America needs a Foreign Legion
Michael O’Hanlon advocates recruiting foreigners into the US military in this Bookings Institute video: “The Future of the Military“. He wrote two articles with Max Boot advocating this.
- “Create a U.S. foreign legion“, Armed Forces Journal (March 2007).
- “A Military Path to Citizenship“, Washington Post (19 October 2006).
These articles have attracted much consideration, even mockery, but the idea is sound. Recruiting a Foreign Legion as a secondary force is neither a crazy nor unproven idea. France and Britain have used them for centuries, without apparent ill effects. Like everything else in life, recruiting foreigners for one’s armed forces has dangers and can be used to excess.
I presented such a proposal in “Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq” (29 December 2005).
Excerpt: A Foreign legion for America
One high probability result of defeat in Iraq: great reluctance to send US expeditionary forces to foreign lands. Like the long hiatus following the fall of South Vietnam. This is an inevitable result of the internal contradictions of the “Bush Doctrine.” For a detailed analysis see “Why the Bush Doctrine Cannot be Sustained” by Robert Jervis, Political Science Quarterly, Fall 2005
A turn toward isolationism may be on the whole a good thing, but there will be occasions where intervention looks appropriate – hopefully, with many allies at our side, or at least with wide international support. For example, early intervention to stop the next set of ethnic slaughter, like that in Rwanda.
There is another solution: build a “Legion,” drawing on the best of French Foreign Legion and 19th century UK army, a force designed expressly for combat in foreign lands.
- Use our excellent equipment, logistics, and officer corps.
- Recruit from defeated ethnic armies, losers in drug wars, urban street armies, and prisoners.
- Accept not only US citizens but also those wanting to become citizens. This will provide a sufficiently large pool from which to draw fighters.
- Hard training, “break the man to build the soldier.” This is essential if we are to recruit from groups we now – for good reason — exclude and/or reject.
- Offer citizenship after 10 years of service, and pensions after 20 years. This would be more effective if we close the border to illegals, showing that we value US citizenship.
The new “legion” could be the tip of the spear for our legions. We would have daring legions for whom only their mothers will weep when they die, the ideal tools for cold-blooded Machiavellian strategists like Thomas Barnett. They could be forbidden for use at home and exempt from the legalistic restrictions binding the current US military.
Another advantage: we’ll have a force enrolled expressly to fight. That would be an improvement, for recruiting is a form of deceit in our present scheme. Very much so for the Army. Extremely so for the Guard and Reserve. Not at all for the Marines. For many young men and women it is Russian Roulette, albeit with good odds that they will earn the money for an education without facing actual combat. Not all win. Jessica Lynch hoped to become a teacher. Her compatriot, Shoshana Johnson, joined the Army to be a cook. Prisoner of war for 22 days, she still suffers from her injuries (beaten and shot in both ankles).
Consider how their employment contracts would have read if the Army were a private firm. Bold lettered warnings about the danger of death, dismemberment, or other permanent disability. Perhaps some pictures to make the dangers clear. How nice for the Army that the ludicrously expensive cost of higher education in America pressures desperate young people to take risks that they do not understand – or do understand and desperately wish to avoid. What a pitiful basis on which to build the military forces of the world’s richest nation.
In this proposed configuration the Reserves and Guard become a purely national defense force – sent abroad only in case of declared war, not for foreign adventures dreamed up by geo-political wizards at the Versailles-on-the-Potomac.
Why do we need a foreign legion?
So long as our grand strategy requires fighting foreign wars with unclear motives (unclear to the public, that is), recruitment and retention of a citizen army will be difficult and very expensive. In this, as in so many other things, outsourcing to lower-cost foreign labor has its advantages. In small numbers, foreign recruits can serve well and eventually become valuable citizens.
Or … we might develop a grand strategy that does not require so many foreign bases, so many foreign wars. Defensive strategies are, after all, often stronger than offensive ones.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For studies and reports explaining the current problem, see An Army near the Breaking Point – an archive of links.
Click here for other articles about developing a grand strategy for America.