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Private Armies in a Global War System: Prologue for Decision, 14 Virginia Journal of International Law 1 (1973)


An army is a corps of people, sharing loyalty to a common symbol, skilled in the manual of arms and operating within a command structure one of whose manifest functions is to direct corps members or "soldiers" in the purposive exercise of violence. Given the pivotal position of effective power in almost all societies of which there is record, it is no surprise that elites who have asserted a monopoly of authority have sought as well the exclusive prerogative of maintaining armies. Characteristic of the myth of the contemporary nation-state is its claim for monopoly over the exercise of violence. Were there a rough conformity between state theory and practice, one could expect to count about as many armies in the world as there are nation-states. In fact, the equation seems perpetually imbalanced. In certain circumstances, the number of effective fighting units not affiliated with the governmental apparatus of recognized states can grow even larger. I will refer to such units as "private armies." The private army is a fact of international life. How does international law respond to it?

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