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It looks like mercenaries are outlawed and are considered "unlawful combatants". Mercenaries are people who engage in combat for compensation.

Many states have armies where at least some of the servicemen are not drafted - they decide themselves that they want to serve but the state may motivate them by a reasonably high salary, neat life/health insurance, various other benefits such as early pensions or assistance with buying estate. Such servicemen are not outlawed - they are considered "lawful combatants".

What's the difference? Both categories seem to have some compensation for their service. Why are mercenaries illegal and state servicemen legal?

  • That law also not say that say that paid soldiers are legal. – user6726 Aug 14 '17 at 14:25
  • If servicemen misbehave, there can be diplomatic or economic retaliation against the country they serve. If mercenaries misbehave, who does one retaliate against? – Rodrigo de Azevedo May 14 '20 at 7:44
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The theory behind outlawing one and instituting the other goes back to the dawn of the Westphalian nation-state. We accept soldiers that are under control of and loyal to their countries, not wealthy financiers.

  • So is the difference exclusively that mercenaries are hired by Cool Mercenaries LLC and soldiers are hired by Department of Defense. – sharptooth Aug 14 '17 at 14:50
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    Well, yeah, or whatever agency or ministry has jurisdiction over military forces in any given country... but it’s more about who controls them and for what reason. There are also loyalty concerns that make them practically less dependable (someone fighting for country can be counted on more than someone fighting for paycheck). Also keep in mind, “private security” firms do exist and, as we saw in Iraq, they are pretty similar to mercenaries. – A.fm. Aug 14 '17 at 14:52
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Because service personal are not mercenaries as defined in the UN resolution cited in the Wikipedia article you linked to.

  • Yeah, cool, but why does the resolution specifically outlaw mercenaries and not the paid service personnel? – sharptooth Aug 14 '17 at 13:20
  • @sharptooth questions about why certain things are or aren't legal are political questions that belong on Politics instead of here. – phoog Aug 14 '17 at 13:30

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