A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict who is not a national or a party to the conflict and is “motivated to take part in the hostilities by the desire for private gain”.
In other words, a mercenary is a person who fights for personal gains of money or other recompense instead of fighting for the ideological interests of a country, whether they be for or against the existing government.
In the last century, and as reflected in the Geneva Convention, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. However, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and national interests may overlap.
Art 47. Mercenaries
- A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.
- A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is especially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.
All the criteria (a – f) must be met, according to the Geneva Convention, for a combatant to be described as a mercenary.
Notable Mercenary Forces:
- American Volunteer Group (aka “The Flying Tigers”)