the coalition owns all of the means of production, and all of the investment money, then 'conquering' the coalition would be like cutting off your own hands, The purpose of the coalition army PMCs would be to protect ownership of coalition property on the continent. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2021 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond agreed.. and the availability of nuclear power would benefit the islands even more. No vulnerable oil transports are needed.. your second remark may be less applicable, because the Coalition is fighting socialist ideology as well. The continental power could be largely self-supporting, and choose to be independent of trade systems, dominated by the islands. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 4, 2021 at 11:43

"Private military companies" is probably a euphemism.

When I hear "private miltary companies" I think of condottieri or mercenaries - hired guns. In the current day, the US hires out a lot of things that the military used to do itself. Private "defense" contractors have made and maintained armaments for a long time. Haliburton and other private contractors took care of a lot of support operations for US military operation. Blackrock is also a private company and they also did some fighting.

But not the fighting. When I think of how it would go with a state that had its fighting done by a private company I realize that there must be some ulterior motive for calling it a private company - probably to make the entity more palatable for state participants or taxpayers.

Consider such a company. If it had operations or assets on the mainland it would lose those once it was doing battle with the mainland. So the company must be limited to the island nations. Maybe they do some private security work for individuals but they can use the same resources to do those jobs that they use to defend the consortium.

This company will exist or cease to exist at the will of the island consortium. Suppose the enemies come, there is a need for company employees to fight and they decline to fight. This is a real risk. The only way I think think of to avoid this is to have state employees embedded within the company who are empowered to compel the employees to fight.

What you have now is a regular military where more of the duties have been contracted out to private companies. Imagine a situation where many of the enlisted people are paid by Blackrock, a private security firm. Other support and armaments are carried out by subcontractors. The actual military is a corps of officers and other strategically placed personell to make sure that the "private" military acts as a military.

I can see how a notional "private military" would be reassuring to members of a consortium who rightly fear that the strongest member will use the military to control the other members. Probably the strongest member already does (economically at least) control the other members and the facade is maintained for the populace.

If there are built in assurances that they will fight, I think a navy / airforce with a 20 year tech edge will easily defend vs a technologically inferior navy.

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    $\begingroup$ The East India Company maintained three armies when it was in control of India. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Dec 5, 2021 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidR - excellent example. One could make a strong case that this company was effectively an arm of British government. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 5, 2021 at 18:09

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