Politics 34002-01
Selected topics in Comparative and International Studies
Pirates and Mercenaries: 
Sovereignty in the International System
Spring 2015, MWF 1-1:50pm
newFriends 209
Prof. Chip Gagnon
324 Muller Center
tel. 274-1103
Office hours: MWF 11-12, and by appointment
e-mail:mailto vgagnon@ithaca.edu

Go to daily reading assignments

Last revised 4/20/2015

– Presentation schedule

– Live Piracy Map (2015)
2014 Piracy Map
Golden Age Pirate Resources
Sellswords, mercenaries, & condottieri (blog on early modern European mercenaries)
– Private Military Companies Listing
Feral Jundi – PMSC blog


Are today’s pirates in any way related to the pirates of the past? Is the increasing use of mercenaries a good thing for world peace?  We’ll explore these and other questions, focusing in particular on how pirates and mercenaries fit into the international system and its rules. We’ll also explore their histories and their relationship to the concept of sovereignty. These groups also help us understand how today’s rules evolved over the past several hundred years. They are still active today, and we’ll take a look at modern-day pirates and mercenaries to get an understanding of how the international system and its rules continue to evolve.

Course materials

Required texts:

  • Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age
  • Janice Thomson, Mercenaries, Pirates, and Sovereigns: State-Building and Extraterritorial Violence in Early Modern Europe
  • P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Updated Edition (2008)
  • Course reader (see below)

Purchasing the texts:

Important: These books are available at Buffalo Street Books (the last and only independent bookstore in Ithaca, located in the Dewitt Mall, entrance on Buffalo St between N. Cayuga and N. Tioga).

They can all be ordered online at this link:  http://www.buffalostreetbooks.com/#!students/cuiy

Click on the IC button, then page over to Gagnon. You can buy all three books together by clicking on “Gagnon:POLT 34002 Course Pack,” or you can buy each book separately by clicking on the respective buttons.

    • If you prepay, your books will be delivered to our second class meeting, Friday, Jan 23.
    • Please note that there will be no taxes or shipping fees charged for any books ordered for class. This means you will be paying less than if you ordered from online sources.
    • Payment is via Paypal, either directly or using a major credit card.
    • You can also buy the books at the bookstore itself.

Other required readings:

  • The other required readings are in a Course Reader, a packet of photocopies (page numbers in class assignments refer to Course Reader).  The course reader can be purchased in the Dept. of Politics Office, 309 Muller Center, cash or check made out to Ithaca College.

Readings listed as “Required” are mandatory and serve as background for class discussions.  The readings are of varying complexities; some are quite difficult.  If you have any questions on the readings, please ask in class, stop by my office, or e-mail me.  I would suggest that you take notes on the readings as you do them, including questions about the reading or things that are unclear.  The amount of reading is generally small enough that you should have time to carefully read and take notes on the readings before each class.

I expect you to do the readings and be prepared for each class. If I perceive a pattern of neglect in this area, I reserve the right to unilaterally drop you from the class.

I may also hold unscheduled “pop” quizzes on the readings.

If you do not understand the readings after we discuss them in class, please see me immediately.  Some of the readings are very challenging, and I expect you to speak with me if anything is not clear.


What does “doing the readings” mean?

It doesn’t mean just sitting down and mechanically going through the articles; that’s a sure way to make even an interesting article boring.

Reading is an active and interactive process between the reader and the text.  If you’re really reading a text you are also reacting to it.   I’ve included a wide range of texts in order to provoke a wide range of responses from readers.

Reading should be a reflective process.  To really understand an article deeply it is usually necessary to read it and think about it, and then read it again, and think about it, and discuss it with others, write about it and read it yet again.  I’ve found that even after many readings, when I read a text in order to explain it to someone else I get new perspectives on the author’s arguments and assumptions, on the text’s strengths and weaknesses.

So when I say “do the readings,” I mean “engage yourself with the ideas of the text.”  I understand that some of the texts are quite complex and that not all of them are entertaining.  But struggle is part of the reading experience.  If something’s not clear, if it’s confusing, talk about it with others outside of class, and/or bring it up in class.  As I mentioned above, taking notes on a text while you read it or re-read it is also a very good way to engage the text and to make sure you understand it.

Course objectives

This course has the following objectives as part of the overall Politics Departmental goals:

  • Students will demonstrate a capacity for critical writing
  • Students will demonstrate global awareness and understanding
  • Students will demonstrate critical self-consciousness about their ethical positions vis-à-vis political and civic life
  • Students will demonstrate sensitivity to and understanding of multiple perspectives, eg, class, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality.
  • Students will demonstrate a capacity to apply ideas to lived contexts

Grading and Written assignments

The goal of the course is to get us to think critically about the notion of sovereignty, and the ways in which nonstate actors such as pirates and mercenaries impact that principle.  The written assignments are meant to be an integral part of this process.  But so too are class participation and the readings themselves.

Class participation counts for 20 percent of the grade.  Learning is an active process; if you think about the things you’ve learned the best, they’re usually things that you haven’t sat back passively and “absorbed,” but rather things that you learned by actively taking part and practicing.  I therefore expect each of you to be active participants in your learning.  To be an effective participant also means having done the readings and being prepared to take part in discussions.  All of these will go into your class participation grade, which includes:

  • Attendance. I expect students to be present at every class. For every absence after the fourth one, your final grade will be reduced by 1/3 of a grade (that is, from an A to an A-, for example).
  • Being prepared. I expect you to have done the assigned readings for the day and to have thought about them before class.
  • Participation. Classroom discussion of readings is a key part of the learning process. By actively taking part you also improve your chances of doing well on the written assignments.
  • No electronic devices. During class I expect all electronic devices to be turned off. This includes laptops, cell phones, iphones, tablets, etc. If you cannot bear to be parted from your device, you should take another class. Use of an electronic device in class will count as an absence for that day. Here are some of the reasons for this policy (from Scientific American). Here are even more (from a leading prof of new media).

In-class assignments count for 10 percent of the grade.  These assignments will be explained during the semester. Choose two.

  • newPirate biography, combining individual and structural level analysis. Details on Sakai. (5 percent)
  • UN Security Council resolutions and actions on maritime piracy and will take place March 18 and 20 (5 percent).
  • The second assignment is related to private military firms (5 percent) and will take place on May 1.

Written Assignments will count for 70 percent of the grade. 
– The grade is reduced by 1/3 of a grade for each day an assignment is late (for example from A to A-).

– To pass the course you must hand in all of the written assignments, including those that are ungraded.

  • Essay #1 due M 2/23, by 4pm.  (20 percent). Short essay on the History sections.  Question to be handed out in class.
  • Essay #2 due F 4/24, by 6pm; please submit on Sakai*, with hard copy to me in class on Monday.  (25 percent). Short essay on Modern Pirates and Mercenaries. Questions to be handed out in class.
  • Research paper (25 percent). The grade for this assignment includes the Proposal (see below) as well as the final paper.  This assignment will result in a 15 page paper on a topic related to the course. You can pick a particular region that is the site of piracy or mercenary activities, or you can pick a particular theme that cuts across cases.  I expect you to draw on materials from the course, linking your topic to the question of sovereignty.
  • A written proposal is due by Friday 4/17, by 4pm, submitted on Sakai*. The proposal should be a paragraph or two explaining your topic, as well as a list of at least 5 sources (not including those assigned in class), with brief explanations of how the source will be useful for the paper.
  • The final paper is due during finals week, on Monday 5/11 by 10am, and should be submitted on Sakai.*

*Please note: Corrupted files will not be considered as submitted.

You cannot pass the course unless you have handed in all written assignments.

Meaning of grades

A = excellent: intense effort and remarkable achievement.
B = good: good effort and pretty good understanding
C = okay: barely adequate amount of effort or effort that is somewhat misfocused or mistargeted
D = inadequate effort or mistargeted effort
F = little or no effort or complete misunderstanding of expectations

If you get below a C, you should immediately come to see me so we can discuss your paper or exam.

If you have any questions about the class, the readings, the discussions, or anything else, I will be more than happy to meet with you either during office hours (MWF 11-12) or at some other time. To schedule another time please see me after class, or contact me by e-mail (vgagnon@ithaca.edu)

Daily Reading Assignments

I. Introduction

W 1/21 Introductions: Pirates, Mercenaries, Missionaries
We’ll meet each other


F 1/23
In class: 
– excerpts from Pirates of the Caribbean
Think about:
– what are the motivations of the pirates in the film? who/what were they pre-pirating?
– what are the motivations of the anti-pirate characters, especially the British colonial authorities?
– are the pirates good guys or bad guys? Why?


M 1/26 Sovereignty
Required reading:
– Russett, Starr & Kinsella, “The State as International Actor” in CR, pp.1-9
– The Responsibility to Protect Report, “Background Research – 1. State Sovereignty” in CR, pp.10-17
To think about:
Why did sovereignty become the overarching norm of the international system? Is sovereignty a good thing or not? Should there ever be exceptions to sovereignty? If so, who should decide and how? Think about sovereignty as a kind of monopoly.


II. Pirates!

W 1/28  Golden age of piracy
Required reading:

– Rediker, Villains of All Nations, Ch.1
– Rediker, Ch.2
To think about:
What caused the “Golden Age of Piracy” in the early 1700s? Who were the pirates?


F 1/30 Golden age cont’d
Required reading:

– Rediker, Ch.3
– Rediker, Ch. 4


M 2/2 Golden age of piracy
Required reading:
– Rediker, Ch.  7
– Rediker, Conclusion
To think about:
– What is Rediker’s argument about pirate society?
– Also think about other pirate regions/episodes: South China Sea; the Barbary Coast, and Tripoli; Madagascar


W 2/4  Pirate biography presentations


III. History: Nonstate actors, sovereignty and the state

new(updated assignment dates for this section)

F 2/6 The state, violence and sovereignty
Required reading:
– Thomson, Mercenaries, Pirates, and Sovereigns, Introduction and Ch.1, “The State, Violence, and Sovereignty”


M 2/9 Privateering and Mercenaries
Required reading:
– Thomson, Ch. 2, “Nonstate Violence Unleashed”

W 2/11 Piracy and Mercenarism
Required reading:
– Thomson, Ch. 3, “Unintended Consequences”


F 2/13 Demise of privateering and mercenarism
Required reading:
– Thomson, Ch 4, “Delegitimating State-Authorized Nonstate Violence”
In class:
“East India Company” and “Rule Britannia” from Timelines.tv

M 2/16 Conclusion
Required reading:
– Thomson, Ch. 5 “Suppressing Unauthorized Nonstate Violence” up to top of p.118;
– Thomson, Ch. 6 “Conclusion”


IV. Modern Piracy

Modern piracy links:
UN Documents on Piracy (See also “UN Documents for Piracy” at SecurityCouncilReport.org)
– Security Council resolutions on piracy off the coast of Somalia:

– Security Council resolutions on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

– Report on Djibouti Code of Conduct, agreement among 17 states in the Somalia region (Jan 2010)
– UN Secretary General’s recommendations on ways to resolve piracy issue (July 2010) (pdf), response to SCR1918
Report of the UN assessment mission on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (Nov 2011)
– Report of the UN Secretary General on piracy off the coast of Somalia (Oct 2014), response to SCR 2125 (2013)
– UN Security Council Report on Somalia Piracy, August 2010
– World Anti-Piracy Observatory (copyright piracy) (UNESCO project, est’d Jan 2010)
Modern Piracy Resources


W 2/18 Modern piracy: Background
Required reading:
– Wombwell, “The Long War Against Piracy: Historical Trends,” Ch 5, “Modern Piracy,” in CR, pp.18-52
Links of interest:
– UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea
– UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982)


F 2/20 – M 2/23 Modern piracy: Somalia
Required reading:
– Jasparro, “Somalia’s piracy offers lessons in global governance” in CR pp.62-64
– “Environmental roots of the ‘somali pirate crisis'” in CR, pp.65-71
– “Somalia: Fishermen appeal for help over foreign fishing ships” in CR p.72
In Class:
“Pirates of Somalia: The Untold Story” (50 mins)
– “Pirateland” (2009) (alternate url – “play clip”) (journeymanpictures) (22 mins)
– Somalia piracy timeline
– Online photo-essay, “Troubled Waters: Somali Piracy” (from Small Arms Survey)
Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia

bl_diamEssay #1 due M 2/23 4:30pm


W 2/25 Theory of Piracy: Somalia
Required reading:
– Shortland and Varese, ” The Protector’s Choice” CR pp.73-96


newF 2/27 Modern Piracy: West Africa
Required reading:
– “Piracy in Africa: The ungoverned seas” CR pp.149-152
– Murphy, “Petro-Piracy” CR pp.153-166
– Turse, “Pirates on the Coast of Guinea” CR pp.167-174
In class:
West African Models of Piracy” (video, 1:25), Oceans Beyond Piracy
Links of interest:
– Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Priacy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa, June 2013
– “Gulf of Guinea piracy update“, IHS Maritime (5:13)
– “Chasing West Africa’s Pirates” BBC (audio, 53:00) and “Danger Zone: Chasing W Africa’s pirates” article that accompanies the broadcast


M 3/2 – W 3/4  Modern Piracy: Indonesia
Required reading:
– Langewiesche, “The Wave Makers” in CR, pp.97-121
– Winn, “The world has a new piracy hotspot” CR pp.122-125
– Ramones, “Pirates Take Over the Waters in Indonesia” CR pp.126-128
– Amri, “Piracy in Southeast Asia: An Overview of International and Regional Efforts” CR pp.129-133
– Hribernik, “Countering Maritime Piracy and Robbery in Southeast Asia” CR pp.134-148
In class:
 “Modern Day Pirates” (25 mins) : Indonesia


F 3/6 TBA


M 3/9 – F 3/13 Spring Break


M 3/16 – F 3/20 Piracy: Solutions?
Required reading:

– Boot, “Pirates, Terrorism and Failed states” in CR, pp.175-177
– Kontorovich, “Piracy and international law” in CR, pp.178-186
Report of the UN Secretary General on piracy off the coast of Somalia Oct 2014 (online)
– UN Security Council resolutions on Piracy
(“United Nations resolutions are formal expressions of the opinion or will of United Nations organs. They generally consist of two clearly defined sections: a preamble and an operative part. The preamble generally presents the considerations on the basis of which action is taken, an opinion expressed or a directive given. The operative part states the opinion of the organ or the action to be taken.” (from un.org)
– Security Council resolutions on piracy off the coast of Somalia:

  • 1816 (2008) pp.187-190
  • 1838 (2008) pp.191-193
  • 1846 (2008) pp.194-198
  • 1851 (2008) pp.199-202
  • 1897 (2009) pp.203-207
  • 1918 (2010) pp.208-210
  • 1950 (2010) pp.211-216
  • 1976 (2011) pp.217-222
  • 2015 (2011) pp.223-227
  • 2020 (2011) pp.228-235
  • 2077 (2012) (online)
  • 2125 (2013) (online)
  • 2184 (2014) (online)

– Security Council resolutions on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

  • 2018 (2011) pp.236-238
  • 2039 (2012) pp.239-241

In class assignment W 3/18 – F 3/20:
– Based on the security council resolutions (pages above), or another UN document on piracy:  What does the resolution do? Why was it put forward and by whom? What is the goal of the resolution? How does it fit into the broader context, geographical as well as UN? How does it fit into what we’ve learned about the causes of piracy, both historical and modern day? See if you can find out what the effect of your resolution was on the situation.


V. Mercenaries

M 3/23 Mercenaries in international law
Required reading:
– “Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions…” in CR, p.242
– “International convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries, 4 Dec 1989” in CR, pp.243-248
UN Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014), “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” (on foreign fighters) in CR, pp.249-256
Suggested reading:
– Kinsey, “International Law and the control of mercenaries and private military companies” in CR, pp.257-277
Links of interest:
– 1949 Geneva Conventions
– List of state signatories to UN Convention on Mercenaries (including reservations)
UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Montreux Document Code of Conduct for operations of private military and security companies during armed conflict (2008)


W 3/25 The Private Military Industry
Required reading:
– Singer, Corporate Warriors, ch.3 “The Privatized Military Industry Distinguished”
– Singer, Ch.4 “Why Security Has Been Privatized” (pp.40-70)


F 3/27 – M 3/30 Private Military Companies
Required reading:
– Singer, Corporate Warriors, Ch 6 “The Privatized Military Industry Classified”
– Singer, either Ch 7 or 8 or 9 (on different types of private military companies)
Links of interest:
Private Military Companies:
– Soldiers of Fortune (EO and Sandline) (journeyman.tv)
– Arming Bosnia (MPRI) (journeyman.tv)
– MPRI website
Blue Mountain Group (UK)
– Sandline website 
– KBR website
Private Military Companies Listing
– see also Appendix I in Singer, “PMFs on the web”, pp.263-264


W 4/1 Private Military Companies and International Relations
Required reading:
– Singer, Ch.11 “Market Dynamism and Global Disruptions”


F 4/3 PMCs and Democracy
Required reading:
– Singer, Ch.12 “Private Firms and  Civil-Military Balance”
-Michaels, “Private Military Firms, the American Precedent, and the Arab Spring” CR pp.313-324


M 4/6 Mercenaries: Problem or solution?
Required reading:
– Singer, Corporate Warriors, Ch.13 “Public Ends, Private Military Means?”
– Singer, Ch.14 “Morality and the Privatized Military Firm”


W 4/8- M 4/13 Case study: Blackwater / Xe / Academi
In class: 
Shadow company

Required reading:
– Scahill, “Mercenary Revolution” in CR, pp.278-287
– Scahill, “Blackwater in a Grey World” in CR, pp.288-289
– Fainaru, “Blackrwatey for special security” in CR, pp.290-303
– Stein, “CIA hires XE, formerly Blackwater, to guard facilities in Afhganistan, elsewhere” in CR, p.304
– “Four Blackwater guards found guilty in 2007 Iraq shootings of 31 unarmed civilians” Wash Post  CR pp.305-30810/22/14
– “Beyond Blackwater” CR pp.309-310
– “Bullets for Hire” CR pp.311-312
Suggested reading:
– Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007)
– Steve Fainaru, Big Boy Rules: America’s mercenaries fighting in Iraq (2008)
– Salzman, “Private military contractors and the taint of a mercenary reputation”


W 4/15 Iraq
Required reading:
– Singer, Postscript, “The Lessons of Iraq”, pp.243-260


F 4/17  Mercenaries and Pirates
Required reading:
– Brown, “Pirates and Privateers: Managing the Indian Ocean’s Private Security Boom” (online)
bl_diamF 4/17 Research paper proposal due


M 4/20  Mercenaries — Russia
Required reading:
– Korotkov, “St Petersburg Sends Contractors to Syria” CR pp.325-330
– Korotkov, “The Last Battle of the ‘Slavonic Corps'” CR pp.331-338
– Jackson, “Ukraine war pulls in foreign fighters” CR pp.339-342


W 4/22 Afghanistan
Hired Guns (Afghanistan)


F 4/24 No class: bl_diamEssay # 2 on Modern Pirates and Mercenaries due by 6pm. Please submit on Sakai, with hard copy to me in class on Monday. 


M 4/27 Mercenaries and Terrorism
Required reading:
– “Revealed: UK ‘mercenaries’ fighting Islamic State terrorist forces in Syria” CR pp.366-369
– “Ex-British soldier fighting Isis in Syria ‘motivated by Alan Henning murder’” CR pp.370-371
– “UK Fighters in Syria ‘Not Mercenaries’” CR pp.372-373
To think about:
– the role that intent or purported motivation plays in defining who is and who is not a mercenary


W 4/29 Mercenaries as workers
Required reading:
– Gallaher, “Risk and Private Military Work” CR pp.343-365


F 5/1 In-class assignment: Private Military Companies


VI. Conclusion

M 5/4 Conclusion


bl_diamM 5/11 Final Research Paper due by 10am