Subcontracting Military Action

Governments can distance themselves from some contentious conflicts by subcontracting military action to mercenaries and other countries.

The use of mercenaries, or defence contractors, is a type of defence spending which raises different contentious issues:

●  Mercenaries might not be trained to the same standard as full-time troops and might create problems.

●  Their legal accountability may be unclear. An Economist article, Blackwater in hot water, noted that an American private military company had used aggressive tactics and that such companies “are formally immune from Iraqi law yet are rarely disciplined by the Western governments that employ them”.

●  The population feels less concern about them than about ‘our boys’.

Overall there is a feeling that defence contractors are less accountable to governance than full-time troops.

Another way of subcontracting military action is to provide economic and technical assistance to another country which is fighting the same enemy.  This might be seen as a form of alliance.  Again, the force would not be subject to the rules which apply in the country giving the assistance; any bad behaviour by the troops would reflect badly on both their own country and on any other countries which were seen to be allied with them.  For example the secret rendition of prisoners in the ‘war against terrorism’, to be tortured in another country, damaged America’s reputation (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7465.htm.