A Mercenary can be defined as a soldier who fights for money rather than for a cause or out of legal or moral obligation to his country. Professional mercenaries have existed for as long as warfare itself and examples good and bad can be found throughout history from the Genoese crossbowmen at Crecy to modern mercenary companies such 'Sandline International' or 'Executive Outcomes' operating in Africa. Throughout history mercenaries have had a bad reputation as being looked down upon by professional soldiers as being hired help of doubtful loyalty who will disappear at the first sign of serious opposition. Machiavelli wrote at length warning rulers of the danger of using mercenaries during the Italian Wars. The modern mercenary is regarded unofficially by many governments as a necessary evil, who is more frequently hired to train local troops than hired to actually do any fighting. This role of mercenary as military advisor means that the most sought after mercenaries are those with previous experience in UK, US or South African Armed Forces. In Modern Africa large well equipped mercenary companies such as Executive Outcomes have virtually taken over the country they were hired to protect focusing on running profitable enterprises such as diamond mining in Sierra Leone thus representing a threat to democracy.
Attitudes to modern mercenaries may be changing as we enter the 21st century. Many regard the international troops used in UN operations as a type of mercenary and in the unlikely event of the UN ever gaining its own permanent forces a formal, mercenary force would be the most likely option. With many forms of local instability requiring international military action but with the thought of risking the lives of young servicemen still unpopular politically the heyday of the mercenary company maybe about to return. Already the UK government has suggested legalising mercenary companies and regulating them to make them a potential tool of foreign policy were risking British forces lives is deemed too hazardous or politically harmful. Despite this military and public opinion still has a poor view of the modern mercenary and changing this will take more than legislation.
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (28 September 2002), Mercenaries, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_mercenaries.html