Book Talk: Back to the future with 21st century soldiers of fortune

Thu Jul 2, 2015 5:13am EDT
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By Giles Elgood

LONDON (Reuters) - It's now clear, Sean McFate says in his new book, "The Modern Mercenary", that when nation states spent nearly 400 years officially discouraging soldiers of fortune, it was the exception rather than the rule.

There were mercenaries on the battlefields of Europe long before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, when it was agreed that military force was the preserve of governments.

And now, says McFate, a former soldier who teaches at Georgetown University in Washington, the mercenaries are back, in strength, and are not going away.

Private military contractors, or PMCs, are flourishing again because they cost less than standing armies and their presence in a war zone is less politically sensitive than large numbers of regular soldiers.

McFate says we are seeing a return to the type of warfare seen in the Middle Ages, when mercenary bands roamed northern Italy and elsewhere. As the global political landscape fragments, we are reverting to a free market for military force.

"The implications of this are enormous," McFate says, "since it suggests that international relations in the 21st century will have more in common with the 12th century than with the 20th."

McFate answered questions from Reuters about why he wrote about mercenaries and what they are like.