The power of the bureaucratic state, the most dominant political entity in international affairs for the last four hundred years, is in decline. A series of global trends in the aftermath of the Cold War have weakened the state, and empowered non-state actors. These developments call into question our understanding of the international system as a collection of sovereign states. A startling consequence of these trends is the rise of private military companies, or as some would call them, modern mercenaries. The return of the private market of force is both a cause and an effect of the declining power of the state. PMCs pose the biggest threat to state power, for they encroach on the state’s defining feature - the monopoly on violence.
This thesis will examine the conditions that led to their rise of PMCs, what they are, what they do, and what they mean for state power. The case studies of two PMCs will be used to shed further light on this phenomenon. The first company is Executive Outcomes, a South African PMC that used its incredible skill, weaponry, and tactics to win wars in Angola and Sierra Leone. Executive Outcomes allows us to see the impact of PMC activity on weak states that do not have a monopoly on violence within their territories. The story of Executive Outcomes also parallels the overall decline of state power in the aftermath of the Cold War.
Next, this thesis will analyze how United States’ embrace of PMCs led to the current manifestation of the private military industry. A case study investigating the controversial history of Blackwater will exemplify the American experience of hiring PMCs and its consequences. Blackwater was an American company whose exponential growth follows the general explosion of the private military industry during the War on Terror. Blackwater’s story shows that even the most powerful state is not strong enough to fight wars without private actors.