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Corporate Warriors

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
January 26, 2021
1 min read

Corporate Warriors is by now an old book (first published in 2003, and got a 2008 update), but one with a lot of contemporary relevance. It’s a broad overview of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) and their increasingly outsized roles in contemporary conflict and security provisions.

There’s two big points that I think are worth exploring:

First that the PMSC or some earlier permutation of it has almost always been with us, which indicates that this provision of violence in exchange for capital is something endemic to our construction of society. While it’d be pretty difficult for anyone to “buy an army” that could threaten the more powerful countries (though I live in perpetual fear of Amazon getting a military before the EU or the UN), it might suggest a risk, whereby private capital can fairly easily threaten democratic governance below a certain threshold of readiness. This isn’t great for democracy, but it’s great for PMSCs because the scope for regional balance suddenly requires their services.

Second, that the business models and incentive structures under which PMSCs operate ARE something mutable — suggesting that both guardrails and good can come of their use in different situations. I’m inclined to believe that the right incentives and the right regulatory context can make private contractors more accountable actors in conflict zones, but worry that cheating or evasion will still happen. As Singer points out, since these organizations primarily rely on ex-military talent and tenuously traceable assets, it’s easy for them to disband and reform an organization, as the post-Apartheid contractor Executive Actions did multiple times through the 90s and 00s.

Anyway, it’s an excellent book and well worth the read. It gave me some great historical insight into recent PMSC activities and helped to contextualize a lot of what I’ve been reading more recently around military contractors from the Russian Wagner Group (engaged in Syria and throughout the MENA region) to America’s Palantir.


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