It is a little known ‘technicality’ of international law that the prosecution of war as an instrument of state policy is illegal. A decade after the armistice that brought the 1914-18 war to a close the Great Powers concluded, in Paris, the 1928 Peace Pact in which the signing parties (including the US and Great Britain) declared, “in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” From this moment on, by treaty and in the eyes of international law, the morality and legitimacy of war was limited solely to defence.

Regardless of the causes of any war the international community has always frowned on the use of mercenary forces, corporate actors in conflict who, by the promise of reward, have taken up arms to fight for one belligerent against another; having no natural allegiance to either. According to the understood framework of the Just War Theory the mercenary has claim neither to justice nor morality in conflict, and so is universally deprived of the rights afforded to combatants and prisoners-of-war. While the opinion of the international community is divided on the legality of mercenarism, it oscillates between condemnation and criminalisation; that is to say that it is never considered a good or morally legitimate factor in violent conflict.

In recent decades the United States has forced a distinction between “private military contractors” and hired mercenaries that is both a legal fiction and more a work of art than law. As the workings of its vast military-industrial complex has made warfare an essential ingredient of the United States’ economic prosperity, it along with its allies – including the United Kingdom – have increasingly financialised aggressive foreign war with the use of ill-defined private military contractors which are mercenaries in every respect but name. The lucrativeness of this career has even sparked a military crisis in various countries with trained soldiers leaving their national armed forces to seek better money in private armies often fighting in the same war zones.

As this development towards the privatisation of armed conflict has been so closely aligned with the corporatist nature of statist thinking, these states have sought to cut costs (and therefore increase their profits) by seeking cheaper sources of labour in the international market. Reports are now emerging from journalistic sources in neutral Sweden that indicate that the US and the UK have started to hire, or hire through agents, mercenary soldiers from African nations who had once been child soldiers. It is clear that as the US and UK’s scope of armed aggression widens, that the moral depths they are willing to plumb are tending towards ever greater repugnancy.

Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy (Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact or Pact of Paris), 1928.
Fallah, Katherine. “Corporate actors: the legal status of mercenaries in armed conflict.” International Review-Red Cross-New Series-88, no. 863 (2006): 599-611.

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