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Are Private Military Contractors Mercenaries?

Not really. Although both private military contractors (PMC) and mercenaries are known to work for money, private military contractors are somehow different from mercenaries.

Put simply, mercenaries are individual soldiers who can be hired by anyone who can afford their services, whereas PMCs recruit these individuals in an organization. Mercenaries as individuals barely have any tie to a company or state and title, and prefer to fight only for the right pay.

Meanwhile, private soldiers get recruited by recognized companies that are registered with the authorities of the country where their operations are based. Simply put, PMCs serve as the intermediary between professional soldiers and the governments.

Major Difference Between Mercenaries and Private Military Contractors

The terms mercenaries and private military contractors (PMCs) have been used interchangeably, although they both represent different entities that possess varying roles, motivations, and legal implications. Nevertheless, below are well-known differences between mercenaries and private military contractors.

  1. Legal Status and Accountability

According to detailed reports, mercenaries for centuries have operated outside the coverage of international law, and are more or less seen as unlawful combatants.

They are known to take part in armed conflicts primarily for personal gain and pay no allegiance to any government or recognized authority. However, PMCs often get hired by governments or private entities for well-defined military or security tasks.

They are known to carry out their duties within the legal frameworks of the countries they are attached to and are expected to stay in line with international humanitarian law.

Aside from that, they often possess legal contracts that stipulate their roles and responsibilities, guaranteeing some sort of accountability.

  1. Motivations and Recruitment

Just as we all know, mercenaries are propelled majorly by financial gain. It simply means that they more or less lack a sense of loyalty to a particular cause or nation, since their loyalty will always be for the highest bidder.

Also, note that mercenaries might include persons with a military background who just prefer lucrative opportunities in conflict zones. Howbeit, PMCs are propelled by contractual obligations.

They are most often recruited for well-defined missions, and their personnel might encompass former military professionals who have recognized skills.

In addition, they are known to prioritize professionalism while also complying with a code of conduct stipulated by their contracts.

  1. Roles and Services

Mercenaries take part in a vast array of activities, such as direct combat, intelligence gathering, as well as security services.

Note that their services don’t come with legal or ethical constraints, and this has further heightened the controversy surrounding their presence in conflicts.

PMCs, meanwhile, provide a wide range of military and security services, including training, logistical support, as well as consulting.

They are known to function within the legal parameters stipulated by their contracts, guaranteeing that all their actions fall in line with the objectives of their employers.

  1. International Perception

Mercenaries in present times are seen in a bad light and this can be attributed to their association with mercenary armies that have taken part in historical conflicts.

Their lack of allegiance and accountability have given rise to skepticism and condemnation from the international community.

However, although PMCs also have to deal with some level of criticism, they still have to carry out their tasks with greater transparency and accountability.

Governments and corporations work with them for some tasks, and their conformance to contractual obligations also works to make them more favorable.

  1. Regulation and Oversight

Mercenaries are known to carry out military activities in a legal grey area, and there are little or no international regulations specifically covering them.

However, note that the absence of oversight also adds to issues regarding human rights abuses as well as unethical conduct.

Howbeit, PMCs tend to function under some legal frameworks and are regularly monitored by the governments that hire them.

Also note that a good number of countries in this modern age have put in place regulations that work to control the activities of PMCs, guaranteeing that they function within the coverage of international law.