Subaltern Voices Series

Speaking & Theorizing from the Disciplinary Margins


Dr. Sarah Percy (Research Associate, Oxford Leverhulme Programme on the Changing Character of War, Oxford University, United Kingdom)

Topic: “The Role of Private Security and Mercenaries in Conflict, from Africa to the Middle East.”

Date: Thursday, 1 February, 2007 (rescheduled from 26 October 2006)


Co-sponsored by the Centre for Constitutional Studies and the Peace and Postconflict Studies Program.

Abstract: Since the late 1990s, private security companies (PSCs) have experienced explosive growth. During the first Gulf War, 1 in 50 American military personnel were private contractors; during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that number was 1 in 10. PSCs provide a wide range of services, including services typically the preserve of the state, including interrogation, training, protection of individuals and installations, and the use of specific military technologies. Despite their sensitive role, PSCs are virtually unregulated. At the same time as PSCs have grown, traditional mercenaries have not gone away. From combat-oriented private companies like Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone to the 2003 mercenary coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, mercenaries provide both threats and opportunities for Africa. This paper outlines the nature of private security today, from mercenaries to PSCs, and the current regulatory environment, advocating that immediate steps should be taken to regulate both the PSC industry and the use of mercenaries, at the domestic and at the international levels.

Bio: Sarah Percy is a Research Associate in the Oxford Leverhulme Programme on the Changing Character of War. She received a master’s and doctorate in international relations from the University of Oxford (Balliol College). She also holds a BA (Hons) in political studies from Queen’s University in Canada. Her research interests include mercenaries, private military companies and the privatization of force; the use of norms to regulate warfare; and the relationship between international law and international relations. More general areas of interest include international security and international relations theory. Before coming to Oxford, Sarah taught senior military officers at the UK Joint Services Staff and Command College, where she still provides lectures about the privatization of force. She is the author of a forthcoming Adelphi Paper, The Regulation of the Private Security Industry, and a book, The Norm Against Mercenaries, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2007.