Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Government and International Affairs

Major Professor

Steven Roach, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Earl Conteh-Morgan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy E. Eckert, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jongseok Woo, Ph.D.


norms, anti-mercenary norm, private security, discourse analysis, constructivism


The use of private military and security companies (PMSC) by state governments has raised many questions regarding the role of the private security industry (PSI) in conflict. This use of PMSCs by states has resulted in much debate in the public and academic spheres (Avant 2005, Dunigan 2011, Kinsey 2006, Leander 2005, Singer 2008). The PSI and PMSCs are altering the international system of norms and redefining what it means to be secure and make war. States are no longer the only entity in the international system with security needs. Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational corporations (MNCs) also purchase security services provided by PMSCs. With the ever-growing presence of PMSCs in conflicts, peacekeeping, and humanitarianism, the legitimization of PMSCs is vital for their missions to succeed. Furthermore, companies that operate at the international level as well as their clients have vested interests in changing their image from ‘mercenaries’ and ‘dogs of war’ to ‘private warriors’ and ‘legitimate soldiers’.

This dissertation addresses why and how PMSCs seek legitimacy in the international system. I argue that PMSCs desire and need legitimacy to justify their existence and support the claim that their actions are desirable, proper, lawful, and just because they follow a socially constructed system of norms. My dissertation builds on private security literature by drawing on constructivist approaches to norms and legitimacy and employing discourse analysis. Through my analysis, I identify rebranding and self-regulation as measures taken by PMSCs and the PSI to build and solidify the perception of legitimate security providers. PMSCs and the PSI developed their own discourse through the creation and implementation of the Montreux Document, International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC), and the ICoC Association to counter the negative perceptions created by media coverage and controversial incidents involving PMSC personnel. The rebranding and self-regulation efforts of PMSCs and the PSI supports the argument that they need and desire legitimacy. Without legitimacy and a shift in perception, the actions of PMSCs and their contractors will always be questioned and full integration into the state and international security apparatus will remain out of reach.