Conflict Defense Industry Middle East Politics & Diplomacy Security & Defense


May 31, 2023

What’s so bad about mercenaries?

By Alia Brahimi

In Season 1, Episode 3 of the Guns for Hire podcast, host Alia Brahimi speaks with the philosopher Professor Tony Coady about the key characteristics of mercenaries, including the motivation for private gain. They discuss the Geneva Conventions definition of mercenaries, the grey area of military contractors in support roles, and whether it’s possible to base a moral or legal judgement on an individual’s intentions. They also consider the main moral objections to mercenaries, with Professor Coady arguing that we should do as much as possible to tone down the resort to war as a standard political option.


“Mercenaries should be treated as combatants along with regular soldiers and have the same restrictions on their conduct and, where appropriate, protections.”

Tony Coady, Philosopher and Professor

Find the Guns For Hire podcast on the app of your choice

About the podcast

The Guns for Hire podcast is a production of the Atlantic Council’s North Africa Initiative. Taking Libya as its starting point, it explores the causes and implications of the growing use of mercenaries in armed conflict.

The podcast features guests from many walks of life, from ethicists and historians to former mercenary fighters. It seeks to understand what the normalisation of contract warfare tells us about the world as we currently find it, but also about the future of the international system and about what war could look like in the coming decades.

Further reading

Middle East Programs

Through our Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative, the Atlantic Council works with allies and partners in Europe and the wider Middle East to protect US interests, build peace and security, and unlock the human potential of the region.