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War by Contract? The Drivers and Implications of Security Privatization


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations


Tasks such as logistics, military training, and armed protection in hostile environments have increasingly been outsourced to commercial entities known as private military and security companies (PMSCs). This course aims provide students with a comprehensive overview of the increasing privatization of security and military support, its causes, and its implications. To this end, the course will focus on three main questions::

  • Firstly, it will analyse what is the role of PMSCs in today’s strategic landscape, looking at the changing involvement of commercial actors in warfare and at the evolution of PMSCs from the end of the Cold War to the present day

  • Secondly, it will investigate why military support and security have been outsourced, examining the drivers of military privatisation and the main factors accounting for variance in the use of PMSCs over time and across countries

  • Thirdly, it will focus on the legal, political, strategic and ethical implications of the use of PMSCs. By doing so, it will investigate the status of security contractors under international law and the existing regulatory frameworks applicable to the private military industry, the effects of privatisation on military effectiveness and democratic control over the use of force, and the normative dilemmas surrounding the privatization of coercive tasks

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the role played by commercial actors in warfare and national security and how it has changed over time and across countries

  • Explain why military and security tasks have increasingly been privatized, identifying the budgetary, technological, ideological, and political drivers of privatization

  • Identify the legal, political, strategic and ethical implications of military privatization, assessing drawbacks and potential benefits

  • Appraise the strategic, political, legal and ethical implications of outsourcing different tasks to commercial actors


The timetable is available on the website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

280 hours (10 ECTS)

  • 24 hours of class attendance

  • 120 hours of readings

  • 30 hours of presentations and debates preparation

  • 26 hours for preparing research proposal

  • 80 hours for preparing final paper

Assessment method

  • Participation and presentations: 30%
    As this is a seminar-based course rather than a series of lectures, we will work together on building the course content. Each student is therefore expected to actively participate in the class debates by relying on the knowledge acquired through the key readings.
    On each session, two students will deliver a presentation attempting to answer a key question related to the subject of the day. Although each session’s readings should provide the knowledge required to deliver the presentation, students in need of further guidance are encouraged to meet me and discuss about the content of their presentation beforehand.

  • Research Proposal: 10%
    Students are expected to submit a short (1,500 words max) proposal explaining their final essay’s research question and providing a tentative outline and reference list. This assignment does not have a large impact on the final grade (10% only), and is primarily designed to help students in the writing of the final papers and make sure those meet the course requirements and can obtain a satisfactory final grade

  • Final paper: 60%
    Students’ final papers can focus on any of the subjects covered by the course, whether more theoretical or more empirical. This will provide students with the possibility to focus on the subject/area they are most interested in. A list of potential subjects will be provided on blackboard.
    Each paper will not exceed 4,000 words (references excluded).
    Retake paper: Students who submitted a paper but failed the course can resubmit their final paper within three weeks after the grade has been released
    aper: Students who submitted a paper but failed the course can resubmit their final paper within three weeks after the grade has been released


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who submitted a paper but failed the course can resubmit their final paper within three weeks after the grade has been released

inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for this course

Reading list

Each session’s key readings and course materials will be available to students on blackboard. A list of additional, complementary readings will also be available for students who wish to deepen their knowledge of a certain subject. In order to provide students with updated, cutting edge and easily accessible research based on different theoretical prespectives, the readings will largely consist in leading academic journal articles that can be downloaded online via the university network. However, other materials such as documentaries, policy papers, and videos will be suggested too. Students are also encouraged to conduct their own bibliographic research to find readings and news sources that are relevant for their presentations..


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. Eugenio Cusumano