British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

In Defence of Mercenarism

Cécile Fabre*


The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been characterized by the deployment of large private military forces, under contract with the US administration. The use of so-called private military corporations (PMCs) and, more generally, of mercenaries, has long attracted criticisms. This article argues that under certain conditions (drawn from the Just War tradition), there is nothing inherently objectionable about mercenarism. It begins by exposing a weakness in the most obvious justification for mercenarism, to wit, the justification from freedom of occupational choice. It then deploys a less obvious, but stronger, argument – one that appeals to the importance of enabling just defensive killings. Finally, it rebuts five moral objections to mercenarism.

(Online publication June 23 2010)


* University of Edinburgh (email: An earlier version of this article was presented in 2008 in Stirling at the Philosophy Department Seminar, at the UK IVR Conference in Edinburgh and at the Annual Conference for the Society for Applied Philosophy. I am grateful to participants at those events for very useful discussions, and to James Pattison, Guy Sela, Albert Weale and two anonymous Journal referees for written comments.