The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Auxiliaries and Legionaires

June 16, 2006

A couple of weeks ago the Cunning Realist wrote:

This has probably been discussed at great length elsewhere, and undoubtedly will strike some as a dumb question. But before tonight was anyone besides me unaware that U.S. citizenship is not a requirement for military service?

Which reminded me of a very painful academic smackdown in Tarak Barkawi’s Globalization and War:

Thompson… argues that over the course of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sates slowly gained a monopoly on the authoritative use of external violence from non-state actors…. The long-term and widespread practice of using foreign mercenary companies in the armies of Europe’s sovereigns was brought to an end…. Thompson argues that “the last instance in which a state raised an army of foreigners was in 1854,” when Britain hired some mercenaries for use in the Crimean War….

Thompson, as a way of showing just how “illegitimate” mercenarism has become in our own day, asks: Is it possible to imagine “a rich state like the United States [forming] an army by recruiting say, poor, unemployed Mexicans?” (pp. 44-46)

You can probably guess what’s coming.

It so happens that there were approximately thirty thousand foreign-born, non-U.S. citizens in the American armed forces as of September 2003, including Mexicans and other Hispanics. The U.S. army’s cyber-recruiting operation holds daily on-line chat sessions in English and Spanish. In addition to its Gurkhas, today’s British army recruits significant numbers of Fijians. There were even calls for the formation of a U.S. foreign legion during the Cold War, composed, it was sometimes suggested, of Eastern Europeans who would earn U.S. citizenship in exchange for their service; there were various other proposals as well to develop forces composed of foreigners (p. 46)

Barkawi goes on to discuss how, during the Cold War, the US used Third World militaries and individuals as auxiliaries:

As President Eisenhower said in 1957, “the United States could not maintain old-fashioned forces all around the world,” so it sought “to develop within the various areas and regions of the free world indigenous forces for the maintenance of order, the safeguarding of frontiers, and the provision of the bulk of ground capability.” The “kernal of the whole thing,” he remarked, was to have indigenous forces–that is, non-Americans–bear the brunt of any future fighting.” (pp. 47-48)

Such evidence really takes us into the domain of the American Empire debate. Since (a) I’ve been working on the subject for some time and (b) my guest posting days here are nearly over, I thought I might as well ask the good folks who read LGM: does the US have an empire? If so, where? And does it matter?

Cross posted at LGM.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.