International relations

Mercenaries, Gangs and Terrorists: Private Security in International Politics

Module code: L7092A
Level 6
30 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework, Essay

The module looks at the nature of security in international politics from the non-traditional perspective of private actors who are willing to use force to advance the objectives that (for better or worse) they place a high value on. The first section of the module provides a theoretical context that will enable you to develop your ideas about: what 'security' is and how it relates to other values; why sovereign states are often treated as the starting-point for the study of global security; the ways in which the private use of force can be conceptualised as both a problem and a solution to security dilemmas; and the ways in which actors in the global South face security challenges that are often unique from the challenges of those in the North.

In the second section of the module, you will have the opportunity to study particular actors, issues and cases, including private military companies, gangs, political insurgency movements and transnational terrorist groups. you will be challenged to think through the assumption that the private use of force automatically constitutes a threat that needs to be dealt with by sovereign actors, particularly at the international level. By the end of the module, you will demonstrate your theoretical and empirical understanding of the nature and significance of private security in international politics through a case-based research essay.

The assessment for this module is a piece of coursework (weighted 10%) and a long term paper of 6000 words (weighted 90%). The teaching mode is a one-hour lecture and a two-hour seminar each week.

Module learning outcomes

  • Develop a systematic and critical understanding of: the meaning and nature of ‘security’ in contemporary international politics; the role of the state in the study and practice of global security; and the motivations for the use of force by non-state actors.
  • Develop a detailed conceptual understanding of the empirical and theoretical uncertainties, ambiguities and limits that lie at the intersection between security studies and non-state/private actors.
  • Effectively synthesise and communicate a detailed knowledge of the security challenges faced by individuals and groups in the global South.