Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Power and Foreign Legions

The motion for the last preliminary round of this tournament was "This House Would Grant Citizenship in Exchange for Military Service". It is a fine motion which, unfortunately, didn't get quite the examination it deserved in the room I was judging although I've heard it got thought about in more detail in other debates. It came up a little while ago on National Review's Corner but I don't remember anyone saying much interesting on the subject.

Thinking about it before and after the debate it occurred to me that mechanisms to enlist and ensure the loyalty of foreigners have been devised by many of history's great powers. The Romans recruited legions from the provinces. Britain had the collosal Indian Army, including the Gurkhas which are still a part of the army today. France had its foreign legion which was used in numerous imperial deployments. The Persian army was composed almost entirely of troops summoned from its various provinces.

By contrast, while the Americans can rely upon allies, such as Britain, to help them fight certain wars the lack of a formal mechanism implies that this support is always to some extent conditional on the war and that country's domestic politics at the time, witness Vietnam. Also, somewhat paradoxically, an ally is less likely to deploy independently as they can only be asked as friends to contribute to a shared engagement rather than ordered to engage and fix a problem themselves. The independent missions of Britain and Australia recently have generally been peacekeeping actions on a limited scale such as Sierra Leone or regional crises in Australia's sphere. America asks its allies to come to war with it but does not use them as it would its own armies.

This would seem important as it means that any foreign intervention necessitates putting Americans in harms way. As such, American interventions are far more costly to Americans than the mean British intervention was to Britons or Roman intervention to Romans. This combines with greater popular democracy to make foreign wars more politically significant. While the British limited, propertied electorate can't be credibly accussed of not sending their own children to the military they were not the rank and file. This cost would seem to combine with Niall Ferguson's other explanations such as the American anti-imperial national myth to explain just why America's foreign interventions tend to be so limited compared to those of earlier empires.

An informal empire such as America's cannot set up and long control foreign armies in the way Britain did but offering citizenship to buy the loyalty of foreigners would seem to offer another option. One option would be to recruit into standard US Army units but an American Foreign Legion, to provide flexibility and avoid hurting the élan of the main army, might be more appropriate with citizenship after a long period, say ten or more years, so that anyone only interested in serving a minimum military term then entering the US would be unable to do so.

I'm not sure if the US can reconcile itself to such an idea but it might make maintaining Pax Americana significantly more practicable.

1 comment:

Gracchi said...

Good article I suppose that pushes the cost of war up. the other interesting aspect of this is the way that war is linked to citizenship because of America's republican model of authority.