Pros/Cons of a private military

The military is often cited by libertarian types as one of the few proper functions of government while most other things should be left to private enterprise.

Standing national armies aren’t a consistent thing throughout history. I believe Swiss mercenaries were pretty popular back in the days when halberds were useful and there are a fair few mercenaries/security contractors working for the US at the moment.

Since the development of nukes, missiles and such probably mean massive armies are a thing of the past, maybe the business of killing folk would be more efficiently done by private enterprise.

I expect the equipment for a private navy & air force would be too expensive but ground forces could possibly be privatised.

Would this save money through market competition & not having to pay in peacetime? Would the mercenary’s loyalty be a big issue? Other thoughts? How big could Amazon’s fleet be?

Would the contracts go to the lowest bidders?
Would the contracts have to provide healthcare and other benefits?
Would they be monitored any better than Blackwater was?

Would they be willing to lay down their lives for money?
Would they fight for their country, or their employer?
Would they decide re-negotiate their fees mid-battle?
Would the military code of justice apply to them?

I imagine reputation would be important along with price.

Health insurance & benefits would be up to the mercenary company, I guess ones that have good benefits would cost more.

Monitoring would be up to whoever hires them, probably not much as long as the job gets done.

Since veterans benefits are used to entice people to join the military, may we assume that they will disappear once the military privatizes, leaving current veterans high and dry?

Mercenaries are a fairly old concept and they do die for money.

They’d fight for their employer, I guess an all American company wouldn’t be asked to take a job attacking America.

A company that did that wouldn’t get repeat business

Legal stuff would be tricky, any idea how that worked for blackwater?

It would be nonexistent. They can by hired out from under you, or decide they’d rather be in charge, kill their employers and take over. They are much less willing to fight to the end (why die for a paycheck?), prone to looting, and in general had a reputation as heavily armed criminals of the worst sort.

That’s why nations seldom use mercenary armies anymore.

Allesan mentioned this, but US military members are covered by the UCMJ no matter where they are. How would we handle this with civilian contractors?

This also brings into question status of forces agreements.
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Unknown, I guess the government would honour existing commitments but wind the programmes down, current soldiers would probably get screwed over in 20 years or so when all the facilities start closing.

You could presumably keep a much smaller army or national guard purely for defence and only hire mercenaries for foreign adventures…maybe only replace half the army so your regulars can keep the looting under control.

You could add legal matters to contracts, $100k fine if your guys rape everyone or something.

Privately hired military power is only going to become more and more important in a world with increasing numbers of stateless peoples and humanitarian crises that are being ignored by governments.

Theoretically there’s nothing stopping George Soros or Elon Musk from hiring PMCs to provide humanitarian relief in Sudan or Liberia. They just don’t have the desire to do that. But eventually somebody will.

Quite frankly, if developing nations are going to need military support and someone is willing to pay for it, I would rather have Blackwater or Aegis be the ones to step in than, say, the CIA, which does not have a good track record at all in that department.

PMCs are also useful on the high seas to protect shipping vessels from piracy; here is an interesting article on that subject.

Disclaimer: I know a man who worked for Blackwater in Pakistan, a decade or so ago, and I think very highly of this extremely big-hearted, intelligent, kind individual (who previously spent about two decades in Naval Special Warfare) so I’m always reflexively having to say “they’re not all war criminals!” when this often-contentious issue comes up…like the regular military of any country, there will be good people and bad people in PMCs.

The U.S. military pays experienced soldiers in the ballpark of $50,000 a year, and that’s on the high end of global militaries. If you think private industry can cut down that cost, you’re out of your damned mind.

Large organizations of well-armed troops with a desire to make money.

No, I can’t imagine any way in which that could go wrong.

Blackwater et al currently exist and are hired so there must be some situations where hiring mercenaries is more cost effective.

Don’t soldiers in the US get free medical care afterwards? That’s got to cost a lot.

It still costs money to sustain a trained and equipped force between times they are hired. Eventually, those costs have to be covered by employers or the firm goes out of business. There’s no free lunch if you want actual competence.

It certainly was for the Condottiere that provided the bulk of the military used by northern Italy’s city-states in the late middle ages.

The Condottiere also tended to be extremely casualty averse in battles against each other. Neither side wanted to expend their capital. Battles, when they happened, tended to be low casualty affairs with lots of pretty maneuvers. When an element found itself at a disadvantage they’d simply surrender. The captor got a ransom for the troops captured. There was another big theme which was avoiding outright battles. The weaker mercenary force would assume a defensive posture and be besieged. The besiegers would then pursue their employer’s aims by using the rest of their force to raze the countryside to try to force the opponent to surrender. It worked for the mercenaries who got to be paid for the entirety of long sieges with minimal casualties. It wasn’t so good for the city-states.

Modern warfare, even on the ground, involves lots of heavy and high tech equipment. That equipment is still very expensive and can take years to decades to design and produce in useful quantities. It then takes time to train to use the equipment effectively. It also depends on access to things like satellite reconnaissance and communications to achieve the same battlefield effectiveness as a modern national unit. If a nation sells their latest and greatest to mercenaries it also might end up being used against the national interest. If not the mercenaries either require significant lead time to train on their new equipment once hired or they can be at a technical disadvantage against a better equipped national army. The mercenaries also are subject to being cut off from even private contracted logistics or satellite support anytime a nation not directly involved wants to change law or policy for their businesses. “…professionals study logistics” and the PMCs are at the mercy of nation state logistics systems for the most modern equipment.

Putting units with different training and equipment together into a cohesive whole can be a difficult challenge; been there, seen that. NATO deals with it by enforcing interoperability standards and using training techniques such as multinational exercises and troop exchanges. A lot of the market will be for relatively smaller conflicts and wars so there’s pressure for to only provide smaller forces. Various mercenary units are going to want to be careful about having too close a relationship with their competitors (both in the market and on any given battlefield.) A nation that keeps a large existing force trained and equipped to a common standard has a potential advantage against a patchwork unit figuring all of that out on the fly.

Then there’s the Battle of Khasham from earlier this year. A small number of US advisors and the Syrian Defense Forces they advised were attacked by Russian Private Military Contractors and Syrian military in battalion strength. The Russian/Syrian side even had some armor and towed artillery in support. (That’s effectively a force supported by the logistics systems of two nations even if Russian elements were nominally PMCs.) The result was the total defeat of the attacker and 1 SDF trooper wounded. Have you ever seen Billy Madison and the scene where Adam Sandler plays dodgeball against first graders? It was about that one-sided. Reasonably equipped, veteran PMCs were quite simply outclassed and destroyed. A smaller, modern ground force tightly integrated with reconnaissance systems and air delivered fires decisively defeated them.