Challenging the Strength of the Anti-Mercenary Norm
Why is a strong international norm against mercenarism claimed in the absence of legal prohibition and consistent usage?
This article questions the prevailing view that there is a strong international norm against mercenary activity. We argue, instead, that international restrictions placed upon mercenaries are the tangential expressions of more basic and pervasive international norms, namely those of state neutrality, the right of peoples to self-determination, and freedom ofmovement. To buttress our claim, we draw upon documentary evidence specific to critical moments in the norms’ expansion, including the Napoleonic Wars to 1840, the Crimean War, and conflicts of national liberation in the decolonization era. The evidence suggests a broad indifference to mercenaries among policymakers during such pivotal periods. We conclude that the antimercenary norm grounded in moral objections is not as strong as its supporters suggest and often becomes compromised when national interests dictate.