Old Warriors in New Wars: A Comparative Study on Private Military Companies

Name of applicant

Özlem Has




University of London


DKK 820,000



Type of grant

Internationalisation Fellowships


This project aims to scrutinize the functioning of private military companies (PMCs) in global conflict zones with a comparative focus on the American Blackwater, the Russian Wagner Group, and the Turkish SADAT. In today’s proxy wars with the involvement of multiple state and non-state actors, collaborating with PMCs helps states avoid any international outcry or accountability and realize their national interests without direct participation in conflicts. The legal gap in international law to stipulate the conduct of such companies in conflict zones and define the combatant status of contractors compared to official combatants of states also complicate the accountability and responsibility of such companies and their contractors under the law of war. This research will contribute to the literature by reevaluating and reconceptualizing the functioning of PMCs in global conflict zones with a specific focus on the abovementioned three companies. These three companies offer different and distinctive geographical, historical, cultural, and religious characteristics, providing me the possibility to explore commonalities and differences regarding the PMC phenomena in-depth.


Since PMCs are companies that operate according to business principles, scholars tend to define them as mercenaries. However, as many international official reports and journalistic research underline the close relations of these companies with home-country elites and their human rights violations in host countries, it is difficult to define them simply as profit-seeking business holders. With a critical perspective on existing research, this project will contribute to the scholarship on modern warfare from theoretical and legal angles. First, it will untangle the complexity of PMCs by offering a new conceptualization for them on a scale between paramilitarism and mercenarism instead of defining them under the normative category of the latter. Second, it will disclose challenges posed by PMC’s evolution over time to the law of war in theory and practice by unpacking the ambiguous legal status of PMC contractors and their lack of accountability and responsibility under the law.


This project will be based on historical analysis and document analysis. In the first year, I will employ historical analysis to develop a new conceptualization for PMCs between paramilitarism and mercenarism. In this regard, I will use secondary materials (books, journal articles, etc.) and primary materials (e.g., official international reports) that contain information about Blackwater, SADAT, and the Wagner Group. In the second year, I will draw on document analysis to reveal the legal complexities behind the functioning of PMCs in domestic and international spheres. I will analyse domestic legal documents and international law documents as primary research materials to determine the legal status of Blackwater, SADAT, and the Wagner Group in home countries they based in and host countries they operate.

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