TCS Daily

Needed: A U.S. Foreign Legion

By James D. Miller - September 25, 2003 12:00 AM

The French have got one thing right: their Foreign Legion. Of course unlike France, America doesn't need to hire foreigners to fight for us. What the U.S. should do, however, is create a foreign legion to take on non-combat military duties such as peacekeeping in Iraq.


Our war on terror creates an expanding need for armed peacekeepers. Some have suggested enlisting the help of stalwart allies such as France and Germany. Since you should never seek assistance from those who don't want you to succeed, and since becoming dependent on nations like France and Germany means giving their government a veto over our foreign policy, we shouldn't ask for help from countries that opposed the Iraqi liberation.


Others have suggested expanding the size of the U.S. armed forces to meet our peacekeeping obligations. The vast productivity of the U.S. workforce, however, makes Americans expensive to hire. Our armed forces, therefore, should behave like U.S. multi-nationals and outsource.


Many American companies hire third-world labor to save money. The U.S. armed forces should likewise enlist troops from underdeveloped countries to serve in non-combat positions. I envision two categories of foreign troops: those with permanent jobs and those in a reserve who are only called up when needed.


The underdeveloped world's poverty means that many brave, healthy and intelligent third-world people would be grateful for a job that paid only a fraction of what U.S. privates make. Third-world nations would also greatly welcome the remittance U.S. foreign legionnaires would send home.


The U.S. is currently training many Iraqis in police work. Perhaps after we leave Iraq we could recruit the most capable of these men into our foreign legion.


Ideally, we would get international funding for our foreign legion. Nations such as Japan, Singapore and Kuwait could help cover its costs. By accepting financing rather than troops from allies, the U.S. would have greater control over the peacekeepers. Also, the sudden withdrawal of allied support couldn't cripple our foreign policy by forcing us to redeploy forces suddenly.


If treated well, the foreign legionnaires would develop an appreciation for the U.S. and an understanding of our foreign policy needs. They and their families would likely become strong backers of the U.S. military. Furthermore, since expansive military operations would require us to take on more legionnaires, a foreign legion would create financial incentives for underdeveloped nations to support a muscular U.S. military policy.


Non-U.S. peacekeepers would make less attractive targets for terrorists. When targeted, however, the foreign legion casualties would create more sympathy in the foreign press than U.S. losses would.


Communications needs would require that the foreign legion be organized into different language groups, the largest probably being Spanish-speaking soldiers from Latin America. Consequently, American politicians seeking Hispanic votes should strongly support establishing an American Foreign Legion.


Setting up a foreign legion won't solve our immediate manpower needs as it would likely take several years to establish and train the legions. One of the greatest risks of our war on terrorism, however, is that it will cause us to acquire a financially burdensome empire. To manage this empire we should employ tactics successfully used by world-class corporations and seek high-quality but low-cost labor anywhere in the world we can find it.


James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.


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