A Rational-constructivist Explanation for the Evolution and Decline of the Norm against Mercenarism

Scott Fitzsimmons

Abstract


This paper addresses four related questions: why do norms of military practice develop, spread, gain acceptance, and become internalized? Why are accepted norms sometimes abandoned in favour of contradictory norms? Why did many state leaders become convinced that citizen armies should be the accepted norm in modern military practice and adopt a norm delegitimizing the practice of using mercenaries to implement state defence policies? Why did some state leaders become convinced at the end of the twentieth century to adopt a new norm legitimizing the use of mercenaries to implement state defence policies once again? In response to these questions, this paper hypothesizes that norms of military practice develop, spread, gain acceptance, become internalized, and are later replaced with contradictory norms based largely on four key factors: first, norms of military practice benefit from the development and promotion of a rationale outlining the utility of adopting the norm. Second, these norms benefit from states that champion the norm through successfully demonstrating the utility of adhering to the norm’s behavioral propositions. Third, these norms benefit from military circumstances that render states receptive to the rationale outlining the utility of adopting the norm. Finally, in order to become internalized, these norms benefit from the eventual transformation of the rationale underpinning them into a set of largely unquestioned assumptions about the utility of adhering to the norm. Continuing this logic, this essay hypothesizes that the development, spread, acceptance, internalization and later rejection and replacement of the norm against mercenarism conformed to these dynamics.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.