Private Military Corporations (PMCs) have existed for a long time, and will not doubt continue to exist for as long as there is a need to use violence or the threat thereof in pursuit of political or economic objectives. There was a period where PMCs, more commonly known as mercenaries in those days, formed the larger part of European military forces prior to the generalized establishment of national armies. They were known as Free Companies, Condottieri or Landsknechts, or by many colourful names such as Gallowglass or Wild Geese. The main employers of these PMCs were mostly state actors supplementing existing military forces or replacing them outright if there was no standing army. This arguably reached its peak with the establishment of the armies of the East India Company (EIC) which ruled the Indian subcontinent as a commercial fiefdom until the middle of the 19th century. At their peak, the three EIC armies, which were in all but name PMCs, numbered around 280,000 soldiers.
By the time of Dunmoore and later on, Decker, PMCs have continued to exist and even thrive, branching out from ground-based units to providing armed starships for hire. While there might not be another EIC with a standing army greater than that of most countries of that era, corporations in the future will use PMCs, be they in-house or contractors, for local security on corporate colonies, mining and other resource extraction operations, or other such security work. Governments too will continue to use PMCs to augment standing forces, to carry out missions where regular troops would be inappropriate or for covert activities. A well-run PMC can be very profitable indeed, even if it has to maintain expensive starships.
In recognition of the fact that PMCs will always exist and thus need to be regulated so that their use remains circumscribed, the Commonwealth has established a solid legal framework. No one wants to see mercenaries used to overthrow planetary governments for example, or used to keep emerging colonies from claiming independence. In addition to the Laws Governing the Use of Military Forces, more commonly known as the Rules of War, a quasi-judicial body known as the Adjudicating Authority was created to regulate and oversee all PMC contracts, resolve disputes, order inquiries, hold payments in escrow for performance, etc. One of the requirements to operate a PMC is to establish and enforce a Code of Discipline that meets the minimum requirements set out by the Adjudicating Authority. In legal terms, such a Code mirrors that of the regular military services in many respects, and must clearly lay out disciplinary measures for breaches.
The Adjudicating Authority can even mandate the disarming and disbanding of PMCs found in breach of the Rules of War, and the Admiralty is bound to carry out such an order. A PMC that takes up arms against the Commonwealth Armed Services, the armed forces of any member planet or against any duly constituted law enforcement agency will quickly find itself disbanded, its members facing courts martial in front of Navy or Marine judges/panels. If mercenaries are found guilty of a serious breach, they can face some quality time in a penal battalion side-by-side with detainees from regular military units. For all practical purposes, the Admiralty deems legally licenced mercenaries to be military persons, and as the ultimate military authority in the Commonwealth, considers them under its jurisdiction when it comes to enforcing the Rules of War.
The Admiralty itself frequently employs PMCs for missions beyond Commonwealth space, either to avoid contravening Commonwealth law, or to establish plausible deniability, but will always place the mercenary units under a Navy or Marine commander who is ultimately responsible and accountable for the mission and respect for the Rules of War. For such contracts, the Admiralty may even make restricted military weaponry and equipment available to the PMC, something that is not otherwise permitted. PMCs usually source their gear through commercial channels, and these can only legally offer equipment that has been deemed unclassified by the Fleet.
Mercenaries have been a staple in military sci-fi for a long time and I am using them in my current writing, hence this article. Expect it to be useful when reading The Path of Duty. As a historical note, one of the most interesting outcomes of state actors hiring mercenaries is the institutionalisation of recruiting foreigners into special units of standing armies, the most famous being the French Foreign Legion and the British Army’s Gurkhas. There will no doubt be a unit in the same vein in the Commonwealth Marine Corps, since I’ve already conceptualised it, but I’ve not yet devised an appropriate storyline. I’m sure one of the Decker’s War books will introduce it.