The Second Largest Force: Private Military Contractors & State Responsibility

29 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2010 Last revised: 4 Jun 2010

Date Written: April 12, 2010


The paper is concerned with private military contractors, their expanding use and the challenges this poses to a system in which private actors – at least so far – have been considered to be acting outside of existing international accountability structures.

The paper proceeds from a brief historical overview of the use of non-state military forces to a delineation of what private military forces are (and what they are not), what distinguishes them from mercenaries (and what does not). This is followed by an analysis of how private military forces’ conduct can be attributed to the states employing them, thereby contributing to the debate over the advantages and disadvantages of their proliferating use in recent conflicts.

The article proposes a range of legal and policy rationales to reassess the arguments that are being advanced for the use of private military forces in today’s conflicts – with respect to their legal status, their political utility and their impact on democratic accountability mechanisms.

Keywords: international law, private military contractors, private military forces, PMF, PMC, mercenaries, state responsibility

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Markus, The Second Largest Force: Private Military Contractors & State Responsibility (April 12, 2010). University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-10. Available at SSRN: or

Markus Wagner (Contact Author)

University of Wollongong ( email )


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