Private Wars: Legitimacy, Finance and the Social Contract
The increasing use of private military contractors is proving a controversial feature of twenty-first century war. In Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, contractors have played significant and varied roles supporting, supplementing and sometimes replacing regular troops. Other deployments blur the distinction between private and public: supranational peacekeeping and humanitarian organisations not only employ private contractors, but the growth of such missions increasingly relies on hired regular troops from the global south. In both war-fighting and peace-keeping, then, the boundaries between the public and the private appear increasingly blurred in the twenty-first century.
The outsourcing of much military labour – to the private sector, and to other publics – has a long-standing historical basis that raises serious questions about the relationship between war, the state and society. Yet, were the boundaries between public and private ever clear? If the global wars of the twentieth century were ‘total’ for some belligerents, what of the millions who served for other kings, other countries and other empires prior to the emergence of the nation state? While much military history and military sociology has been written in national frames, did these frames ever adequately explain the nature of war? What of the private and supranational armies who played such important roles in the making of the modern world?
This conference addresses these questions through a critical historical analysis of the varied role(s) of the public and the private in warfare. We welcome proposals for papers, panels and roundtables that address – but are not limited to – one or several of the following themes:
- When, where, how and why has war been ‘privatized’?
- When – and how – did war and its histories become nationalised?
- What is the legacy/memory of private war? How has experience of these wars shaped the way society understands the social contract and the legitimacy of public/private war?
- How have political elites and states sought to control or eliminate 'private' warfare?
- How is the social contract affected by the outsourcing of military labour?
- Mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, foreign fighters: timeless phenomena, or historically-specific actors?
- How have public/private divides framed intelligence collection and war?
- How do the states, and soldiers, of the global south engage with, and shape, contemporary conflicts?
- What does the outsourcing of military and security functions tell us about the nature of war and economy in the contemporary world?
- When did military expertise and capacity become globalized? When, and how, were they financialized? How did these processes happen?
- What role(s) do international organisations – charities, NGOs, institutions – play in the economy of contemporary warfare?
- If war – and the capacity to wage it – was central to the making (and breaking) of modern states, what does the nature of conflict tell us about the relationship between war and the state in the modern world?
- Hervé Drévillon (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne – Service historique de la Défense): “The private analogy and the theory of war in the 19th century”.
- David Edgerton (King’s College London): “How British Historians Nationalized the British Experience of the Second World War, 1945-2000”.
- Beatrice Heuser (Glasgow University): “What the past tells us about future war”