26 July 2007

The Case for State-Base

The United States should make more use of "de facto hired" troops from "allied" States, and it should get Japan and Germany to chip in for them.

Since the Second World War, the United States in its foreign adventures has always laboured under the difficulty of the political liability of troops losses, a difficulty not borne (to the same extent) by other actors, other powers, or even its pre-WWII self. Baathist Iraq was prepared to lose troops, al-Qaeda is prepared to lose troops, Iraqi insurgents are prepared to lose troops. The American Civil War, while engendering much political controversy, cost 600,000 lives - far more than the 3,500 so far in Iraq and from a much smaller political base. This handicap of the sensitivity of troops losses (see The Utility of Force) ties the United States' hands; worse, its enemies deliberately formulate their strategies and tactics to take advantage of this weakness by focussing on "body-count" (oddly mirroring the US military's own obsession with industrial-style counting of bodies).

United States forces would perform better if they could take advantage of lives and bodies that are not so politically sensitive. These could be out-and-out mercenaries (itself a potential political liability), but any forces that are not United States forces would do. There are several options:
  • Private military contractors (PMCs). A good option. The death of a PMC who is a US citizen would add something to the mood in the US, but not as much as would the death of a US soldier. For instance, his death is not added to the official tally.
  • Mercenaries. With all the problems that that entails - see Machiavelli.
  • Foreign Legion. The US ought definitely create a Foreign Legion. France always seems to use its Foreign Legion for its foreign adventures.
  • Swiss style mercenaries (Reisläufer - "campaign-goers"). The focus of this paper.

Swiss-style Mercenaries

Everyone knows about Swiss mercenaries around the Renaissance period, but few realise how the system worked.

Ghurka troops are recruited by British recruiters in the lowland areas of Nepal under the terms of a treaty with the King of Nepal. Prospective Ghurkas travel to the lowlands to the recruiting stations. The whole process was facilitated by native middlemen called ghurkiwallah.

This is not the model by which Reisläufer were recruited. Reisläufer were recruited by a foreign power contracting with a canton to supply troops. (A "canton" is rather like a city-state, except that some cantons are city-states without a city - "valley-state" might be good description.) So the arrangemet was rather like a military alliance based on cash rather than on coinciding geostrategic interests, a marriage of convenience rather than a love-match. The advantage of this was that a canton would then supply a ready-made contingent rather than a mob or individuals yet to be formed into units or raw recruits yet to be trained.

To some extent the US already does this but a glance at the figures of forces in Iraq tells you not to a great extent.

The danger is that a contingent can be persuaded to go home by terrorism or money- viz Spain. Non-US, non-Western populations are more immune to the pressure of terror (because (a) they are more used to and less shocked by violence and death; (b) they are anonymous "others": their deaths are less shocking to the US public; and (c) Their governments do not need to take into account popular opinion to the same extent that the US government does. The rewards can be designed in such a way as (a) They are such that it is in the Reisläufer supplying country's interest to stay the course; (b) Pay-offs are gradual and over time; (c) Pay-offs can be withheld or revoked.


Post a Comment

<< Home